If you’re wondering how long I can keep this series up, let’s just say there’s a whole lot of guitarists that are better than Hendrix. I haven’t even gotten to the more obscure guitarists. This could take years, at the rate of one a week.
I ain’t scared.
I will say that I get far less negative feedback than I anticipated. People tend to defend the status quo and Hendrix is considered the greatest guitarist – by many people. They’re wrong, of course. I mean, come the fuck on… I’ve explained this 23 times already and in at least 100 different comment relies for the people who refused to actually read the damned article.
I told you that I wasn’t scared.
If you think Hendrix was the greatest technical guitarist then you’re wrong. Your the victim of horrible propaganda.
First, the term ‘greatest guitarist’ should refer to an objective criteria. Second, artistic value is not an objective criteria. Finally, technical ability (and a variety of previously covered metrics that further break it down) is an objective criteria.
The dirty rotten liars that are pundits and media have (mostly) all agreed that they’ll call Hendrix the greatest guitarist when Hendrix doesn’t always even rise to the level of very good. If you don’t believe me, listen to the entirety of his live material.
(I can go on like this, for hours…)
I think I’ve covered it enough times. I’m not even going to stoop to the level of insulting Rolling Stone magazine, specifically. Nope. We already know they’re a bunch of heathens who aren’t even qualified to edit a classified ads section! I don’t need to resort to falsehoods to tell you about them!
Rolling Stone was never really good – but they used to be better. Anyone who insists that Rolling Stone was once good, is probably suffering from something called “selection bias.” They remember the good articles, but not all the shit that they’ve published over the many iterations that are their history. They’ve made quite a few changes throughout their publication history, but I don’t really think that’s an appropriate topic for this site. So, I won’t get deeply into it. That’ll save some time!
I need to make something very clear.
I’m reaching the point where I’m no longer able to be completely objective.
These guitarists have one thing in common and that’s that they’re far more deserving of the title “Greatest Guitarist” than Hendrix was. I also quite enjoy telling you about guitarists that you probably don’t know about.
But, it’s really hard to say that one guitarist, at this level, was truly better than the next guitarist that also plays at this level.
Which is to say, I can’t really be certain that guitarist #10 is better than guitarist #11. I can’t say that guitarist #15 is better than guitarist #22 – at least not in any significant manner, that I could state with complete confidence.
So, if you don’t agree with my placement, you can switch ’em around. You can add other people to the list. You can write your own damned list, if you want. In fact, I encourage you to write your own damned list. But, for the record, this one is mine. I’m also pretty qualified to opine, and quite a bit of it is opinion.
Which brings me to my next guitarist…
I’m not really sure where this guy should go. He’s better than Hendrix, that’s for damned sure. But, does he go higher than other people on my list? Possibly not and I could see this argued either way. I can see legitimate arguments for a different spot on the list.
So, my placement of this artist is not truly objective.
I also have a clear bias in this week’s choice. I will disclose this.
I’ve been writing about obscure artists, quite frequently. This week, I want to tell you about a guitarist that you know about already, but you probably don’t know that much about him. We can all agree he’s pretty fucking awesome – and anyone that disagrees is wrong. That’s just fact!
So, come join me on my grand stoned adventure, while I tell you about the next guitarist on my list! (You knew damned well what you were getting into when you clicked the link. I ain’t even sorry, or scared!)
#24 Alex Motherfucking Lifeson
That picture, right there, tells you he’s a motherfucking rock star.
Here’s your quiz:
How do you know he’s a rock star, based solely on that image?
I’m just gonna give you the answers. You know that, right? So, pretend I took the initiative to set up a quiz plugin, ensure it’s reasonably secure, learned to use it, and embedded a quiz.
I’m pretty much never going to get around to that. That’s good. It’s a stupid feature, anyhow. I’m just gonna give you the answers.
The first answer is that’s not just a guitar. That’s a Goldtop, a Gibson Les Paul model. I can’t see it that well, but it’s either the reissue (unlikely) or one from the late 1950s – but I’m not sure. I can’t see it that well and I straight up stole the image.
Then, you have his “fuck you” pose. Notice how his arms are spread in a wide pose that’s aggressive and asks, “do you want to judge me?” He is not fucking around. He’s confident – and possibly attempting to curate a bad-boy image.
Next, you have his state of dress. Let’s look carefully at his outfit. The leather jacket says, “I’m a bad boy, but I do it with style.” His shirt says, “I didn’t get completely trashed before this photoshoot, but if I do then I’ll still look pretty good.”
His hair says, “I need to be presentable quickly.” That tells you that he’s been at this shit for a long time and he’s busy. That is to say, he’s a professional.
So, there’s a few ways you can actually spot someone that actually knows what they’re doing. He just looks the part of a real rock star – and he is.
Never, in the history of music, has a band with as musical talent as Rush and made such contemptible garbage.
That’s gonna need some explaining, ’cause that’s going to piss off our Canadian readers. I’ll get to that.
Every single member of Rush is one of the most skilled people to every play their chosen instruments. Every single one of them is a musical polymath. Every single one of them is one of the greatest musicians to walk the face of the Earth.
But… They wrote sheer garbage, sometimes seemingly to maintain the difficulty level of their live performances.
There is no greater technical live performers, in totality, than the musicians that comprised Rush.
The sound you hear in the studio is pretty close to exactly the sound you hear live (past tense, though they may be reforming). It’s a near duplication.
They do it, live, with just three people.
If you don’t understand the difficulty of that, you’re on the wrong site. I suggest you visit Rolling Stone!
Here, I’ll show you…
I’m going to show you by showing you pretty much the least busy song I came across on YouTube. When you watch this, watch his feet and hands. He pulls it off flawlessly.
Hmm… That’s a PRS something-or-other from their custom line called Private Stock (or a straight up custom, spec-guitar). I’m not a bassist, but I think that bass is what they call a “big head” Fender P. I’m not sure of the year. The drum kit is some bizarre contraption that pretty much goes around in a complete circle and he uses all of them in a show, else he’d not have set them up.
In other words, they’re fucking mind-blowing.
And, for a band so good, they wrote some really bland stuff that sounds just like every other bit of bland fluff that they did. They piss me off because they could have done so much better.
Their masterpieces are truly works of art. The rest of their stuff isn’t bad – but it’s not good. I can’t listen to an entire Rush album – but I can damned sure watch a live performance.
It is impossible for me to tell you the story of Alex Lifeson without telling you the story of Rush. I somehow have to keep the subject revolving around Alex. This is going to take some effort, and some time. You might as well get a cup of coffee. I probably should have told you that sooner!
Ah well… You knew what you were into, when you clicked the link.
But, go back to that video above. That’s him at his least busy. They’re so busy that they’re actually doing laundry on stage. He’s a professional. They all are. They’re very busy.
Even his guitar is busy. I can damned near fall asleep while playing quite a few of the more popular cover songs. I can not accurately replicate Rush, with just three musicians. If I had two other good musicians, I’d still probably not attempt it. If you want to cover Rush, and do it well, I’d suggest you use five people and cheat the drum. You can almost do it with four, so long as the fourth one is good on keyboards, plural.
They do this with just three people, while they do their laundry.
Is it because Lifeson is with Rush that he is so excellent?
I can’t really say. I can’t say, factually, that such is absolutely certain. Thus, my difficulty in placing Lifeson objectively on this list.
If I could say, with complete confidence, that Lifeson would be just as awesome, without Rush, then I’d have to have placed him a little higher on this list.
So, I have try to tease out the story of Lifeson, and that’s quite a bit to do. I have to try to understand him, not just as a member of Rush – but as an individual artist.
He has done some work without Rush, but none of it is what I’d call “Truly Fucking Holy Shit Awesomeness.” Yet, I know damned well he’s fully capable of “Truly Fucking Holy Shit Awesomeness.” I know he is, because he does it with some regularity. They’re just “good.” Some of it isn’t even that good, but it’s still not bad.
He did some work with 3 Doors Down, for example. Gotta tell you, I’d probably phone it in if I had to do some work with ’em too. I’d damned sure phone it in, if I were in his shoes. And, he did.
He also did a solo project and it reeks of being a vanity project and it only rises to the level of “good.” Frankly, I expect better from him. I’m not sure why I expect that, he has a history of not actually meeting my expectations.
So, who is this guy? Who is this Alex Lifeson?
Well, his real name is Alexandar Zivojinovich, which I cut and paste from Wikipedia. I can’t spell that shit.
For some reason, they were helpful enough to tell me how to spell his name in Serbian, but that’s just a bunch of lines that don’t make sense to me. I don’t actually read Cyrillic languages. (I’m not even 100% sure those are Cyrillic.)
Anyhow, he is of Serbian decent and was actually born on August 27, 1953, in British Columbia. For those that don’t know, BC is in Canada – which is located to the north of AmAlexa and is sometimes called AmAlexa’s Hat. It’s a nice enough place, but the majority of them huddle near the AmAlexan border for heat.
The mishmash of letters up there is translated to “son of life.” So, presumably because nobody could spell or pronounce his name, he changed it to Lifeson. That was probably a good idea.
Alex’s first instrument was a viola. He gave that shit up at the age of 12, probably after realizing it wasn’t very effective at playing a popular bitchin’ solo. I’m not sure? Do viola players actually get laid?
His brother-in-law played flamenco guitar. He lent it to him and he liked it well enough. His father would buy him a classical guitar and that was eventually traded/upgraded to some unknown electric guitar from Japan. His taste in guitars has certainly improved!
He’s actually mostly self-taught. He didn’t meander off to a famous college to learn. He pretty much stayed home and put his hours in. This is something he had to say on the subject:
“Clapton’s solos seemed a little easier and more approachable. I remember sitting at my record player and moving the needle back and forth to get the solo in ‘Spoonful.’ But there was nothing I could do with Hendrix.”
Note that last statement… He probably couldn’t play Hendrix ’cause he’d taught himself and had no formal training. Seriously, that’s my presumption. I’d also like to assume he can play Hendrix today. I really don’t want him to do that, however. No, that’d be terrible. Please don’t do that, Alex. Please, for the love of all the sacred things, don’t do that?
Alex also hasn’t quite reached Holy Balls level of rock star.
If you remember Glen Holy Balls Campbell, you’ll know what that means.
The closest he’s come is that he produced the above mentioned vanity album – in 1996. By most accounts, it was pretty terrible. However, I grade pretty easy for vanity stuff and he had his family help him with it. I say it’s good, considering what it is.
But, what that tells you is that he was spending time with his family. He likes to spend time with his family, but he’s often busy.
Why’s that important? ‘Cause we’re talking about Holy Balls levels, at this point.
His son was involved in that album. It was that same son who was with him in 2003, at a hotel in Naples, Florida – just in time for New Years!
I’ll try to stick to the facts. Remember, we’re comparing him to Mr. Holy Balls himself. I think Alex makes a good run at the title, but doesn’t quite have the pattern of sheer awesomeness that it takes to be rated Holy Balls. He makes up for it in one good go, put it that way.
It was his son who is believed to have been the first of the two involved. There are some claims of discourtesy on the part of some hotel staff and the son. This escalated and police were involved.
The police might have been in the process of detaining the son.
Which is when Alex went Holy Balls and attacked the cops. He is accused of (not found guilty of – you’ll see why) assaulting a police officer. As I recall, he punched a police officer.
This was referred to as a “drunken brawl.” And these are Florida cops.
You guessed it…
The cops lumped ’em both up pretty good. This is Florida, after all.
They broke his nose and tased him – a half dozen times. Just for good measure, they tased the ever-living fuck out of his son, as well. They had themselves a good-old-fashioned round of Florida Justice – right there in public.
To the rest of us even remotely affiliated with the music industry, this was uproariously funny. My initial response to this was, “Wait… Lifeson did what?” That was immediately followed by continuous giggles as I listened to the story being recounted.
It was pretty much the most awesome day in music history, but it gets remarkably little publicity and only a few people recall the day Alex went Hulk on the police.
Alex, of course, has lawyers. He’s also a guitar god with some fame. I guess it’s also true other people were being pricks – but I doubt there’s anyone innocent in all this
He and his son got probation and he entered a no-contest plea to a lesser charge – and was never convicted of punching a cop. That’s pretty standard fare, I suppose.
Then, because he truly goes for Holy Balls levels of rock star, he turns around and sues the police department and the hotel. At first, it was ruled preposterous and they tossed that fucker right out of court. Later, they’d reinstate their suit with the hotel and would settle out of court and the settlement is secret.
Which is pretty good, but it’s not quite Holy Balls level of tooling around, playing fairs, and making your grandmother cream her bloomers while being screamed out on mountains of cocaine awesomeness. If he’d kept up the pattern, he’d be worthy of the same title.
It’s actually pretty much an isolated incident and was pretty surprising to hear about. He’s normally quite professional, but he was in a weird stage in his life and he was drunk. He also kind of got away with punching a cop – except for the whole ass-beating thing. He was charged with a lesser offense, as I mentioned.
Yeah, they kicked his ass – but it took ’em whacking him with a taser a half dozen times, so he put up a pretty good fight. Most folks go down after one or two taser jolts – or even after getting a broken nose. He does get points for dedication!
Oh, man… He was pretty much the last guitarist I’d have expected to go ape-shit and then he goes and does it at extreme levels. Then, he doesn’t appear to do it again. I’m pretty sure there’s an analogy in that episode and his music, except he makes bitchin’ solos with greater frequency than he punches cops.
With as busy, and presumably stressful, life as he’s had, I’m kind of surprised that he doesn’t have more public displays of outrage. Then again, he is Canadian!
Also, he smokes a lot of pot. He says it helps him write music, maybe 80% of the time. He says it does not help in the studio. You don’t know it doesn’t help in the studio – unless you’ve tried it in the studio. He’s right, by the way. You’ll spend 20 minutes futzing with your gear, finally sit back to play, and realize you forgot your picks all the way on the other side of the room. Trust me on this one.
Other than that, he appears remarkably sober – but has experimented. He thinks cocaine is the worst. This is what he had to say…
“Cocaine is the worst, for everything. If you want to feel your heart pounding on your mattress at 7:00 in the morning when the birds are chirping, it’s perfect. It’s awesome.”
He’s not wrong, but some of us do want to feel our heart pounding on the mattress at 7:00 in the morning! That’s half the charm!
For the record, cocaine starts to suck after about 48 hours. Up until then, it’s pretty fucking awesome. (I like to think I’m a good influence!)
Either way, there just isn’t a lot to tease out about Alex.
He actually co-founded Rush with two other people. They were replaced by Geddy Lee and Neil Peart way back in 1974. He writes a goodly amount of their music.
Some people insult them by referring to their music as “progressive rock” but much of what they done easily fits in the “heavy metal” category. Except, they’re a band from Canada and they don’t really fit the heavy metal image – except for Lifeson’s singular episode of public rage.
His gear choices are exceptional. He’s been a GLP fan, for much of his life. I want to say that there’s a PRS Private Stock in his name – as you may recall from the video above. He does make use of a flanger and chorus pedal, often more than one with various settings for each. I’m pretty sure there’s no pedal he doesn’t like and he’s probably played with most styles in his career.
And, none of his work is objectively bad. It’s just that it’s not all as good as it could be. When you make such great compositions, it’s unfortunate when you put out bog-standard, just plain good material. I fall for it – every single time. I’m like, “This next song is going to be awesome.” I’m frequently wrong about this and it’s just good.
This is already pretty long and I’m really having trouble keeping him distinct from Rush. It’s not easy to be objective and it’s really hard to make him something other than Rush – because he was/is Rush, at least a big part of it.
But, I think I can show you why he’s on the list – except it’s also with Rush. With the vast amount of skill on the stage, it is difficult to emphasize the skill of just one member. He’s sometimes overshadowed by the other members of the band – but this isn’t a list about the best bassist or the best drummer.
If I made a list that had best bassist and best drummer on it, you can bet your ass that his bandmates would be on that list. They’re that good.
If nothing else, they’re all that busy. Seriously, that’s the best way to describe Rush that I can think of. They’re busy. They’re very busy.
When you watch these next videos, I want you to try to keep Alex distinct. I want you to try to place greater attention on him. It will probably be difficult, even if you don’t like Rush. I’m also going to handicap myself, and limit myself to showing you that he belongs on this list – using nothing but live performances.
Feel free to compare and contrast them to the studio versions, by the way.
Let’s get this started, shall we?
Actually, I’ll give myself an additional handicap. This first video is just here ’cause it’s fucking awesome. It’s an intro and it shows much of my point, except it doesn’t really show their ability to replicate studio sound – ’cause there is no studio version of all of this.
Also, yes… They’re doing laundry on the stage. I already explained it. They’re busy. The show’s over when the laundry is done! (Not really, it’s more or less just a prop.)
Anyhow, if you can listen to that and then insult them by calling them Progressive Rock, I’m sorely disappointed in you. I don’t want to be disappointed with you, please don’t make me.
You’ll see they run their intro into a work that you recognize.
That entire fucking stage has influenced people since their debut. Whole generations of excellent musicians, including guitarists, have watched that and said, “I want to do that.”
Any rock guitarist coming of age, or having picked up the guitar since their debut, has probably been influenced, directly or indirectly, by Lifeson and Rush. Their good work is exceptional. Their masterpieces are absolute examples of musicality, which takes immense skill. They’ve made many, many masterpieces.
But, it’s really hard to spot a priceless gem in a bucket of gems of equal or greater value.
Lifeson is often overlooked on people’s lists of great guitarists. Rolling Stone didn’t even put him on their list. Guitar Player, on the other hand, has featured him and placed him in first place, more than once. He’s also in the Rock n Roll hall of fame, the Guitar for the Practicing Musician hall of fame, has an asteroid named after him, and is an Officer in the Order of Canada, which is pretty much like royalty for moose and poler bears.
You know what, fuck it…
My next example is the absolute worst live Rush performance I can find on YouTube. However, I show it to you for a reason.
Basically, Lee is either having a stoke or is shitfaced and Peart is phoning it in, ’cause he’s played this song 15,000 times. This will give you the chance to more easily observe Lifeson, without as much distraction. He’s also not doing that well, and kinda phoning it in, but it shows his professionalism and he manages to hold it together when the performance is sub-par.
Again, this is as bad as they get.
(So much for that sounding like the studio claim that I made earlier. Though, it’s much more understandable when one realizes the absolute complexity of that song and that they’re doing it with just three people.)
That’s pretty terrible, right? No… That’s horrible, except Lifeson keeps it together. Lee dropped the ball and Peart is either disinterested or disgusted by the whole thing. Yet, there’s Lifeson, the unsung hero, holding it together and ensuring it’s a concert worth attending, warts and all.
I feel a little bad about that last video, so here’s a bonus video – and it’s what they usually sounded like when they performed live. Consider this a bonus video:
(Ha ha! Alex makes a slight fuckup at about 3:45! You probably won’t notice. He follows it up just a few seconds later with another mistake. It’s better than I can reliably do.)
Now, this last video is going to be difficult for some of you to make the mental separation required to examine Lifeson as an individual artist. If you don’t play, the timing and skill that goes into this is so insanely off the charts that it’s hard to compare it with anything else.
I want you to try, really hard, to concentrate on the guitar parts. Again, it’s really busy – but I have faith that you can do it.
Gotta tell you, I don’t actually have better words than that. I think they’re pretty appropriate words. I also have lots of words, so I think it’s telling that I don’t have better words.
That was live. This is just three people and we’re only concentrating on one of them. Yeah…
I think I’ve been pretty upfront about my biases and my opinion. You can argue that he’s only in 34th or 68th position, or you can argue that he should be in 9th position. What I don’t think can be argued is that he’s absolutely miles and miles above the level of Jimi Hendrix. That he is self-taught, and such an exemplary player, is even more impressive. As for sheering influence? He’s influenced and entire generation of guitar players and is now working on a second generation of influence.
Is his influence as big as Hendrix’ influence? Nope. But, I’d argue that his influence is better than Hendrix. He definitely wins with technical merit, creativity, composition quality, use of varied techniques, and ability to recreate his work in a live environment. Hendrix couldn’t play the same thing twice. Lifeson has near perfect replication of music that’s exceedingly complex, live.
I’ll absolutely accept that he could be placed elsewhere on this list. If you don’t agree that he belongs on this list, you’re just plain wrong! I’m not even sure how someone can be that wrong?
He’s probably the most overlooked member of Rush and doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Today, we correct that grave injustice. Today, we stand up and boldly declare that Lifeson is Better than Hendrix!
Hmm… This article is already really damned long. I’ve also included a ton of videos. Do y’all want a video for the road?
That’s actually a stupid question. I can’t actually hear your answer to that question!
So, you’re getting a video for the road, regardless.
Seeing as it’s one for the road, and I’ve not shown some of their best work, you would be wise to watch this video. Yes, he plays two different guitars in it. It’s an older trick, where you have one guitar (frequently an acoustic) in a special stand – Malmsteen was not the first to make use of this!
It’s short, but well worth watching. I’ve already demonstrated my point and this just feels like beating a dead horse, but it’s worth watching – if you have the time and interest.
Well… The ride’s over, folks. There you have it, another guitarist better than Hendrix and one that’s very deserving of our recognition. I admit, this is a work of passion – and not purely academic. For all the objectivity I try to maintain, I’m not exactly sure where to place him on this list. I will also add that he’s been suggested by several of you readers – and rightfully so.
I figured I’d use today to tell you about a guitarist you probably know about, but may not really know much about. Because of the massive skill that is Rush, he’s often overlooked, and that’s a damned shame. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!