Oh, for fuck’s sake! I’ve written this damned intro 25 times already!
If you don’t know what I’m doing, why are you even here?!?
I ain’t even gonna link to the (not updated) complete list. It’s in the upper right. Click it, if you want to. You can also use the category – it’s a link! Just click on ‘greatest guitarists’ and it’ll happily whisk you away to view ’em until you’re contented.
I’ve told you all this before! Sheesh!
The damned morons at Rolling Stone Magazine (and other publications) have decided to call Jimi Hendrix the greatest guitarist. Because they’re a pack of window-licking mental handicaps with signs of fetal alcohol poisoning, they appear to have not been the least bit objective about this designation.
It is my opinion that the phrase ‘greatest guitarist’ is a technical qualification. It’s still not possible to be 100% objective and it’s exceedingly difficult to actually rank some of these musicians individually based on any metrics.
The one thing these people have in common, often adjusted for the era, is that they’re more proficient guitarists than Hendrix was.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like Hendrix. (I get that accusation with some regularity.) No, I love Hendrix. He was a brilliant artist, great inspiration, and made some pretty awesome sounds with his guitar.
However… He was not a very skilled guitarist – when compared to the guitarists on my list. I can, and might just do it, list hundreds of guitarists who are more adept at the instrument. Seriously, I can keep this list up for a long, long time!
I take into account such things as ability to demonstrate an understanding of music theory, composition completeness, mastery of technique, consistency, and depth of tone knowledge. I also take into account some less tangible things, some things harder to quantify, such as innovation and influence.
The word “like” has pretty much no place on my list. It doesn’t matter if I like the music they made. I’m not judging them on their ability to make art. I’m judging them on their ability to play their fucking instrument.
It hasn’t happened in a while, but some of my earlier articles got responses like, “There’s no such thing as bad guitar playing.” Sometimes, it’s phrased as something like, “You can’t judge art.” They’ll happily tell me that it’s a matter of preference.
A master classical guitarist plays better than your six year old child that just picked up a guitar and plucked three strings. Classical guitar is more difficult, more technically demanding, than grunge. Four-finger tapping is more difficult than playing chords. These are objective truths.
With regards to this list, your preferences are as unimportant as my own. While I do like many of the guitarists on this list, that’s not actually a requirement.
In fact, there are many guitarists on this list that I don’t regularly listen to – and I’m sure as shit not suggesting that you decide to start doing so. Liking them is subjective and this is an attempt to be objective.
After all, if you’re handing out awards that purport indicate greatness status with an instrument, that should be an objective decision. If you call Jimi Hendrix the “Greatest Rock Artist” then I’ll bitch a lot less.
And, yes… It’s a personal thing. It is without (much) pride that I objectively state that I play Hendrix better than Hendrix played Hendrix. Not only can I faithfully replicate him, I can even replicate his mistakes.
I can’t write like Hendrix. I can’t compose like Hendrix. I can’t compile innovations like Hendrix. I will never innovate like Hendrix.
In fact, my greatest guitar innovation is eating a bunch of acid and playing a guitar with a metal coat hanger. Let’s just agree that that sort of thing is absolutely never gonna leave the studio!
But, from a technical standpoint, I can sure as fuck play guitar better than he did. I don’t even have to set a guitar on fire! In fact, the idea of setting a guitar on fire is something that I am mortified by! That’s just horrible! Horrible!
Ya know… I tell you the same thing – pretty much every week.
Raise your hand if you just skip right over the intro…
Ha! Caught you! If you skipped over the intro, you’d have not read that!
This artist may not seem, to today’s ears, to really rate being on my list. However, they have influenced your playing – and you may not even know who they are. In their day, they were the top player and, as mentioned, we have to take the era into account.
Even if we don’t adjust for the era, they’re still better than Hendrix – but they’re probably not better than someone like Vai – unless we do that era adjustment.
Let’s introduce ’em!
#26 Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker
There must be something about Texas, ’cause here’s another artist that hails from the State of Texas.
It’s pretty unlikely that you know who they are.
It’s almost certain that they’ve influenced you – even if you don’t play the guitar yourself.
By the way, if you recall an earlier article about the invention of the electric guitar, you’ll see why the guitar is played in that position. History doesn’t tell us that T-Bone played Hawaiian music, but that’s probably why the guitar is held that way. ‘Twas pretty unremarkable at the time, though it probably seems pretty strange to folks today.
Walker was born in Texas, in 1910. He lived until 1975, making it to the age of 64 before he died in Los Angeles, California.
Ever hear of the blues?
Ever hear the blues played on an electric guitar?
Ever hear of “jump blues?”
Ever hear of Rock N Roll?
You can thank T-Bone Walker, though he’s not in a position to accept it. He’s dead. Still, I suppose you can thank him posthumously, which is what the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame did.
Yup, he was inducted in 1987 – in the Early Influences category.
I’d really, really like to think that I don’t need to explain why. If I have to tell you that rock and roll came from the blues, I’m gonna be sorely disappointed with your education!
Without the blues, you don’t have a goodly amount of modern Western music. Jazz, swing, rock, pop, hip-hop, and even rap and many more genres can all trace their origins to the blues.
Equally importantly, without T-Bone Walker, you don’t even have a Jimi Hendrix. You also don’t have people like BB King.
Yup… It was Walker who inspired King to get an electric guitar and play himself some blues.
Showing off as a guitarist?
Hendrix could play his guitar with his teeth!
Yup… He got that little trick from a fella named T-Bone Walker.
Playing behind his back?
Yup… Got that little number from T-Bone Walker.
In Walker’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this was the quote used:
T-Bone Walker was the first to make a guitar wail, cry out and buckle under the weight of his emotion. He has influenced the likes of B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton.
And, it’s a bit unlikely that many readers will know about him.
Curiously, on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists, Rolling Stone put him 47th position – but Wikipedia happily claims they put him in 67th position and I’m not going to fix it.
Ever hear a bitchin’ guitar solo?
Well, many people can legitimately claim credit for this – but he pretty much invented the guitar solo – as we know it today. Other people have mastered the guitar solo and have influenced the directions that solos take today, but you can easily attribute the invention (as we know it today and amplified) to one Mr. T-Bone Walker.
So, who the hell was this guy?
Well, like many of the artists who have so far made the list, he was born to a musical family and he had musical inspiration pretty much from the beginning. He was called “T-Bow” by his mother, a shortening of his middle name, and that was later changed to “T-Bone.”
Trivia: I have a buddy with that same nickname. He doesn’t play guitar and I’m told that’s a reference to his penis. I feel you should know this. You’re welcome.
Also, and unfortunately, the Wikipedia article about T-Bone is woefully incomplete and doesn’t appear to be very accurate. It’s things like that which make me think it’s probable that you’re not familiar with him. He doesn’t get nearly the accolades he deserves and is a bit obscure.
His family moved when he was quite young, but it was to another city in Texas. It was Dallas, if you’re curious. He had a father that was a ‘street singer’ and his family was also really active in the church.
T-Bone quit school at the age of 10 and started to sing with his father at drive-in soft-drink stands.
I’ll let that sink in…
He was 10…
As near as I can tell, quitting school at a very young age, living in Texas, and being involved in church are the primary requirements to learning to play bitchin’ guitar solos and make it to my prestigious list!
So kids, if you aspire to someday receive the recognition of making it to my list – I suggest you quit school and move to Texas. Attending church probably isn’t mandatory, but it might increase your odds of making my list.
pretty much every single artist so far on the list is not known for playing music usually associated with church attendance – unless you go to some bizarre Church of Rock.
Umm… If you do attend some Church of Rock, please send me an email – I have questions! Lots and lots of questions… (One of which will probably be, “Do you have bells and a pipe organ?!?”)
It was around that time that he became the “lead boy” for a fella named Blind Lemon Jefferson. Jefferson was not a lemon, but he was blind. Astute readers will also know that Blind Lemon is considered the father of “Texas Blues” and was the most popular blues artist in the 1920s.
Why was he called the ‘lead boy?’ ‘Cause Blind Lemon was, you know, blind. T-Bone would lead ’em down the street.
Notably, I don’t believe T-Bone even really played guitar at that point.
In other words, he wasn’t playing with ’em – he was just leading him down the street. But, it gave him both exposure and experience.
It was around that time, history isn’t really certain, that he taught himself to play a few instruments. He played a banjo, uke, and (of course) a guitar.
In 1929, he began recording ‘country blues’ under the name of Oak Cliff T-Bone. This was, of course, played on an acoustic guitar – as was the fashion at the time.
Then, in what appears an occurrence so frequent that it has become a cliche, ol’ T-Bone packed his shit and moved to Los Angeles, California.
It was in LA that he decided he was going to play himself an electric guitar. We only have his word for this, and there’s no reason to doubt it, but his doing so makes him the first major musician to start playing an electric guitar.
Even if it isn’t accurate – the date is not precisely known – he was the pioneer who amplified the blues. There are some early pictures with him and an electric guitar, but we can’t say with complete confidence that he was the first. However, it’s generally accepted as factual and it’s a fairly trivial point – because he absolutely pioneered electric guitar as it pertains to the blues, and then the music that’d follow it.
In 1939, he joined the Les Hite’s Cotton Club Orchestra. It was there where he perfected his amplified guitar licks and developed his vocal talent. That band also had such people as Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton.
In 1942, he began recording under the name of T-Bone Walker and recorded his most famous (and very frequently covered) song, Call it Stormy Monday (But Tuesday’s Just as Bad). The song goes under a variety of names and has been covered many times.
His most acclaimed album wouldn’t come until 1973, and would be a double album and made after a period of popularity decline. The following year, he was hospitalized by bronchial pneumonia and would die from the disease on March 16, 1975, after a lengthy time in the hospital.
You can’t do proper justice to his work if you view them with modern eyeballs. No, you’re not going to see four-finger tapping and power chords. No, you’re not going to see him using a looper and a dozen stomp boxes. You’re not even going to see him playing with great rapidity.
Instead, you’ll see an intuitive understanding of music theory. You’ll see marked timing that changed an entire art form and created many others. You’ll see patterns that are still as popular today as they ever were. You’ll see blues not just changed, but amplified – with all the adjustments that entails.
If you like music made after about 1942, you can pretty much thank him for it. It’s arguable that someone else might have eventually made his musical choices, but that’s not salient – as he’s the one that did.
Had it not been for T-Bone Walker, the guitar might not be the instrument at the front of the band. Given the name of this site, and all the content on it, you can pretty much assume that I’m pretty biased about where I think the guitar belongs. I have T-Bone to thank for that.
Yes, he’s influenced me – and he’s influenced you. If you’re reading this site, there’s pretty damned good odds that he’s had a lasting impact on the music you play and listen to.
If he were alive today, I’d like to think he’d say, “You’re welcome!”
But… Being influential is not actually enough to make my list! Well, I suppose he’d probably be an exception – ’cause he was REALLY fucking influential. Without him, you’d maybe not have many of the other guitarists on this list. Without him, the guitar might have remained a relatively obscure instrument because amplification may not have taken off in popularity.
So, strip away your expectations based on musicians of today. Step back in time and imagine society as the decade ticked over to the 1940s. Step back in time and imagine when jazz was still king, but T-Bone Walker wanted to play himself a bitchin’ blues solo.
This first video is him a little later in life. Don’t let the title fool you, the music is pure blues.
That includes such timeless lyrics such as, “I’m in love with a woman, but she’s not in love with me.” Blues sentiments appear to be immortal.
Not recognizing the guitar licks?
Try this one…
Still not getting it?
This is going to be a little difficult, as I can’t properly embed it and I’m being too lazy to infringe copyright more than normal.
Watch this video and then follow the instructions below:
Now, click to open it on YouTube. Go on – it won’t hurt.
Now, mouse-over the video and there’s a gear icon. Click that. Change the speed to 2x. Don’t just imagine it – try it.
See? I told you!
If it wasn’t for him, you’d not have a whole lot of music – and he was actually a fantastic guitar player.
And, that’s yet another guitarist who was better than Hendrix – and far more influential than Hendrix. Whenever you see people saying they were influenced by Hendrix, Clapton, BB King, or whoever – remember who it was that influenced them. If it wasn’t T-Bone himself who influenced them, the people who did influence them were probably influenced by T-Bone.
Yeah… I’m pretty sure he’d say, “You’re welcome.”
I suppose I’ll give you a video for the road. It just so happens that I have one in mind and I’m pretty sure it’s the most awesome thing I’m going to share all day!
And, finally, I’ve gone from not having anything to write about to having too much to write about. Unfortunately, tomorrow’s article is probably going to have to be a pretty pointless one. Still, it’d appear that I’m not yet out of shit to say and I’d like to thank you for reading and commenting. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!