The decade of the 1970s marked the end of the emergence of the real guitar pioneers of the last 100 years. In part, this was because the greatest innovations in both the technical development of electric guitar, and the development of music styles (primarily in jazz & rock), had reached a climax by the time of the mid-70s. After this, we see the appearance of certain excellent stylists; however, the primary 'breakthroughs' had already been made. The emergence of 'digital sound' in the late 80s marked the beginning of a downhill trend for instrumentalists of all kinds, because since 'digital' programs could now imitate almost any sound, living music was becoming, in a sense, 'irrelevant'.
However, the 70s saw the emergence of several players who could be rightly placed in the pantheon of innovators.
Alan Holdsworth, from the UK, probably represents the pinnacle of modern electric guitar players. Fluid in the traditional jazz, blues based fusion style, Holdsworth made a major break through with his album 'IOU' which featured his highly developed 'pan-tonal' approach to electric guitar. Whereas most guitarist play in a modal style on the guitar finger board, using 'positions' based on sections of 4-5 frets at a time, Holdsworth expanded this reach to one using patterns and intervals utilizing stretches of 7-8 frets (he has large hands). This technique made extensive use of not only 'altered' scales, but 'pan tonality' since his technique and concept allowed him to imply more than one key at a time.
Holdsworth also pioneered the use of synthesized guitar on a number of albums, and was masterful in it's use. In addition to all of his innovations, Holdsworth also played more 'straight ahead' on earlier releases like 'Velvet Darkness' and with Bill Bruford in the group 'UK'. John McLaughlin was once asked about Holdsworth. His reply? 'Yes, I know Alan from back in the day, and he is a wonderful guy. His guitar playing? If I could figure out what he was doing, I would try to copy some of it.'
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen was probably the last of the electric rock guitar pioneers. He almost single handedly brought electric rock guitar back to the forefront of popular public notice during the late 70s, after years of turgid guitarists playing 'da blooze'. Although preceded by a few 'new generation' players like Randy Rhodes, Van Halen made virtuoso electric guitar playing 'cool' again in the 'punk era' where any kind of technique and excellence were rejected in favor of more 'deconstructed creativity'.
Van Halen was a great technician, building his first 'Van Halen' guitar, and his use of harmonics, 'false fingerings' and, especially, his 'tapping' technique' (where he eschewed use of the pick and played runs using just his left hand, or tapped the strings with his right fingers) opened up a new vista for younger guitarists. Eddie combined raw power with serious technique.
Pat Metheny is a Missouri born guitarist and composer who excells on electric and the acoustic instruments. He is primarily noted for his highly individualistic and lyrical style, his fluency in a variety of forms, including straight ahead jazz, fusion and Brazilian music. Metheny was also an earlier pioneer in the use of synthesized or MIDI guitar. His highly recognizable sound, willingness to experiment and longevity have made him perhaps the last of the great jazz guitar standouts. Metheny was also very fortunate in having strong record label support almost from the start of his career.
Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd
Tom Verlaine & Richard Lloyd were/are the guitarists for the 'cult rock' band Television. Television were pioneers on the US 'punk' scene, but there music was far removed from punk's musical mentality. Rather, Television was more of an 'evolved' progressive rock ensemble, with a minimalist structure, and literate lyrics. Verlaine & Lloyd formed the 'twin gear guitars' of the group's inter-locking rythmnic sensibility, creating a 'wheel within wheels' effect, using contrapuntal lines and patterns to unique effect. Television still plays a few gigs a year: I saw them in 2003, and they have maintained their trademark style, with new extensions and elements. Verlaine has also played live musical accompaniment for various art and experimental films in a number of museums and galleries over the past 6 or 7 years.
Television marked a change away from the 'virtuoso' guitar soloist style in general in rock music. Nevertheless, both Lloyd and Verlaine are both exceptional and imaginative soloists with style and technique.
Robert Fripp is best know as the founder/composer/guitarist for the UK group King Crimson. However, Fripp has been pioneering in many ways, including teaching.
Fripp is from the generation of UK guitarists that include Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, John McLaughlin and Alan Holdsworth. His disciplined and 'mathematical' approach to guitar, and his pioneering work with tape loops used in a solo guitar setting make him a true innovator. Fripp continues to compose and play until this day, with various formations of King Crimson, along with other projects.
Recently, to help pay the bills because the economic situation in my city of Philadelphia is so bad, I have taken to playing on the street. The experience has been enlightening, and for the most part positive.
Philadelphia is a 'blue collar' town, and not what one would call a 'cosmopolitan' type city. In fact, it can be quite mean. There is an appreciation of the arts here, but usually it comes with a high price, in terms of tickets and such. You have your Academy of Music, your Kimmel Center, and some other venues where it can be quite expensive to hear excellent music. Of course, whatever rock music that still comes to town is in the vein of a Bruce Springsteen, where tickets start at a ridiculous $100 a piece.
But Philadelphia has been a spawning ground for many great musicians, primary in th genre called Jazz. Also, many R & B and a handful of 'rock stars' hail from the city. So it does have a tradition.
Unfortunately, in the era of the Internet, with 'free downloads' of music, and the demise of stores where you can actually purchase PHYSICAL albums, CDs and discs, people do not want to pay money for music, unless it is a 'big name' like a Springsteen, or unless one is a subscriber to the Philadelphia Orchestra and the like. There are many, many problems for musicians who wish to work, maybe the biggest being the lack of booking agents, and the whole network that is connected with them. People now stay home for their entertainment with the 'Net', DVDs and the like.
But, neccesity is the mother of invention, so when other part time work opportunities fell through, I turned to the tried and true, my guitar.
Luckily, I have been in preparation for this for a number of years. I have been doing some solo work, at restaurants and bistros, and have developed a pleasing repetoire that is simply solo guitar. It is a bit tricky, since one has to play the melody, rythmn and harmony at the same time, and IN TIME. Pianists do this naturally, because of the nature of their instrument. Guitarist can do the same, but it takes more work, and a personalized approach.
Now, playing on the street, I approach it exactly as I do playing a club or concert. I have a prepared program of songs and pieces, which I organize according to my mood, and according to what vibes I feel from the people on the street. I play many 'cover tunes', meaning songs by other artists. I throw in Pop standards (Beatles, Mamas & Papas, Eagles) and Jazz (Adderly Brothers, Miles Davis, Coltrane) but I arrange them for solo guitar and blend in my personal style, which leans on Indian and Middle-eastern influences. When you hear me on the street, I try to present a 'class act', like you were in a good club.
The people seem to like it. The young and the older ones, because the music has a good SOUND, and is geared towar soothing the soul. Since I have worked with many rythmnic elements, I even get compliments from the 'hip-hop' crowd because of the 'funk'.
Now, the money you make is hard earned. An average wage for a street musician might be $5-10 an hour. $10 on a good day or night. I also sell CDs to augment the cash flow. It is possible to make, say, $60 for 6 hours work.
The problem is finding a good spot, with a reasonable amount of foot traffic, and hopefully, not too much 'white noise' from busses and traffic. In addition, there are harrasment problems: from security guards, store owners and even other street musicians. The Philadelphia Police are usually OK. They have bigger problems to deal with, and most are entertained by the sound.
Especially in downtown Philadelphia, there can be competition for 'prime spots' or corners here there is a lot of pedestrian traffic. So, you need to get to spot early, so you don't have to fend off street hustlers or other musicians.
This competition and running around can be taxing. I have a friend, a violinist, who has supported himself by street playing for years, but he is rather frazzled by the whole deal, and can get in 'black moods' when you encounter him on the street. It takes a certain mindset to play on the street constantly, and you have to be tough.
I have been trying to pick and varie my spots, and to be reasonable in my money hopes. Sometimes you can play for 3 hours and make $5. But, if you have patience, there will come an hour where you can make $25-30 or even more sometimes.
What I enjoy most is just the playing for people, and I usually get a great response in terms of appreciative words and reaction, if not in money terms. People will come out of stores and listen and applaud. I like to set up, on a nice day or evening, near an out door cafe or restaurant, where people are relaxing enjoying a meal or a drink. Then, I provide the musical backdrop. After they finish, many people come over and tip you, and sometimes buy a CD. And you can meet the nicest people this way, people who genuinally like what some beautiful music can bring to an othewise ordinary day, or to a concrete jungle.
I would say to all that, if you see a street musician, give him something in terms of money. I can sit in a spot and play for two hours. Maybe, on a busy day, 300-400 people will walk by. If each one tipped just 25 CENTS that would earn the musician around $100!. Amazing. But most people are way 'too busy' or cught up talking on their 'self phone' or whatnot. But, you must stop and smell the roses! This is what life is about.
I tip my hat to all street musicans and artists, the 'Evangelists' of beauty and humanity.
The first part of this series primarily featured electric guitarists who
pioneered in the jazz & rock genres. The exception was Django
Reinhardt, the French 'Gypsy Jazz' guitarist who took up the electric instrument late in his career and was able to translate his unique style from the acoustic instrument. Part 2 will feature a bit more of the great acoustic innovators..........................................Frank Dialogue
Davey Graham, British pioneer of the acoustic guitar...Incredible technique, playing bass lines, chords & melody simultaneously...Influenced such greats as Bert Jansch, John Renbourne & Jimmy Page...Wrote the classic 'Anji'...Best album 'The Guitar Player'...Mixed folk, jazz, raga & blues.
Carlos Santana, probably my personal favorite for drawing the emotional 'cry' out of the electric guitar...Still going strong, incredible player...Best album: 'Moonflower' from the late 70s featuring both Carlos & his band at an all time peak...Best recorded version of the beautiful 'Europa' & climaxes with the ultimate in Latin fusion/rock, the incredible 'Savor/Touissant L'Overture'.
The amazing Brazilian guitarist, Bola Sete ('Seven Ball'), real name Djalma de Andrade...Played nylon string exclusively, and was a master of samba, bosa nova, blues & jazz....Great album: 'Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival'...Super rythmic.
Jimmy Page, 'session man' on many early UK rock tracks, Yardbird, pioneer of tape delay, the 'e-bow' and other effects, excellent acoustic & 12-string player, used many alternative tunings & founder and producer of Led Zepplin...Sometimes maligned, but his guitar playing was ground breaking in many ways.
John Abercrombie, one of the most interesting & intelligent of late century jazz players...First noted for his beautiful track 'Timeless' in collaboration with Jan Hammer & Jack DeJohnette...Best album, the brilliant 'Gateway 2' w/ DeJohnette & Dave Holland no longer available...For new listeners, there is an excellent anthology on ECM Records...Also a wonderful acoustic player, especially in collaboration w/ Ralph Towner.
Ralph Towner, acoustic guitarist, nylon & steel string...Founder of the group Oregon, and a pioneer in modern 'chamber jazz'...Especially notable for his use of extended and open harmonies in his playing & composition.
French Gypsy Jazz Guitarist Django Reinhardt...And he only had TWO usable fingers on his fretting hand!
Charlie Christian: First Major Electric Jazz Guitar Soloist...Died in his early 20s
Les Paul: Inventor, 'Pioneer of Over-Dubbing', Great Jazz/Pop Soloist: 'Mr.Guitar'
Wes Montgomery: The 'Godfather' of Modern Jazz Guitar
Jim Hall: Pioneer of Jazz Guitar 'Minimalism' & 'Impressionism'
B B King: 'Memphis Blues Boy' and 'Godfather' of Modern Electric Blues Guitar
Mike Bloomfield: First of the great White Blues/Rockers...Also merged 'East-West'...
Dick Dale: The 'King of Surf Guitar'...Played the original Stratocaster designed by Leo Fender...Influeced Hendrix...Doesn't Consider Himself to be a 'musician'
Pat Martino: Genius, 'mathematical guitar genius' with funk/swing coming 'out his ass'... Applies 'Sacred Geometry' to his playing of lines and chords...My first teacher.
Jimi Hendrix: Genius, Self Taught...A 'lefty'...Changed the 'World of Electric Guitar' for all time.
John McLaughlin: 'Mahavishnu'... Pioneer of Jazz Fusion and World Fusion...Incredible Then/Incredible Now
These are just some very brief thumbnails, pictures and videos from the men who in my opinion are some of the most influential and individual guitarists of the last 100 years...Some of the YouTubes are not of great quality, but, for the guitar lover and others, it will give a brief glimpse of the skills of these extraordinary musicians...More to come.....