100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time? Not Even Close.

There was a time long ago in a galaxy far, far away where Rolling Stone Magazine (RSM) had an ounce or two of actual journalistic and editorial credibility. Sadly, that time and place is long gone. Each time RSM puts out another list of the "100 Greatest This" or "50 Greatest That," RSM continues to show just how out of date and out of touch its editors really are.

This leads me to my current rant, which is the following article by RSM:

100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time
http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-guitarists-of-all-time-19691231

I realize that these types of lists are highly subjective, and as such no single person will ever be 100% happy with the results - with the notable exception of the guy that made the list. But just the same, here's how I would measure any guitarist's legacy - I use the TOAD elements to gauge their level of impact:

  • Talent
    (And by this I mean technical prowess on the guitar; songwriting skills and vocal talent do not matter here.)
  • Originality
    (Guitarists that make a career out of sounding like some other guitarist aren't worth much in my book.)
  • Affect on other guitar players
    (What influence does this guitar player have on other guitar players?)
  • Durability in the music industry
    (Even a one-hit wonder can still impact future generations, while other guitar players might have an entire catalog of utterly forgettable music.)

With this in mind, I took a long look at the RSM list, and it's really quite pathetic. Most of the guitarists in their list simply don't belong on anybody's list of guitar greats, while many others are badly slighted or given way more credit than they are due.

Here's a few of my thoughts on the top ten, in the order that they appear on the list:

  1. Jimi Hendix:
    I'd have to agree with RSM, more or less. Whenever you create a list with all of the guitarists who have had significant talent, originality, and influence on other guitar players - Hendrix has to be in the top 10. I may not like everything that he did, and he may have acted like an idiot when he was offstage, but few guitarists have had Jimi's level of direct or indirect influence on future generations of guitarists.
  2. Duane Allman:
    You have got to be kidding me. I like the Allman Brothers, and Duane may certainly belong in the top 100, but he should never he be at #2. Sure, Duane was a skilled guitar player, but few people in the past two decades (1990 through 2010) pay much attention, so Affect and Durability are moot.
  3. BB King:
    Mr. King always belongs in a top 100 list; good call. Maybe not always in the top 10, but certainly in the top 100.
  4. Eric Clapton:
    I would more or less agree with a top 10 rank - for sheer volume of work, guitar skills, influence, etc. Clapton always deserves to be on anyone's top 100 list.
  5. Robert Johnson:
    RJ definitely had chops, but Johnson has influenced more guitar players indirectly than directly; his influence is there, but typically as someone who influenced someone else who influenced someone else, etc. I would put him in a top 100 list, but not in the top 10.
  6. Chuck Berry:
    One of the first real showmen on the guitar, Chuck has all of the TOAD elements, and several of his signature riffs are copied to this day. I would always put Chuck in a top 100 list, but perhaps not in the top 10.
  7. Stevie Ray Vaughn:
    Stevie had all four TOAD elements and plenty to spare. As 80's-era guitarists kept branching off into neo-classical styles, Stevie kept mercilessly stomping everyone into the ground with killer blues chops. I would always put Stevie in a top 100 list, if not in the top 10.
  8. Ry Cooder:
    RC is a lot like Duane Allman - a lot of guitar players from the past twenty years ask, "Who's Roy Cooper?" [sic] Ry definitely has chops and probably deserves to be in anyone's top 100 list, but he just doesn't have the lasting impact to belong in anyone's top 10 list. (With the notable exception of lists that are created by Ry Cooder fans.)
  9. Jimmy Page:
    I'd have to more or less agree. All too often I see Page at #1 on these types of lists, and I would never put him there. But Page always belongs in the top 10 for the sheer variety and volume of work, not to mention his influence on other guitar players. Even though it has long since been proven that Zep ripped off a lot of other artists for many of their most significant works, Page still gets kudos from me for his arrangements of other people's songs.
  10. Keith Richards:
    Three words: No Freaking Way. I'm sorry to all of you Rolling Stones fans out there, but Keith just does not belong in anyone's top 10 list - he doesn't have the chops, or the originality, or the influence on other guitar players. Personally, I wouldn't put Keith in a top 100 list if it meant leaving out the scores of guitar players that didn't make the RSM list.

That wraps up my tirade for the top ten, so here are some assorted thoughts for the rest of the list:

  • Kurt Cobain (#11):
    I live in Seattle where KC is still worshipped as the prophet of angry youth and misplaced rage. That being said, no one can argue the point that Cobain had a tremendous affect on other guitarists in his age group as one of the heralds for the emerging grunge invasion. The trouble is - Kurt was attempting to distance himself from the blazing speed metal guitar gods of the 1980's, so Kurt made his claim to fame by being bad at his instrument, somewhat like members of the punk phase did back in the 1970's. So when you look at the TOAD elements:
    • Talent - Kurt was only a so-so guitarist
    • Originality - Kurt was definitely original (although I would go out of my way to not sound like him; for example - by tuning my guitar)
    • Affect - Kurt definitely influenced other guitarists (for better or for worse)
    • Durability - only time will tell
    So in the end, Kurt might deserve a place in a top 100 list, but certainly not at #11. (Maybe at #100.)
  • Dick Dale (#31):
    Yup - Mr. Dale defined surf guitar back in the 1960's. Good call.
  • John McLaughlin (#49):
    I have no arguments with McLaughlin's inclusion - but if you're going to include one jazz player, then where are the others? Where's Al Di Meola? Pat Metheny? Joe Pass? Allan Holdsworth?
  • Ike Turner (#61):
    No way. Never. Nope. Nada. Ike doesn't belong in a top 100 list. Not for what he did to Tina, but simply because he doesn't really measure on the TOAD scale as a guitarist.
  • Vernon Reid (#61):
    Always an underrated artist, it was good to see Vernon on this list.
  • Eddie Van Halen (#70):
    Like him or hate him - Eddie Van Halen defined rock guitar for the 1980's, inasmuch or to an even greater level than Hendrix did for the 1970's. No guitar player of the 1980's was more copied and no rock group name was more immediately recognizable in the 1980's than Van Halen - period. Even if you didn't listen to rock music you still knew who Van Halen was. Eddie has a solid grasp on all of the TOAD elements (with plenty of room to spare), so to see him at #70 is just plain stupid.
  • Joni Mitchell (#72):
    This launches a weird dilemma - Joni doesn't have any chops where great guitar players are concerned, but she is a very skilled singer/songwriter that has all of the TOAD elements if you are willing to look the other way for her technical chops on the guitar. But if you do so, then you need to add Jim Croce, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, and a whole host of other singer/songwriters that may not have had killer guitar skills but have everything else that it takes to be an original and durable artist with plenty of influence on future generations. Personally, I'd rather drop Joni and everyone else that I just mentioned from any top 100 guitarists list, and I'd drop George Harrison (#21) from the list at the same time.
  • David Gilmour (#82):
    Gilmour definitely needed to be on this list, but #82 is probably too low on the list. David's impact on rock guitar is considerably more valuable than the contributions made by the endless barrage of average guitarists that were placed higher in the list. And the fact that David is lower on the list than Joni Mitchell (#72) is ridiculous.
  • Joan Jett (#87):
    In the Runaways it was Lita Ford doing all the dangerous guitar, and in the Blackhearts it was Eric Ambel or Ricky Byrd on guitar during their heyday back in the 1980's. While Joan's music has something of lasting durability, she just doesn't have it where it counts as a guitar player - she doesn't have the chops, or the originality, or any level of influence on other guitar players.

So who got missed? A lot of truly great guitarists. Here are just a few:

  • Joe Satriani:
    The fact that Joe didn't make this list shows just how out of touch the idiots people that put this list together really are. Anyone that knows anything about guitar knows that Joe belongs on any top 100 guitarists list - and usually in the top 10.
  • Ted Nugent:
    The fact that Uncle Ted didn't make this list is further proof that the people who write for RSM are on drugs. When Ted doesn't make the list and Duane Allman gets a #2 slot even though Ted's guitar could single-handedly track Duane through five Midwestern states in a blizzard, then capture Duane and skin him before his heart stops beating is ample proof that this list's priorities are seriously in question.
  • Steve Vai:
    Steve's music is way too weird for me, but look at his credits: Frank Zappa's band, Alcatrazz (replacing Yngwie Malmsteen), David Lee Roth's band (more or less replacing Eddie Van Halen), Whitesnake (replacing both Vivian Campbell and Adrian Vandenberg), and a recurring slot on the G3 tour. Vai has a solid grasp of all the TOAD elements - dropping Vai from this list is ridiculous.
  • Eric Johnson:
    Eric gets nominated for Grammy awards every few years because - let's face it - he's a really talented guitarist with boatloads of originality. The fact that Eric was dissed on RSM's list is a travesty.
  • Prince:
    Personally, I can't stand Prince. He's a pompous idiot and his music makes me want to hurl. But I cannot argue the fact that he has all of the TOAD elements, even if I don't like him.
  • Yngwie Malmsteen:
    Yngwie is probably the most arrogant son-of-a-gun on the planet, but it's undeniable that he has Talent, Originality, and Affect elements to spare, even if Durability remains to be seen. But it's inescapable that he was one of the biggest heralds of the neo-classical rock guitar genre, for better or worse.
  • Alex Lifeson:
    Since everyone knows that RSM hates Rush, it's easy to understand why Alex didn't make this list. But come on people, whether you like Rush or not is irrelevant here - Alex has put out more music with greater originality than probably 90% of the guitarists that made the list. And he did so by not ripping off other artists like Jimmy Page (#9) and George Harrison (#21) did.
  • Al Di Meola:
    The omission of countless scores of great Jazz guitarists from this list is bad enough, but leaving out Al Di Meola, who is probably one of the greatest fusion guitarists ever, shows that this list's creators just don't get it.
  • Kerry Livgren:
    The music of Kansas has an incredible legacy - and generations of future guitarists will still be trying to master Carry On Wayward Son or Dust In The Wind, even if it's just on the latest version of Guitar Hero. All of that music is thanks to one ingenious and soft-spoken guitarist from Kansas named Kerry Livgren.
  • Steve Morse:
    Besides the fact that Steve Morse is probably one of the most talented guitarists in history, he's also been in the Dixie Dregs, Kansas (replacing Kerry Livgren), and Deep Purple (replacing Ritchie Blackmore).

I am, of course, leaving out the incredible number of great classical, fingerstyle, and country guitar players; people like Chet Atkins, Andres Segovia, Leo Kottke, Julian Bream, Doc Watson, Christopher Parkening, etc. Each of these guitarists have talent, originality, influence, and durability way beyond most of the guitar players that made the list. Leaving them out is just as dim-witted as the omission of the other guitarists that I had already mentioned.

So there you have it - Rolling Stone Magazine put out another worthless list, and once again they demonstrated that their editorial staff is so out of touch with musical reality that their journalistic credibility is probably beyond reconciliation with their readers. Perhaps someone should explain to them what a guitar is and how it's played, and then build on that foundation until these idiots people understand what it means to be a truly great guitarist.

Peace Sells, But Who's Buying?

I saw a video the other day for the song "Crying for John Lennon," which is a truly pathetic piece of hero worship about a boorish, drug addicted, womanizing narcissist. Putting aside the fact that John Lennon is no person to be admired, this video and song are another entry in a long line of juvenile visions of a world where nothing evil ever happens. The trouble with such a naïve approach to life is that it presupposes that everyone agrees with your interpretation of evil. How utterly immature.

Some cultures ignore their neighbors, some cultures fight their neighbors, while other cultures eat their neighbors. There is no common ground - there is no singular interpretation of what constitutes the concept of good or bad, much less a concept of "peace."

But for that matter, many a conquered people in western cultures have believed in peace at all costs. Crowds of angry youths who have been so sheltered by the blanket of freedoms which have been thanklessly provided for them are lulled into adolescent complacency and they form a misguided view of the world that ultimately leads to their destruction. I think that John Stuart Mill put it best when he said:

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

For every person who dreams of pacifism no matter the cost, there are a dozen people who are willing to kill them simply for their shoes. I have travelled abroad - and I have met some of these types of people. It is difficult for simple minds to understand that there are some people in the world who hate you just because you exist. It's nothing that you have done, it's nothing that you believe, and there's nothing that you can do about it.

So while the songwriter who inspired me to write this post may be crying for John Lennon, I am weeping for our future - because if people like this songwriter continue to persist in their delusions, we are truly doomed.

Why I love my job...

I had originally written the following for a Facebook note, but I think that it's better as a blog post:

Let's face it, if you have known me for any period of time during the past two decades you would quickly realize that outside of church, family, and music, working with computers is my next biggest passion. Being been hired by Microsoft in late 1995 was one of those moments where I smacked myself on the head and questioned why I hadn’t thought of that before. It’s just great when it turns out that you can actually make a living doing one of your hobbies. (Making a living making music would be great, too, but I work with a large number of people who have all realized that having a normal day job means that you can actually afford your music hobby. Whereas trying to make a living at music often means wondering where your next meal is coming from. But I digress...)

Anyway, I’ve had several different jobs since I joined Microsoft, which always leads to the following question from friends and family: "So, what do you do for Microsoft?"

Over the past few years I have worked on a team with several gifted people that create several technologies that perform a lot of the behind-the-scenes work for the Internet, and these days I spend my time writing about these products and telling people how they can use them. With that in mind, I thought that I’d answer a little bit of the "What do you do for Microsoft?" question by way of illustration.

The following blog post that I wrote recently branches off into several links where I discuss writing a bunch of code to do a variety of things that many people would probably find... well... less than exciting:

MSDN Blog: Merging FTP Extensibility Walkthroughs

As I said, you might not find it exciting - but for me, this why I get up in the morning, and at the end of the day it’s why I still love my job.

;-)

Whatever happened to common decency?

I realize that we live in a stressful time - so many people are concerned about major events such as the war, the spiraling economy and housing market, the erosion of employer loyalty in an ever-changing job environment, etc. But every once in a while you are treated so badly by your fellow person that it's enough to make you sit up and wonder aloud at what's going on. On two separate occasions within the last week I have been witness to some of the rudest actions that I have seen in recent months. Either event was remarkable by itself, but compounded so much more so by the severity of the discourteous behavior that I witnessed in such a short time.

This past week my wife and I took our children to the movies. As we pulled into the theater's parking lot, I chose a space next to a large SUV that had managed to squeeze into a space that was clearly designed and labeled for a compact car. This space was at the end of a row of cars, and I pulled in so close to the sidewalk on the opposite side of the gas-guzzling gargantuan that my tires were grazing the curb as I parked; because of this action I was able to make sure that there was still plenty of room between both vehicles for people to enter or exit safely.

After the movie we walked to the parking lot where I noticed a note attached to my windshield. I read the note aloud which stated, "I have your license information and pictures. I'll call the police if there's any damage." My initial thought was, "Oh no, someone hit my car." For some reason it just didn't register with me at first what was actually being said, so my son and I walked around our car to inspect for damage. We didn't see anything wrong, so I reread the note aloud a couple more times and then it hit me - the author of the note was threatening me not to damage their car.

Never mind the fact that this automotive monster was located in a space too small for its size, the driver of this mammoth on wheels was concerned that I might somehow injure their precious beast. I looked at my son and joked, "If I wasn't such a nice person, I'd kick the door on the other side of their car." We both laughed at the thought, and since I had parked so close to the curb on the opposite side of the behemoth, my son was able to make use of the ample room between the vehicles to open our car door and get in for the short drive home. (Note: Because of my disbelief that the parking lot event actually occurred, I kept the threatening note and it now adorns the bulletin board in my office.)

The fact of the matter is, however, that even though the driver of that SUV didn't really need to write that note, it was up to me to choose how best to react. In some aspects, this could have provided ample opportunity for an angry "Pay It Forward" approach to the rest of my evening or the days ahead. I could have left an equally threatening note, or I could have damaged their vehicle out of spite. Instead, I chose to make a short joke to voice my frustration and drove home peaceably.

But sometimes it's hard to remain so detached.

Recently I needed to catch a flight home on Southwest Airlines, which prides itself for on-time flights and unassigned seating. Since I fly on Southwest Airlines fairly often, I know that I should get to the airport a little earlier to get in line for general boarding. When I arrived at the gate, I found a half-dozen people sitting in line already, and I dropped my carryon luggage at the end of the queue and sat down in the line. Over the next hour, several other travelers showed up and orderly took their places behind each other. Occasionally a person or two would mistake where the line was and walk to the front of the line, and would happily relocate to the end of the line when notified of their mistake by the people ahead of me.

A few minutes before general boarding was to begin, a few of the passengers at the front of the line began to stand up. Right as I got to my feet, a couple walked up to the gate and proceeded to get in line in front of the row of waiting passengers. I pointed to the people that were sitting in line and said, "These people are in line already; the end of the line is back there" and motioned to the back of the queue. The would-be line jumper remarked that none of the passengers that I had just pointed to were actually standing in line, they were sitting, so therefore they weren't really in line. I informed him that all of these people had been there at least an hour already, and that he needed to relocate to the rear of the column. He reluctantly obliged after a brief and curt exchange of words with all of the surrounding passengers, albeit complaining the entire way that he travels 120 flights per year on Southwest Airlines. After taking his place at the end of the line, he loudly exclaimed in my direction, "Yeah, don't even look this way, ---hole!" I turned around and stared at him in disbelief, while the other people in line began to laugh at him for creating such a ruckus over having to board the plane perhaps one or two minutes later. Was any of this really called for?

Once again, however, this left me with the choice on how I was going to react. I could have followed his example and launched into a tirade of expletives, but why stoop to that level? (I must admit, however, that I did take advantage of a situation that happened moments later. A person came running up just as I was about to board the plane, and he was holding a large, boxed painting. He said that he was supposed to pre-board but had trouble getting through security. I could see that he had a pre-boarding stamp on his boarding pass, and I just couldn't resist the situation - I looked at him, then I looked back at the would-be line jumper, then I looked back at the gentleman with the boarding pass and said, "Please - be my guest," and gestured for him to board ahead of me.)

Okay, I must admit - perhaps the last part of that story was a bit over the top on my part, but I just couldn't help myself. But once again, the line jumper was way out of line. He was wrong, but insisted that everyone accept his behavior. When the surrounding crowd forced him to take his rightful place in line, he did so with a never-ending stream of complaints, insults, and expletives. That just isn't right.

So I have to ask the question again; whatever happened to common decency?