Guitar Heroes – Steve Vai

Guitar Heroes – Steve Vai

Guitar Heroes – Steve Vai I still remember the first time I heard Steve Vai playing. Guitar player magazine used to give away these strange little floppy seven inch singles in a plastic bag glued to the cover. They were great! Anyway, just when I thought I’d heard everything that could be done on a guitar along comes “The Attitude Song” on one of those little records. Wow !!

Guitar Heroes – Steve Vai

Me and my circle of burgeoning guitarists couldn’t believe what we were hearing.  This was the fastest playing, coupled with a barrage of mad tricks and sounds we had ever heard being wrenched from a guitar.  We were already struggling to learn Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Iommi riffs and solos when along comes this whole new world of playing.

The Guitar Player singles came with a transcription of the song in guitar tab, which also had notes from Steve on how to do the various tricks in the tune. These were also something of a revelation: “use the whammy bar to drop the strings right down to blubberland then back up to the moon”, and “pull that top E right off the frets till it squeaks like a mouse”, were two I remember.

So we learned as much of the attitude song as we could and then when Steve Vai’s music became obtainable in the UK, we grabbed as much as we could find. With the incredible playing though came a special guitar and amp set up that was hard to duplicate on our strats and second hand amps. We had never heard of Carvin amps and were far too “trad” to use Ibanez guitars – especially ones with 7 strings.

Soon after Steve vai arrived on the scene a whole new league of Berkeley trained, uber fast guitarists followed. It seemed like very guitar store had the latest pointy-headed guitars and kids playing Steve Vai licks. It became almost like a contest and that style of playing for me became almost a novelty. Impressive though it was. It’s style over substance for me (I know this will be sacrilege to some but it’s just my opinion and like assholes we all have one!)

Guitar Heroes – Steve Vai
Stevie “spankin” with Frank Zappa

Steve Vai’s rise to fame came through the much missed FranK Zappa. Steve managed to transcribe Frank’s incredibly tricky solo on Black Page and sent it to him with a request to be in his band. Although impressed, Mr Z declined as he thought Vai was too young. Perseverance though led to Steve joining the Zappa line up for a time and to be the subject of “Stevie’s spankin”.

I won tickets to Steve Vai in Glasgow some years ago ( I was aiming for the 1st prize – a SV guitar ) and it was an interesting gig. With everyone competing to play lead everything it was a little exhausting but some unique and amazing sounds were produced. Personal taste aside Steve is a mind blowingly talented guitarist and there was a time in my own journey that he inspired and amazed me.

Guitar Heroes – Steve Vai



Guitar Heroes – Stevie Ray Vaughan

Guitar Heroes – Stevie Ray Vaughan

stevie ray vaughan

I feel quite bittersweet writing about Stevie Ray Vaughan as I still remember being pretty gutted when he died so young and in such an ironic way. But lets concentrate on the legacy of truly amazing guitar playing he has left us.

When you listen to the soulful, beautiful but almost tortured notes of something like “Texas Flood ”, from the album of the same title, you are just “there”, with the words of the song. You can see the telephone lines – like the heavy gauge strings on Stevie’s guitar – coming down.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Heavy Gauge!

It’s sometimes hard to equate his string bending, fluid style with the Dick Dale like brutality of his guitar set up. Stevie apparently used gauge 14 strings  – tuned down a step to get his sound. He played an old strat, stripped of most of its paint which he used to soak in linseed oil to add even more fullness to the sound.

His amazing tremolo work was helped by a cut down whammy bar which, by dint of reversing the guitar southpaw style, was on the side of the bridge nearest his head.

You can hear a lot of Hendrix in the SRV style especially the bluesier stuff that Jimi played but Stevie added a Texas slant of his own – an infectious full tilt boogie feel. So distinctive was his signature sound that he was in demand by artists as diverse as David Bowie – who knows a good guitarist when he hears one! That’s him on “Lets dance” if you didn’t know.

stevie ray vaughan

Sadly Stevie Ray Vaughan was from an early age a heavy drinker and cocaine user, which very nearly killed him. He had made a recovery however not long before he was tragically killed in a helicopter accident. Like with Hendrix, who knows what he would have sounded like if he’d had more time free from his addictions.

Strat’s n Valves

SRV grew up in a time and a place full of wonderful guitarists, not least his big brother Jimmie, himself a guitar legend in Dallas and Austin. His style was born from a powerful mixture of the sounds he must’ve been absorbing from birth. The resulting fast paced, coke fuelled rocking rhythm and blues is totally uplifting as is the slower paced, more thoughtful material at which he was equally great.

Like all truly great guitarists there is something more than the strat, the vintage Fender amps and the notes he played. It’s the attitude; the hugeness of Texas, the soul and that unreachable X factor that made Stevie Ray Vaughan stand out from a million blues players. Gone but never forgotten.

So, yet another, sadly missed Strat and valve amp man who in his short career recorded a brilliant body of work and inspired millions to pick up the guitar for the first time. Required listening has to be the Texas Flood album but if you can’t get that – start anywhere – It’s all good.

Guitar heroes – Jimmy page

Guitar heroes – Jimmy page

guitar heroes - Jimmy PageI think if I had to choose just one band as my favourite – I would run away! – But if I absolutely had to choose just one it would be Led Zeppelin. They have such an iconic sound and so many great songs that I never tire of hearing so they would get my vote. As a guitarist my choice is obviously largely because of Jimmy page’s contribution to the Zep sound. s with all truly great bands there was a magic chemistry between all the members  of LZ – they just worked.

Before Zeppelin Mr Page was a much sought after session guitarist, producer and arranger. His first big band was the Yardbirds and in fact Led Zep were almost called the New Yardbirds at one point but that name didn’t stick and the rest is history.


With flash guitar playing becoming ever more popular in the mid to late sixties, guitarists like Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Jeff beck were still staying fairly close to their blues origins. Jimmy Page on the other hand was looking for a heavier sound. Although still drenched in the blues tradition with Zeppelin we got something much heavier indeed.

Everyone in Led Zeppelin was a virtuoso and everyone got their turn. Jimmy Page certainly didn’t waste his moments on the spotlight. Playing his trademark Les Paul with a violin bow was perhaps his best known and often satirised trick but he also played some strange acoustic instruments, altered tunings and the weird sounding therimin to create interesting sounds.

For me Jimmy’s biggest legacy is the huge collection of BIG riffs he created. Yes he was an accomplished lead player – the solos on “Since I been loving you”, and “Stairway to Heaven”, being a couple of my all time favourites, but those massive riffs underpinned by Bonzo Bonham’s powerhouse drumming do it for me.

Amongst the big sounding cock rock numbers Jimmy also gave us some seriously beautiful, instrumental and less in your face music: “Black Mountainside”, “Hang man”, Goin to California”, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and many others show a different side to the band often credited with inventing heavy metal.

Guitar heroes - Jimmy page

Jimmy Page also had a great onstage persona. His dragon embroidered outfits and frantic stagecraft made him hard to take your eyes off and the occult mystique that Jimmy created around the band only added to the fascination. Truly a one off band and a one off guitarist.

Guitar Heroes – Ritchie Blackmore

Guitar Heroes – Ritchie Blackmore

ritchi 1An old friend of mine was and is a complete Ritchie devotee (watch out Matt – it’s Jimmy Page next!) I’m also a big fan of the moody axe man whose work with Deep Purple, Rainbow and his solo work has definitely inspired the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and many others.

Ritchie’s playing blends elements of blues, jazz and classical into a heady concoction of Strat based power and melody that has made his influence on hard rock and heavy metal legendary.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him in action several times and was once the backstage guest of DP during their ‘85 comeback tour – although sadly the man in black didn’t deign to appear at the afters party in the Birmingham NEC.


I’d credit Ritchie Blackmore with the creation of the neo-teutonic influence on heavy metal that has spawned many copiers since the hey day of Mk2 Purple in the late 60’s. His extended use of harmonic minor and phrygian modes opened the doors for many of the NWOBHM bands that emerged in the 80’s and pretty much launched a new genre of guitar playing.

Lets not forget the image either. The black clad, medieval hatted minstrel with the intense face and showy posturing.  A perfectionist with a notoriously perfectionist attitude, Ritchie got through his fair share of band members – particularly in the ever changing Rainbow line-ups.

It’s been the white Stratocaster for Ritchie for most of his career although in the early days a Gibson 335 was his guitar of choice (no way a bigsby trem and hollow bodied guitar was going to withstand the Ritchie treatment though) Pickups and amps have changed through the years but essentially the Blackmore sound is delivered with a Stratocaster and a barrage of heavy duty valve amps. There is a strong medieval theme these days and Ritchie has also played lutes and other ancient stringed instruments to get his message across.


For my generation Smoke On The Water was one of the first riffs we learned – on one string first then later on two or three – just like Ritchie.  Such was the intricacy of his lead playing – especially alongside the keyboards of the late and great Jon Lord that it was some time before me and my mates could get a handle on it.  Now though elements of his style – the two note diad chords, the harmonic minor scales  for example have definitely been absorbed into my own style of playing and writing.

Ritchie Blackmore definitely deserves his place in the guitar heroes hall of fame for a huge body of superb work. Check out DP’s Machine head album for an entre, Rainbow Rising for a main course and Perfect Strangers for a dessert. Bon Apetite!

ritchie chips





Guitar heroes – Robbie krieger

Guitar heroes continued – Robbie Krieger

guitar heroes Robbie Krieger

No particular order here so I’m just working through my own guitar heroes and influences as they occur – don’t worry I’m sure yours will be along soon! : )

So – Robbie Krieger (Doors)

As one of my personal all time favourite bands The Doors or more correctly just – Doors – had a kind of deep, slightly dark vibe that I just loved and still do to this day. This was due in no small part obviously to the enigmatic Mr Morrison, the superb and artful drumming of John Densmore, the fab signature keyboard sound of Ray Manzarek  and the extremely creative playing of Robbie.

guitar heroes the doors

Whilst no one could accuse Robbie of fast and furious fret board mashing, his use of scales, alt tunings and slide made his playing miles ahead of his time and the stoned out, hippy noodlings of many other players of the day.

Blues Guitar Playing Influences

Like most of my favourite players there is a strong blues ethos in the background of Doors music but what Robbie did with that is to a whole new, other-worldly element all his own.

Key moments for me are the slide playing in “moonlight Drive”, the DADGAD figures he plays in “This is the end” and the extended soloing in “Light my Fire”. There is nothing particularly flash about the playing per se but oftentimes simplicity and imagination are the key.

Another nice example (that took me a while to work out) is the repeated riff Robbie plays in “Land Ho” from Morrison Hotel – it’s a deceptively simple riff but impossible to get right until you realize that he had drop the bottom E string’s tuning a full step – to D

I can listen to Doors music till the cows come home and love every part of their sound. Robbie’s guitar playing just fits the feel of the music perfectly – a great example of creative playing if ever their was one.  Here is a classically trained musician playing just what’s right for the song – restrained, un egotistical playing that captures a unique time in music – and helps create one of the most unique band sounds of all time.


Guitar Heroes – Who’s Yours?

Guitar Heroes – Who’s Yours?

I have many guitar heroes and want to do a series of short homage type posts about them. There is only one place to start IMHO

jimiEver since “something in the air” around 1965 changed a certain Mr James Marshall Hendrix from a be-suited sideman in Little Richard’s band into the psychedelic guitar god from mars, guitarists have emulated him in one way or another.

Jimi Hendrix At Woodstock

You only need to see the Star Spangled Banner  section of his groundbreaking performance at Woodstock to get a feel for the influence he’s had on guitarists and guitar based music ever since. Give it a listen to see what I mean. You will hear him effortlessly pull off passages that entire bands have since used to create their signature style.woodstock

Who knows what he would have done in later years if he hadn’t co-founded the 27 club in 1971. We know that he was getting tired of the guitar burning, feedback drenched playacting that had become expected of him and was reaching for newer sounds. Since his day guitars, amps, effects and recording techniques have evolved massively so god only knows what he might have done with all that.

Pioneering Electric Guitar Playing

Jimi has to first on my list just because of what he showed what was possible with the electric guitar. Things were basic back then in terms of Amps and FX in particular so with little more than volume to work with, his achievements were really out of this world.

Who are your guitar heroes and why ?