28 Jun 2016

The world's greatest guitar solos!

From Afternoons, 2:14 pm on 28 June 2016
Jimmy Page in California 1983

Jimmy Page in California 1983 Photo: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Hundreds of our listeners have shared their favourite guitar solos of all time. Trevor Reekie has compiled the top picks and joins Jesse Mulligan to run through them for us, and try to determine what makes for the guitar X-factor in an over-subscribed genre.

Mike Bloomfield: Stop, Super Session

The late American guitarist Mike Bloomfield featured on Bob Dylan’s rock singles from ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ to ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘Tombstone Blues’. He backed Dylan at Newport in 1965 for the controversial set that announced Dylan turning electric. Bloomfield also played with Paul Butterfield, later Electric Flag. The following video is from the album Super Session, 1968. Bloomfield died in 1981.

Les Paul: How High the Moon

Les Paul (1915–2009) not only designed the iconic Les Paul model guitar made by Gibson which rivaled the Fender Stratocaster, he also revolutionised sound recording by pioneering the multi-track recorder. He played with Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby.

Joe Satriani: Surfing with the Alien

Teacher to the stars (Kirk Hammett, Steve Vai) Joe Satriani has won heaps of Grammys. He released Surfing with the Alien in 1987. He's toured with Mick Jagger on his solo tours, and came to Guitar Fest in Taranaki in 2008. He is an improviser, although he says “it’s easier to improvise than it is to improvise and be good”.

Larry Carlton, Steely Dan: Kid Charlemagne

The following clip is taken from Steely Dan’s 5th album The Royal Scam released in 1976. Session guy Larry Carlton has received four Grammys and played on Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall.

Jennifer Batten: Beat it, live

Talking of Michael Jackson, Jennifer Batten (1957-) broke the stereotypes of the male dominated rock industry to perform three world tours with Michael Jackson between 1999 and 2001. I interviewed Jennifer - she knew Eddie Van Halen’s solo, and went from being a geek to a freak playing with Jackson. She also played and recorded with Jeff Beck, and rates Australian woman Orianthi, an equally brilliant guitarist.

Jeff Beck: Immigrant Song, live

He’s had an awesome career and unlike Jimmy Page and others is still out there today. It’s hard to fault Jeff Beck. He played Auckland in 2009.  He’s one of three great guitarists who came out of the Yardbirds (Clapton, Beck, Page), formed the Jeff Beck Group which featured Ron Wood, Rod Stewart, Mickey Waller and followed the success of Cream, which was in turn followed by Led Zep in cracking America. On 4 April, 2009 Jeff Beck was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame by Jimmy Page who had known Beck since they were teenagers and later played in The Yardbirds together. Beck also performed that night and this clip features him bringing out Jimmy Page who played 12-string rhythm and Beck rampages his way through Immigrant Song. He doesn't use plectrums (guitar picks).

Stevie Ray Vaughn: Lenny

Stevie Ray Vaughn (1954 – 1990) dedicated Lenny to his wife who rounded up enough money ($350) from seven of her friends to pay for a vintage Fender Stratocaster that Stevie found in a second hand shop. Stevie Ray Vaughn died aged 35 in a helicopter crash. In his short career he mastered a blues style that was informed by Jimmy Hendrix. In 1978 he formed his band Double Trouble, named after an Otis Rush track. He played with David Bowie on ‘Let's Dance’, but it was when he recorded with record man John Hammond that he started to break through, going on to record six studio albums. Lenny is taken from his debut album on Epic called Texas Flood from 1983. Rumour has it that about the time Stevie Ray came to New Zealand to play on the TV commercial for Europa called 'Travelling On', Vaughn was a recovering alcoholic and drug dependent so while he was here he went to AA meetings - can you imagine the stir he caused when he stood up and recited "I'm Stevie Ray Vaughn, and I'm an alcoholic". Stevie was one of the greats, cut down before he was at the top of his game.

Richard Thompson: Shoot Out the Lights

It’s wonderful to see a number of discerning listeners shout out for Richard Thompson – He played at Womad at 2015 with his trio and was just stunning. I had the pleasure of not only interviewing him but also gifting him a book by musician/sailor Andrew Fagan (The Mockers) called Swirly World Sails South. Andrew asked me to give it to him because when he lived in London Andrew was Richard’s guitar technician. These days Richard lives in LA. He started off in the Fairport Convention in 1967, and considering they were an electric folk band they achieved phenomenal success. His solo career has produced an enviable back catalogue of 25 solo albums and his songs have been covered by artists including REM, Elvis Costello, Sandy Denny, Los Lobos, Jefferson Starship, Graham Parker, David Byrne, and David Gilmour. An incredible talent, and still gigging. His guitar style was less informed by the blues than by Celtic inspirations and possibly that's his point of difference. Jeff Beck rates Thompson as one of the best living guitarists around – high praise.

Neil Young: Like a Hurricane

Lots of requests for Neil, who is capable of any number of solos ranging from sparse and emotive to a mesmerising blast of fuzz and fury. Neil started off in Buffalo Springfield and later joined Crosby Stills & Nash as well as having a wonderful solo career. His acoustic style and his song writing are legendary but when you hear him in full flight playing his black Les Paul it’s an incredible sound. Technically it’s all over the shop but it’s so incredibly creative and intense – I have the feeling he’s one of those guitarists who wouldn’t play the same solo twice. This one is from the 1977 album American Stars 'n Bars.

Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits: Sultans of Swing

This is pretty much the song that put Mark Knopfler on every guitarists radar. Played on a Fender Strat, he’s one of those guitarists who mashes licks and chords and has such a delicate touch. Once again, he doesn’t use a plectrum so his left hand technique is very melodic. Sultans of Swing was released as a demo in 1978 and played by the late English DJ Charlie Gillett in the post punk era but it did nothing. Re-released in 1979 on Vertigo and Warner Music, it was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. Mark Knopfler went to be a producer for Bob Dylan and Randy Newman. Curious fact: Knopfler is left-handed, but plays the guitar right-handed… that could be his point of difference.

Mick Taylor, Rolling Stones: Time Waits for No Man

Mick Taylor came from the school of John Mayall, who had a knack for finding great guitar players – first Eric Clapton, then Peter Green and then Mick Taylor. Taylor was 18 at the time, and relatively shy when he joined Mayall who then recommended him to Jagger when Brian Jones was dumped from the Stones – so Taylor’s first gig with the Stones was the Free Concert in Hyde Park in 1969 when he was 20. He played on 'Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers' and 'Exile on Main Street' but one suspects the stress, drugs - and dealing with Keith - got to him in the end. Recorded in 1974 'Time Waits for No One' featured on the album It’s Only Rock 'n Roll. Mick Taylor's extended guitar solo may have been inspired by a visit to Brazil following the Stones' European Tour 1973. It was to be Taylor’s swan song with The Stones. He asserts he was robbed of a song writing credit because it was during a period when Keith Richards was frequently absent. One of the few people to leave The Stones and live to tell the tale.

Eric Clapton, John Mayall Bluesbreakers: All Your Love

'All Your Love' was written by blues man Otis Rush in 1958. Mayall recorded it with Clapton when Eric was just 21. It’s one of those seminal albums. Clapton left Mayall and went on to form Cream, Blind Faith, Derek & The Domino’s...

Peter Green, Fleetwood Mac: Albatross

This got a big reaction from our audience. It features Peter Green on guitar who had left John Mayall with two other ex Mayall band members: Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. Released as a single in 1968, it topped the charts.

There’s an interesting story about the 1959 Sunburst Les Paul guitar Peter Green used to play back in the day of Fleetwood Mac. Green used it on many of his big hits including 'Oh Well, Black Magic Woman' and 'Man of the World'. He sold it to Gary Moore from Thin Lizzy (and a stellar solo career).

Gary Moore: Parisienne Walkways

Gary played the 1959 Sunburst he bought from Peter Green for his entire career, eventually putting it up for sale. It was on the market for a few years before Kirk Hammett from Metallica paid an undisclosed sum for it… the guitar is unique in that one of the pick-ups was wired in the wrong way around, giving it a unique tone. Moore died in 2011 aged 58. This solo is an excerpt from his hit 'Parisienne Walkways' recorded live. It was his signature song performed on a signature guitar.

Robert Fripp with Brian Eno: Baby’s on Fire

‘Baby’s on Fire’ from Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets features an off the wall solo, triple-tracked by Robert Fripp, originally a founding member of King Crimson. Eno and Fripp have collaborated a lot over the years on all manner of records including 'No Pussyfooting' and contributions to David Bowies single ‘Heroes’. Robert Fripp is a most unusual man who is married to singer Toyah Wilcox - he’s had an amazing creative career.

Prince: Purple Rain, live

Huge voting turn out for Prince’s guitar skills. This performance is taken from the televised half-time open air performance at the 2007 Super Bowl in Miami – the weather was wet and it’s incredible that he played but Prince rose to the occasion, and it was viewed by over 100 million people. Prince is an icon of creative artistry with a distinctive and tasteful style, and always visual and exciting.

Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin: Dazed and Confused

Jimmy Page started off as a session musician from a very young age playing on some of the biggest hits of the 60s. He later joined the Yardbirds while Beck was in the band, Page took over on guitar and the New Yardbirds slowly morphed into Led Zeppelin - a name suggested by Keith Moon. This track (written by Jake Holmes) was from the first album recorded in 1968, which featured Page using a violin bow. I think a lot of Led Zeppelin’s mystique and influence was their timing - they became the biggest band in America and went on to influence an incredible array of musicians.

Jimi Hendrix: Little Wing

Hendrix was going nowhere in the States, playing back-up to the likes of Little Richard. English women were Hendrix’s saviour. Linda Keith, who was the girlfriend of Keith Richards, saw Jimi and introduced him to Chas Chandler from the Animals who became his manager. History has it that Hendrix agreed to go to the UK as long as Chandler could introduce him to Eric Clapton. Within a month of living in London, Hendrix had made a name for himself. An incredibly, fully-formed guitarist, it was like he came out of nowhere. He was dead by the age of 27. Recorded in 1967 and included on the second album Axis Bold As Love ‘Little Wing’ has been covered a myriad of times by artists as diverse as Nigel Kennedy and Chaka Khan.

David Gilmour, Pink Floyd: Comfortably Numb

Taken from The Wall, released in 1979, this song and solo was by far the top audience choice from the feedback sent to Jesse. It’s also Noel Gallagher’s favorite guitar solo. David Gilmour is an incredibly fluid and tasteful player. He joined Pink Floyd in 1968 to replace Syd Barrett. It is amazing how, over the years, Pink Floyd - once placed firmly in the counter culture - has become mainstream, and that has got to because of the album Dark Side of the Moon. For the solos on ‘Comfortably Numb’, David Gilmour is obviously using a couple of effects, like a Big Muff and a delay, but it really is just his fingers, his vibrato, his choice of notes and how he sets his effects.