I’ve just seen a disturbing thing over at Norm’s place. Alan Johnson, a prominent figure in Labour Friends of Iraq, has answered some bonkers fundamentalist’s denunciation of the electric guitar with a selection of guitar moments. There are about twenty-five more or less famous guitarists named in his post. Of those, the half-Irish, half-Brazilian Phil Lynott is the only one who might possibly fail the paper bag test (after a long time under a sunbed).
Anyone who knows me will be well aware that I am not the sort of person who celebrates Black History Month or tries to claim that Jesus Christ was “a person of colour”, but this isn’t a list of great moments in golf he’s presented us with here. I mean, a list of great guitarists with [excuse me for the PC] no African-Americans?! Imagine a list of twenty-five great violinists with no Jews. To give you some idea of what a pathetic display of post-punk, white-boy, NME-reader cluelessness I am talking about here, this is a list of guitarists—I say again Foghorn Leghorn style—this is a list of guitarists which starts with Noel fucking Gallagher and does not even mention Jimi Hendrix.
You’re a nice and principled bloke, Alan, but I’m not going to be raiding your CD collection any time soon.
How many of these are white?
How could Alan miss out John Lee Hooker. Oh dear.
So I’m ill, off work, sipping my lemsip, and reading normblog. I see the quote about the evil of the electric guitar from the Muslim leader and decide to write something. To be honest I just free associated and let the memories, my memories, tumble out. It wasn’t a thought-out statement about great guitarists but about freedom and joy and playing air guitar to Feeder. I know Jimi Hendrix is a better gutarist than Steve Hillage, to say the least, but the L tour sprang to mind. Newcastle City Hall wasn’t full but the hurdy-gurdy man just went for it.
I grew up on my brothers prog rock / rock collection and not many African Americans were into tales from topographic oceans. My first concert was Yes (the Relayer tour, 1975 I think, with Patrick Moraz not Rick Wakeman). So you are lucky I did not regale you with tales of Rael, Imperial Aerosol King, or of meeting Steve Hackett, or queuing all night for Genesis tickets in the winter. We played tapes of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Suppers Ready all night, as the snow fell. I think at one point we even shared out the parts in Battle of Epping Forest. Now that’s a memory.
After that came punk, again not an African-American thing. White Riot, and all that. New York’s East Village in the mid-late 1970s when Television would back up Patti Smith in a club (OH. MY. GOD.) seemed pretty much like paradise to me, looking from North Shields. In 1978, mind, I think Bruce Springsteen (Darkness on the Edge of Town), Graham Parker (The Parkerilla), Bob Dylan (Blood on the Tracks and Desire – released earlier I know but I bought them that year I think) and Elvis Costello (This Years Model) fought it out for most played album. So, yeah, white r ‘n b boy. Around this time I discovered Robert Johnson, Albert King, Muddy Waters and the softer country blues. Love it all but there I dont have memories of live concerts and the post is pretty much stuff from the memory bank. We didnt sit round trying to play Robert Johnson cos we were rubbish and wanted to thrash bar chords.
Lack of live memories was why I didnt include the great Jimmy either (that’s Jimmy Page not Jimi Hendrix… – only winding you up). So the post was not a ‘list of guitarists’. It was a mainly a random collection of personal guitar memories, assembled uder the influence of paracetemol. Hence tales of me and the SG copy playing Clash City Rockers (which is The Who’s I Cant Explain, really, isnt it?).
Then came the Manchester scene in the 1980s when you could be taught by Norman Geras in the day and see The Fall at night, which you have to admit is a pretty good deal (especially when you are on a full grant, pay no fees, get paid to travel home once a term, and can sign on in the summer).
As for Noel, I tell you that day at Maine Road the sun shone and the people danced. Some might say that for a few hours we found a brighter day.
And here’s some ammo. Would you believe my first “proper” gig was also a Yes concert? At Birmingham NEC during their 80s revival, when even Yes fans hated them. I am not ashamed to say that it was bloody brilliant. A complete spectacle: lights, film, lasers, and a bunch of middle-aged musos in wacky costumes playing with more energy and passion and wit than any of the kids of my own age I’d seen playing in local bands.
Their guitarist at that point was a white South African—though he was an ex-pat by choice.
(My second proper gig was a show starring Joan Armatrading, when she was smart enough to let other people produce her records, and who is, of course, an original and under-rated black guitarist.)
Get well soon!
This is apropos of nothing, but when I was a teenager, I used to listen to Radio Caroline late at night, holding the radio under the bed covers and making minute tuning adjustments as the signal faded in and out.
That was the way I first heard a lot of people, including Bruce Springsteen. It’s crazy to think about it now, but, for months afterwards, I thought he was black.
My only other comment, in reference to Alan Johnson’s piece, is that in my opinion, the genius of Exile on Main Street is all Mick Taylor.
and you and I climb over the sea to the valley…
Hats off to Mick Taylor. Fair point.
We played tapes of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Suppers Ready all night, as the snow fell. I think at one point we even shared out the parts in Battle of Epping Forest. Now that’s a memory.
Wierdly, I think I was born out of my time, since I spent most of the mid-1980s doing that. Arrghhh.
Never mind hideously white – it’s hideously male too. Why hasn’t Sister Rosetta Tharpe been mentioned in dispatches?
Though of course, the important distinction here isn’t black/white or male/female but acoustic/electric (and good/bad).
I’m not often moved to comment in blog boxes, but I just wanted to say:
“I know Jimi Hendrix is a better gutarist than Steve Hillage, to say the least”
How would you measure that? Number of frets covered per second? “Feel”? Number of chords known/number used?
Ultimately, it all just comes down to taste. Nothing Hendrix did ever moved me to rush out and buy an album. But Steve Hillage’s solo on “It’s All too Much” still fills me with joy. However, I do recognize Hendrix’s unique and highly influential contribution to rock guitar playing.
The main reason I wanted to say something tho, was just to note it was a pleasure to read people writing down nice memories of prog-rock without it being couched in post-punk condemnatory critical terms.
In my humble opinion, no-one beats Robert Fripp.
Electric guitarists? Really the list should begin with Charlie Christian. To my taste, it could usefully end there too.
He could’ve mentioned Slash of GnR fame, who – if I am informed correctly – shares a common feature with both you and my young half-siblings: he is half-Nigerian.
I was born in Nigeria, true, but my mother is from Sierra Leone. Over at Mick’s place I suggested some other recent “guitarists of colour”.
Slash is indeed a genius. So far behind the beat he should be arrested, yet it sounds so good.
Much like Shara Nelson: out of tune yet brilliant.
What ever happened to Steve Hillage???
Talk about “sell out”.
Oh well….. at least Gilmour is still going strong.
Greatest guitarist of all time – Jimmy Page.
He had “feel” & the ability to arrange a song like no one else.
Check out the live solo – No Quarter.