The Rolling Stone Misguided Guide to the Greatest Guitarists

The 70th Best Guitarist in action.

All “best of” lists are subjective and only based upon someone’s opinion.  ALL of them. Yours, mine and certainly any put together by the pointy-head critics at Rolling Stone.   I  read through their choice for the 100 Greatest Guitarists and when I finished wanted to open a window to let out the smell of bullshit. 

This is Rolling Stone’s Top Ten Guitarists:

  1. Jimi Hendrix
  2. Duane Allman
  3. B.B. King
  4. Eric Clapton
  5. Robert Johnson
  6. Chuck Berry
  7. Stevie Ray Vaughn
  8. Ry Cooder
  9. Jimmy Page
  10. Keith Richards

 Not a bad list, but there are some questionable inclusions. We could have an all day argument about who shouldn’t be anywhere near the list of the 10 greatest guitarists, but for my money, I’d kick Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ry Cooder and B.B.King right to the curb.  No disrespect intended and without question Richards has played on some of the greatest rock songs of all time as part of the Rolling Stones, but I don’t find him a particularly imaginative or innovative guitarist.  Stevie Ray had a great sound, but if you’ve got Hendrix at the top, you don’t need a Hendrix soundalike six places behind.  

I know Ry Cooder by reputation.  I don’t know a thing about his music, so I’ll kick him down the list based upon my ignorance.  The same goes for B.B. King.  Maybe he’s good, but third best good?   Not for me.    

The most conspicuous absence in the Top 10 is a guy whom should be somewhere in the thick of it or just hovering outside of it in the Top Twenty, and that’s Eddie Van Halen.   Van Halen probably earns demerits due to all the lead singer drama the band has undergone over the years,  Still, there’s a lot more teenage boys that have rocked out with air guitars trying to shred like Eddie on “Eruption.”  Yet, not only is Van Halen nowhere near the Top Twenty, he’s banished to the nether regions as Rolling Stone named him #70th on their list.  .

"I'm right on your ass, Eddie."

 There aren’t 70 guitarists better than Eddie Van Halen in the whole world, but according to the dopes at RS he’s just barely ahead of Joni Mitchell (#72) and behind Zoot Horn Rollo (#62) from Captain Beefheart. 

Zoot Horn Rollo? 

Mr. Rollo might be a very nice man and even play some mean guitar, but I can guarantee he hasn’t inspired rocked nearly as many teenagers as Mr. Van Halen to pick up a beat-up six-string and learn how to play it.

Here’s some of the other guitar slingers Fast Eddie is looking up at.  Jerry Miller (#68) of Moby Grape (and if you can name two Moby Grape songs you have me at a disadvantage),  Lou Reed (#52),  Jack White (#17), ?Johnny Ramone (#16),  Dave Evans a.k.a. The Edge (#24) of rock’s most overrated band, U2, and Kurt Cobain at #12 who is both overrated and dead. 

Here’s a cute trick RS likes playing with their list.  They name a few bands featuring dual guitarists and include both of them, but the funny thing is they come from bands that are darlings of music critics. This explains how Ed O’Brien (#59) and Jonny Greenwood (#60) of Radiohead and Lee Ranaldo (#33) and Thurston Moore (#34) of Sonic Youth make the cut, while Aerosmith’s Joe Perry (#48) gets a bone thrown to him and poor Brad Whitford isn’t even mentioned.

Of course there are plenty of guitar slingers who are shut out.  Among the unworthy are Ted Nugent, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Slash, Alex Liefson of Rush, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibson, Lindsey Buckingham, Robin Trower, Mick Taylor, Alvin Lee, Todd Rundgren, Nile Rodgers and Prince.  Angus Young of AC/DC barely squeaked in at an anemic #96. 

Only two women make RS’s list, Joni Mitchell and Joan Jett (#87) .  Apparently formidable slide guitar skills weren’t enough for Bonnie Raitt to qualify. 

Only one jazz guitarist was selected and that is former Miles Davis sideman,  John McLaughlin (#49).   Where are George Benson,  Al Di Meola, Mike Stern, John Scofeld,  Jonathan Butler, Stanley Jordan, Pat Metheny, Allan Holdsworth, Larry Carlton or Wes Montgomery?  Sucking hind tit behind Kim Thayil of Soundgarden (#100) and Greg Ginn (#99) of Black Flag. 

The nicest surprise on Rolling Stone list was the inclusion of Funkadelic guitar wizard, Eddie Hazel (#43).  Hazel on his good days could coax sounds out of his axe that would make better-known shredders whip their head around in awe and wonder.

Like I said, all lists are subjective and if I took 20 guitarists off of Rolling Stone’s list (and I could without thinking twice about it) to replace them with 20 guitarists I believed were more deserving  it would still only make me happy and piss off everybody else.  

  1.  Jimi Hendrix
  2. Eric Clapton
  3. Jimmy Page
  4. Eddie Van Halen
  5. Jeff Beck
  6. Wes Montgomery
  7. Carlos Santana
  8. Duane Allman
  9. Kirk Hammett
  10. Al Di Meola

That’s my list and I like it just as much as the critics at Rolling Stone likes theirs.  Is it a better list?   Well it’s better as far as I’m concerned but really it’s only different.

Which brings us right back to where we started about lists and opinions and how subjective they are.   

Still dead. Still better than anyone alive.

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3 thoughts on “The Rolling Stone Misguided Guide to the Greatest Guitarists

  1. First of all, U2 is not an overrated band. If you listen to any of their older stuff, you’ll agree with me. Secondly, how do you not have Slash on any list of great guitar players? He’s amazing. And no Vernon Reid from Living Color? Really?

  2. Thanks, Jeff. As HUGE Rush fan, you can imagine my awe at the complete and utter disregard of Alex Lifeson. And Curt Cobain? I will begrudgingly admit to the influence of his and Nirvana’s to music in the early 90’s, but the 12th greatest guitarist of all time? I think not. And I also agree with some of your other contentions. How can you leave out Lifeson, Di Meola, Vai, Satriani, etc. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a microcosm of RS’s arrogance, ignorance, and complete sell-out to pop culture. How is Rush not there, but BLONDIE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? Just another popularity contest like the Grammys. Thanks for the article!

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