These are the guitarists who, for my ears, have committed simply amazing work to vinyl and/or acetate-sandwiched aluminum but you just never hear about them.
Some are amazing soloists, some are amazingly creative with riffs and sound, some are a little of each. They are listed in no particular order, and I hope you enjoy them all as much as I do. Cheers!
1. Matthias Jabs (Scorpions) – I’ve always been amazed that this guy didn’t receive much more accolades for his guitar playing. His counterpart Rudy Schenker (no slouch, mind you) has always been better known, but Jabs has one of the most searing and expressive guitar styles I’ve ever heard and is one of very few guitarists whose solos just make my hair stand on end. He has fast fingers and can shred with the best of them, but he has always been more about melody and his string bending is some of the most expressive I’ve heard. Just really exciting stuff. He’s the only guitarist from a “star” band you’ll see in the Abyss, simply because he never got the recognition. Simply unstoppable during Scorpions’ heyday CD’s: Lovedrive, Animal Magnetism, Blackout, and Love At First Sting.
2. Denis D’Amour (Voivod) – RIP – Up until his death in 2005 from colon cancer, Denis D’Amour (known as “Piggy” in his band’s early days) was the unheralded guitar master for Canadian prog-thrash band Voivod. He’s another one who was undoubtedly nimble of finger, but his true strength was his pure creativity. Mixing together elements that just didn’t belong together in the conventional way of thinking, D’Amour took jazz chords, dissonance, melody, intelligence and algebra to create a totally unique and original world of sound that progressed from sheer noise in the early days to progressive thrash in the mid-80’s to (in my humble opinion) the peak of his genius on the incredibly melodic Angel Rat and The Outer Limits CD’s. Most Voivod fans hated those discs, but I think they showcased a truly brilliant guitarist’s amazing technical and creative scope. And there’s nothing wrong with being able to hum the damn songs, too.
3. Yuji ‘You’ Adachi (Dead End) – A guitarist most of you have probably never heard of from an amazing band that you’ve probably never heard of, Adachi’s solo on the song “The Damned Thing” from Dead End’s Ghost of Romance CD ranks among my 10 favorite solos of all time. Not simply for the deft fingerwork, but for the creativity, melody and emotional expression. Adachi’s style really defined Dead End’s sound, which was a combination of technical metal and goth with some street glam visuals thrown into the mix for good measure. The fact that most of their songs are sung in Japanese was an obvious shortcoming in trying to break the US market, but the band’s talent and penchant for memorable hooks makes them a band I constantly return to, and Adachi’s solos never compete with the song itself but rather add a big fat exclamation point.
4. Tim Sult (Clutch) – How do I love Clutch? Let me count the ways. I can think of 4…Neil Fallon, Dan Maines, Jean-Paul Gaster (the Master) and their sound-loving guitarist Tim Sult. What I love most about Sult’s playing is that it’s all about sound. He can serve up some tasty solos when it’s appropriate, but his real forte’ is the manipulation of sound effects and melody to create a variety of moods that can really sum up life itself without uttering a word. Some of the most hummable melody lines and booty-shakin’ riffs on the planet, and a real sense of fun style.
5. Chris Leblanc (Chris Leblanc Band) – The first time I heard Leblanc play in Baton Rouge back in the early 1990’s, he was undoubtedly a talented player and I liked his music. In a time when grunge was the rage, Leblanc took his cues from the blues and Austin blues/rock stylings while also having an open mind to the popular sounds of the day. The thing I respect most about him is that he’s all about the song. His solos are even better now than before as his style has truly become his own, and he shares a major characteristic with other truly abysmal guitarists here…his solos are never in competition with the song itself and always manage to make the song just that much better. And damn if he didn’t write one of my all-time favorite songs, “The Other Side” from his Talent Show album, showcasing his love for sweet vocal harmonies to go along with super guitar hooks. Here’s to you Sweetroll!
6. Jimi Hudson (4 Mag Nitrous) – I admittedly know very little about this guy, other than when 4 Mag bassist/vocalist Kib gave me a copy of Southern Wisdom and Know-How and I cranked it on my stereo…the opening riff of “Cut Throat” just made me get off my lazy keester and do some air guitar. Yeah, I admit it. The rest of the disc proved that he’s no one-trick pony, either. Too often, guitarists with this kind of speed and technical prowess get too wrapped up in showcasing their skills and forget about things like hooks and memorable songs. Not Hudson, as riff and solo alike are just pure electricity and twisted melody. Man, I can’t wait to hear more from this guitarist and the band.
7. Ty Tabor (King’s X) – Musicians from metal to pop to grunge admire this guy. Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam credits King’s X for actually inventing grunge. Some people may argue that point, but what is inarguable is his heavenly talent and inimitable style. Take a listen to King’s X (especially the incredible trifecta of their first three discs) and you’ll hear for yourself a tone, sound and style that’s like no one else. His guitar sound is totally unique to him and, along with just ridiculously wonderful vocal harmonies, defined the sound of King’s X. Oh yeah…his soloing is melodic and tasteful, too, often acting as a bit of a foil to some of his heavier riffs. Definitely a guitarist with his own unique take on things.
8. Jeff Martin (Tea Party) – My heart is still broken that Martin flew the coup and left the Tea Party in…ummm…an extended hiatus. While his penchant for drama can sometimes be a bit much, I have just always loved his style and songwriting. There’s always a dark (not quite goth, but pleasantly close) mood to his Tea Party material, and he experiments with alternate tunings like no one else I’ve heard. Creativity is at the forefront here, and while he can rip some blistering solos when the song calls for it, it’s his creativity and ability to create darkly beautiful moods that makes him a no-brainer inclusion amongst my favorite Abysmal guitarists. Check out “The Bazaar,” “Heaven Coming Down,” “Angels,” “Fire in the Head” and “Sister Awake” for some of my favorites of his.
9. Hillel Slovak (Red Hot Chili Peppers) – RIP – There’s just not much of this guy’s recorded work around, given his career and life being cut ridiculously short by his heroin addiction and subsequent overdose at the tail end of the Uplift Mofo Party Plan tour. In my book, Slovak was an innovator and should get much more credit as such than he does. He was only on two RHCP discs (Freaky Styley and Uplift Mofo Party Plan), but it was on Uplift Mofo that he really made his mark. Take a listen to it. This was 1987…there was no one like him. His guitar sound slices through the mix (and your lame-O speaker cones) and he has the chops to match. A true rock original in my book, he melded together funk, R&B, rock, metal, punk and blues like no one before him. Solos and riffs alike are just loaded with passion and attitude.
10. Jordan Copeland (Hot Head Show) – So help me, I can’t even begin to try and define his style. With adroit fret work, he fills his role in this most unique of power trios with both colour and skill. Seriously…you HAVE to download The Lemon EP. You can download it free, courtesy of the band. You’ve never heard anything like it. Just really cool, creative and hooky guitar playing that obviously ain’t easy and obviously just flows from the guy. And the riff he pulls off in the middle of “Whiskey Pocket” when the band stops is just plain sick. Wow.