My Top Ten Classic Rock Guitarists

Rock has witnessed many characters in its history since the early days of rock and roll, blues and psychedelia, through to its progressive, hard and indie rock phases. But whilst many are memorable for their personas and ability - Jimi Hendrix, Slash, Brian May, Steve Hackett, Eddie Van Halen - there are a select few personal favoruites which standout in my mind in terms of ability and the music they produce. Here are those top ten guitarists of the classic rock era (which mainly excludes indie/punk, metal in my mind) of whom which have made memorable harmonies, melodies and have offered excellent songwriting and vocals in the process. Please feel free to disagree and offer your thoughts on who your favourites are. If you get bored by the novel amount of words written here - which I don't expect you to read them all, as you would be in a coma by the time you've finished reading - please scroll down to gradually move to Number 1. This is in itself is based on an extended feature article you would see in Q Magazine.

 

10. Mick Jones - Foreigner

Not to be confused with The Clash's Mick Jones, this Surrey born guitarist exuded chord skills in his late 1970s and 1980s heyday with Foreigner. An adept instrumentalist, who can also play the keyboards/synthesizers and perform vocals, Jones gained early fame after working on Peter Frampton's Wind Of Change in 1972 and ex-Beatle George Harrison's 1974 album, Dark Horses. Whilst his fame increased, he was beginning to attract attention from ex-King Crimson member and multi-instrumentalist, Ian McDonald, who in 1976 helped form rock group, Foreigner.

McDonald recruited Jones to Foreigner soon after and the duo were later joined by vocalist, Lou Gramm. Jones' treatment of the Gibson Les Paul, providing a mixture of rough distorted riffs and gentle finger picking helped Foreigner gain US and UK hits on their 1981 blockbuster album, 4 - co-produced by esteemed record producer, Robert "Mutt" Lange. The album, awash with a mixture of subtle balladry and anthemic hits, including the synth-driven Waiting For A Girl Like You, Girl On The Moon and Break It Up and the rougher, Gibson edged, Night Life, Juke Box Hero and Foreigner's signtaure song, Urgent, showcased Jones' skillset of playing both the keyboards and guitars, with a plethora of high-octave and bass driven chords on each.

Foreigner continued to impress during the 1980s and through Jones' admiration for the synthesizer, the group hit worldwide acclaim via the ballad, I Want To Know What Love Is - written by Jones in 1984, which reached #1 in both the UK and US on the album, Agent Provocateur. But whilst follow-up single, That Was Yesterday, gave Foreigner another sizaeble hit, Jones and the groups' musical taste clashes were beginning to reach breaking point, seen on follow-up flop, Inside Information, in 1987, notable only for the US #5 single and hit ballad, I Don't Wanna Live Without You - again written by Jones.

Although despite Foreigner's eventual decline and Jones' more prominent songwriting and performance of the synthesizer during Foreigner's 1980s commercial peak, his guitar playing - which effectively generated the band's initial fame - should not be overshadowed by him hiding behind electronics. Jones' variation of guitar chords through distortion in effects units and pedals, often created a catchy, memorable tune, that have made Foreigner such a successful and admired act through to the present day.

9. Ric Ocasek - The Cars

Perhaps a surprising choice in the list and a largely unknown quantity in the UK, US artist, Ric Ocasek, was the driving force behind The Cars' late 1970s and 1980s "New Wave" of rock music, mainly after the dissolution of punk beyond 1979. Ocasek, sometimes referred to as one of the ugliest men in rock music, luckily received greater accolades for his work with the Boston-based act through his lead rhythm guitar playing and lead vocals.

Collaborating with fellow musicians, Benjamin Orr on bass, fellow-guitarist Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes on keyboards and drummer, David Robinson, The Cars through Ocasek's punk-like vocals and catchy guitar riffs hit fame in 1978 via their debut album, The Cars, which spawned the singles, Just What I Needed and the UK #3 track, My Best Friend's Girl.

Meanwhile, Ocasek's memorable harmonies began to gather attention from the US public and through 1981's album and hit single, Shake It Up, Ocasek and The Cars moved further in to the mainstream and left their punk roots behind them for more melodious tendencies. This culminated in their commercial peak on 1984's Heartbeat City, which again produced by Robert "Mutt" Lange, offered a mixture of clattering, yet melodic guitar numbers and the group's trademark sustained and bleeping synth melodies. Heartbeat City also bore three top three US Rock chart hits in #1 singles You Might Think and Magic and perhaps the group's most memorable song, the worldwide hit power ballad, Drive. The song surprisingly saw Ocasek relinquish his vocal and guitar duties and to cult Cars' fans, bore distaste due to its representation of the typical 1980s' sell-out "synth-rock" route adopted by fellow artists, Foreigner, Jefferson Starship and Van Halen et al.

But Ocasek's guitar playing returned more prominently on The Cars' last studio album, Door To Door in 1987, with the booming Strap Me In and Go Away highlighting his ability to provide memorable harmonies and persistent riffs. A versatile guitarist and producer, he later moved to a solo career, where despite maintaining a synth-oriented rock style, his rhythm guitar was at the forefront of 1980s' US rock hits, Emotion In Motion and True To You.

8. Bryan Adams

Canada's answer to God alongside Celine Dion and Alanis Morrissette, Bryan Adams' husky vocals, intuitive songwriting and most importantly his skilled guitar playing and multi-instrumentation has seen the Ontario born star gain global credit; and 65 million album sales worldwide.

But it was a rough path to success for this Gibson Les Paul and acoustic master, who dropped out of high school at the age of 15. After unsuccessful stints in college groups, Shock and Sweeney Todd,  Adams began to gain acclaim in musical echelons at the age of 18, after he met with drummer Jim Vallance in a Vancouver music shop. The duo, who instantly struck a perfect partnership and continue to record to the present day, finally struck success after their demo recording of I'm Ready sent to A&M Records, was approved by the Toronto record label, who subsequently signed Adams.

By the time 1982's You Want It You Got It and 1983's Cuts Like A Knife were released, Adams' versatility and fervent guitar style, saw accompanying hit singles, Lonely Nights and Cuts Like A Knife, reach the US Rock Top 10 amidst Adam's gathering acclaim. But it was 1984's Reckless, which began to herald Adams as a superstar, with the melodic-pop hook, yet Gibson-driven Run To You, Heaven and Summer of 69 displaying his mixture of soft guitar tabs and frenzied bass clattering electric chords.

Although Adams would have to wait another seven years before he returned to mainstream popularity, with his commercial peak achieved in 1991's global hit record, Waking Up The Neighbours. The record, again starring co-production by Robert "Mutt" Lange, contained a mixture of danceable hard rock hits in Can't Stop This Thing We Started and There Will Never Be Another Tonight, which both reached the UK Top 40 and US Top 10 and the ballads, Thought I'd Died & Gone To Heaven and Adams' signature power ballad, Everything I Do (I Do It For You) - the latter co-written by Lange and film and TV score composer, Michael Kamen.

Everything I Do (I Do It For You), written for the film, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, gained #1 spot in 12 countries including the US and the UK - where the song spent 16 consecutive weeks at the top of the charts in 1992, the longest in British chart history - and helped Adams achieve global superstar status.

But whilst the song's legacy lives on today, Adams' move to more pop and acoustic driven rock in the late '90s and the current decade have gained an even wider audience, with tracks includng Please Forgive Me, When You're Gone, Cloud Number Nine and Open Road, exemplifying his numerous string-based talents. An artist accomplished at acoustic, electric and bass guitars, Adams' hits usually strike a chord with fans of rock's many genres.

7. Daryl Stuermer - Genesis/Phil Collins (session guitarist for Genesis and Phil Collins' albums and guitarist on their live tours)

Despite not being a household name amongst some rock fans, Daryl Stuermer's importance in rock music cannot be underestimated. A lynchpin in UK rock group Genesis and Phil Collins' recordings and hits, the Milwaukee born guitarist has become a vital, yet understated member in Collins' musical projects.

Stuermer, who can play bass and rhythm guitar, rose to fame when he replaced ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett in 1977 as a touring musician. Despite being a substitute to Genesis' main rhythm guitarist Mike Rutherford, Stuermer quickly gained acclaim for his harsh and subtle finger picking on the Fender Strat rhythm guitar and Gibson Thunderbird bass guitar in Genesis' live shows during the late 1970s.

As his popularity grew, so did Collins' admiration for his bandmate and once Collins' solo career began in 1981, Stuermer was elevated to lead guitarist, performing on and co-writing many US and UK hits including In The Air Tonight, Easy Lover, One More Night and Do You Remember?

Meanwhile, Stuermer's Genesis career was peaking simulatenously, with live performances at Wembley Stadium during the Invisible Touch tour in 1986 and his performances during live shows plugging 1991's We Can't Dance album, continued to generate accolades for the hardworking and respected session musician - with his mixture of Fender Strat and Fender Eric Clapton Signature Strat on the Genesis Turn It On Again tour in 2007 marking a high point in his career.

Despite Stuermer's often modest and understated ethic, rock musicians, producers and cult fans alike are aware of his value as a musician and songwriter, with his rhythm and bass instrumentation a key feature in many of Genesis and Phil Collins' most renowned hits.

6. David Evans - "The Edge"/"Edge" - U2

An innovator in percussive rhythms and digital delay and distortion effects, The Edge is a key member of Irish rock band U2's lengthy and successful make-up. Real name, David Evans, born in London in 1961, but moving to Ireland when he was just a year old, The Edge soon gained mastery of the guitar at an early age whilst studying music lessons at school.

In 1978, his unique timbre rhythms and harmonies gained the attention of fellow school friends Bono (Paul Hewson), Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton and alongside Evans' brother Dik, the band U2 formed. Although the group initially struggled to sell records and gain a widespread popularity in the UK and US, by 1983 the music media radar had been alerted to the Dublin-based group, with their album, War. The record offered hits including New Year's Day and Sunday Bloody Sunday - the latter an emotionally political comment on the Northern Ireland troubles - and through The Edge's distinctive guitar style which encompassed both the Fender Stratocaster (Strat) and Gibson Explorer and his melodic Yamaha CP70 keyboard playing, the group gradually increased their fanbase.

U2 and The Edge continued to produce sizeable hits through the guitarist's multi-faceted layering effects and melodic, jangling riffs, which were highlighted on U2's heyday albums, 1987's The Joshua Tree and 1991's Achtung Baby - with both records releasing numerous hit singles including With Or Without You, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and One.

Whilst frontman Bono exuded stage persona with his often quizzical antics, The Edge's restrained but consumate guitar skills helped U2 return to notable fame during the late 1990s and during the current decade, as songs including Sweetest Thing, Beautiful Day and Vertigo propelled the group to commercial heights once again.

The group's latest album, No Line On The Horizon - released earlier this month - features The Edge again at his roaring, yet melodic best, with longtime production team members, Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite honing the guitarist's riffs in the foreground of the album.

Technically, The Edge is one of the greatest and most unique guitarists of the modern era and through his subtle, jangling and raucous mix of riffs, remains an inspiration to rock fans aplenty, with U2's 140 million album sales worldwide a defining statement of this.

5. Mike Rutherford - Genesis/Mike & The Mechanics

Classically trained and known for his middle class pomp, Mike Rutherford's 12 string guitar skills and uniquely melodic bass lines are one of the most distinctive sounds in contemporary rock music. A figurehead of the progressive rock movement, of which he co-founded the group Genesis, Rutherford's mixture of acoustic, electric and bass guitar-synth playing witnessed the Surrey-based act's commercial peak during the mid 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

Rutherford's ability to play a variety of guitars, including the bass, with his minimalistic yet stylish melodies, highlighted on Genesis' 1980s recordings including, Turn It On Again and Abacab, set Genesis apart with fashionable pop hooks after their 1970s colder, cult appreciation of their prog-rock styling on albums including Trick Of The Tail and Wind & Wuthering. He was instrumental in the group's wider success in the 1980s,  performing with rapturous effect on the group's self-titled 1983 album and their 1986 mainstream hit, Invisible Touch.

Invisible Touch highlighted Genesis' new found popular rock style, with lead self-titled single, Invisible Touch reaching #1 in the US and #15 in the UK, whilst Land Of Confusion's rough and bassy pop-hook riffs helped the track reach #4 in the US. But Rutherford's guitar playing on these tracks did not overshadow the more precise and elegant chords he performed on the longer traditional prog-oriented tracks, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight and Domino. Here, his effects pedal distortion helps create evocative melodies reminiscent of Genesis' '70s work.

But despite Rutherford's success in the group, this did not stop him from pursuing a solo career similarly alongside fellow bandmate, Phil Collins', solo status. In 1985, he launched Mike & The Mechanics, performing guitar, with the group becoming famous for the UK and US hits, Silent Running, The Living Years and Over My Shoulder - owing to lead vocals from Paul Carrack and the late Paul Young.

However Rutherford's Genesis career still gained him greater recognition than Mike & The Mechanics and Genesis' 1991 album, We Can't Dance provided him a chance to exude his talents on Top 20 UK and US hits, No Son Of Mine, I Can't Dance, Hold On My Heart and Jesus He Knows Me. Arguably, Rutherford's skills were honed most out of any other commercially successful Genesis album on We Can't Dance with his rhythm guitar moved to the forefront of the tracks alongside Collins' drumming and Tony Banks' keyboard playing.

Whilst Genesis' studio album recordings have ceased, the band, including Rutherford, continue to perform live across Europe and globally, with recent tours including Germany, Italy and the US in the past three years. Alongside fellow rhythm guitarist, Daryl Stuermer, Rutherford remains a key example of how to caress and strike strings with aplomb simultaneously.

4. Lindsey Buckingham - Fleetwood Mac

Being inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 seemed to arrive 20 years too late for many rock fans of Lindsey Buckingham's guitar rhythms and vocal work. Buckingham, a multi-instrumentalist famous for his work in the universally popular Anglo-American rock group, Fleetwood Mac, received the award alongside former winners The Beatles, The Who and Led Zeppelin. But many hardcore Mac fans would have imagined his induction far earlier than 1998 and it is easy to see why.

The US rock star, born in San Francisco, initially started playing the guitar for fun in his early teens. However like drummer Phil Collins, he never learnt music notation and to this day, still cannot read music, making his guitar skills even more admirable. Furthermore, his innovative fingerpicking style, inspired by folk music group, The Kingston Trio, has been seen as a great influence for many rhythm guitarists since.

But it wasn't until he met future Fleetwood Mac bandmate Stevie Nicks - who later became his girlfriend - at Menlo Atherton high school to form the group, Fritz, that he started to gain musical admirers. The duo soon formed Buckingham Nicks and after successful records for the Polydor label, they gained attention from Fleetwood Mac's drummer Mick Fleetwood, who had heard the Buckingham Nicks track, Frozen Love.

Both Buckingham and Nicks joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975 - after Buckingham insisted to Fleetwood that if they did not want Nicks, that he would not join the band - and his fingerpicking style soon gained Mac worldwide status in one of the most successful albums ever produced, 1977's Rumours, despite his split with Nicks during its recording. Rumours reached #1 in both the UK and the US and spent 31 weeks at the top of the US Billboard Hot 100 charts, due to the hits which prominently featured Buckingham's guitar work and vocals on Don't Stop, Go Your Own Way and The Chain.

But whilst Rumours presented Mac's musical dominance of the charts in the late 1970s, Buckingham's attempts to fulfil his admiration for punk music by co-producing the group's 1979 flop album, Tusk, was a disaster and his peculiar synthesizer experimentation presented a meagre shadow of his former guitar work. Whilst 1982's Mirage saw greater commercial success and a return to Buckingham's predominant guitar riffs, it wasn't until 1987 that the group and Buckingham would emulate Rumours' success, with the hit-packed, Tango In The Night.

The synthetic sound from Christine McVie's keyboards helped complement Buckingham's guitar perfectly and tracks including Big Love, Everywhere and Little Lies embraced his adept acoustic and electric skills, as Fleetwood Mac's commercial revenue gained from 3m album sales in the US and 2.4m album sales in the UK, was immense.

Since Tango In The Night's heights, Buckingham has collaborated with and produced for artists including Eric Clapton and The Monkees' songwriter, John Stewart, whilst entering upon his solo career, including writing the song Holiday Road for hit US comedy film series, National Lampoon's Vacation. Buckingham returned to Fleetwood Mac in 1997 - after much coaxing from former US President and long-time friend of Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac fan, Bill Clinton - and was part of the group's unsuccessful reunion album, Say You Will in 2003.

Buckingham is remembered mostly for his Les Paul and Fender Telecaster work and in his live performances for not using an actual finger pick to help play chords, instead using his own fingers. An accomplished vocalist and guitarist, as well as developing a penchant for songwriting and music production in his later career, he remains a rock superstar in his own right.

3. Mark Knopfler - Dire Straits

Even if you couldn't name more than one Dire Straits song, the one you maybe could name is Money For Nothing. This is thanks to the work of one of the most respected musicians of the late 1970s to the mid 1990s and today Mark Knopfler is mostly remembered as the pioneer of the UK rock group, Dire Straits.

Born in Glasgow, Knopfler lived in Scotland until he moved to Newcastle when he was nine years old and demonstrated an early aptitude for the guitar and throughout his days at Gosforth Grammar School on Tyneside, he furthered his momentum for being a musician. However his skills for English saw him pursue a career in Journalism and after completing a course at Harlow Technical College, he gained a job as a junior reporter for the Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds.

But whilst Knopfler tried to further his English and Journalism skillset, graduating with a degree in English at the University of Leeds, he eventually decided to leave his job as a reporter and follow a music career instead. After stints with local groups, Silver Heels and Brewers Droop, Knopfler, his brother David and bass guitarist John Illsley helped form Dire Straits in 1977.

Initially the group, despite Knopfler's accomplished Fender Strat and Gibson Les Paul playing, failed to attract widespread audiences and their self-titled album and their follow-up, Communique looked set to become flops. However, it was the pop-hookery of the raucous heavily effects-driven Sultans Of Swing, which first alerted music lovers to Dire Straits and Knopfler's work in 1978, as the song reached #4 in the US and #8 in the UK. The song's style provided a mixture of traditional blues riffs, with faster rock and roll chords, ensuring a perfect blend of rock stylings by Knopfler and providing a pre-cursor for the work Knoplfer and Straits would later record during the 1980s.

Alongside melodic keyboard work from Alan Clark and Kent's Maidstone born musician, Guy Fletcher, Straits secured subsequent hits via the diverse gentle and shattering electric and acoustic music displayed in hit UK and US singles, Romeo & Juliet, the dark and evocative #2 UK hit, Private Investigations in 1982 - which is Dire Strait's highest charting UK single to date alongside 1985's Walk Of Life - and Industrial Disease, a humorous political comment which focussed on the decline of the UK manufacturing industry and widespread industrial strikes under Tory Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

These singles arrived before Knopfler and Straits would strike gold with 1985's monstrous album hit, Brothers In Arms. The album's success owed largely to the single, Money For Nothing and latter single, Walk Of Life, with the former the first ever track to be played on Music Television Europe (MTV) on its inception on August 1st, 1987. Fellow UK Top 20 hits followed in So Far Away and Brothers In Arms - the latter an emotional tribute to those who fought and in some cases lost their lives in the Falklands War - with Knopfler's bluesy riffs adopted in a mixture of classy electric and acoustic forms, with high chord and bassy tabs aplenty.

Whilst the group took a break from their studio work with Dire Straits, they returned in 1991 with their last studio album to date, On Every Street. The album features a greater range of folk and country stylings, particularly in the songs When It Comes To You, On Every Street, You & Your Friend and Iron Hand, a slight music style change from their previous albums, as Knopfler's rhythm guitar work and effects pedals witnessed a more gentile, subtle approach.

After the group's' dissolution in 1995, Knopfler began his solo career and recorded his debut album, Golden Heart, in 1996 and has since worked with and produced for artists including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Tina Turner - with the latter's Private Dancer album receiving songwriting and production by Knopfler. His 1984 album for the film, Cal, entitled Music For Cal, contains some of his finest celtic and folk music work.

Like Bryan Adams, Knopfler has used a wide range of guitars, created a plethora of melodies and harmonies and welcomed many styles of rock, from blues and country, folk, to harder and more progressive styles in Dire Straits. His vocal, songwriting and most importantly his rhythm guitar playing ability is undoubted and he remains one of the greatest rock figures of the past 40 years. Gaining great inspiration in his youth from his idol Clapton, Knopfler has certainly fulfilled his ambition of becoming as great as the man formerly known as "God" during his career.

2. Eric Clapton - The Yardbirds, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek & The Dominos & solo career

In the 1960s, there was probably no greater rock icon than Eric Clapton. During the social revolution in the UK during the "Swinging Sixties", The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Who were offering the public examples of hedonism and fervent rhythms and raucous melodies. Clapton, referred to as "God" during this period for his extensive guitar work in bands including The Yardbirds and the rock supergroup, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers - which also saw the development of ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist and blues player, Peter Green during the 1960s - remains one of the most popular and troubled figures of the rock music scene.

Born in Ripley, Surrey in 1945 just before the end of the Second World War, but sheltered away from the destruction ensuing in the London Blitz's, Clapton was raised by his grandparents, believing them to be his parents at an early age, until nine years old when he met his real mother and discovered her true identity. This prompted Clapton to become the mixture of the charismatic and moody stage and private persona which is present amongst the media and during his live stage performances and was a significant development in his life.

After attempting a stint at the Kingston College of Art, he was kicked out because of his lack of application towards art, with his focus instead on music. But after personal disappointment, Clapton's blues playing became a key part of The Yardbirds' musical make-up, after he joined them in 1963, at 18 years old. He stayed with the group for two years, before joining John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, where he steadily gained greater blues playing chord skills and increasingly learned the traditional 12 bar blues format to a greater depth. It was during this period that he began to experiment in rougher chords and riffs, which prompted him to swap his Fender Telecaster guitar, with a trademark clattering Gibson Les Paul.

But it wasn't until after leaving The Bluesbreakers - where he was replaced by the aforementioned Peter Green - and joining Cream in 1966, that Clapton managed to secure international appeal as lead rhythm guitarist, becoming notorious for his frequent drinking, drugs and madly performed blues jamming solos. At a time when The Who's Pete Townshend, Hendrix and The Rolling Stones' Keith Richards were at the forefront of British rock music, Cream and Clapton needed to emulate the success of these mainstream, adored artists. Luckily, Clapton soon registered similar acclaim.

Alongside lead vocalist Jack Bruce, Cream helped by Clapton's stellar guitar tabs and co-vocals, enjoyed international success via the songs, Sunshine Of Your Love, White Room and Crossroads, which all reached the Top 30 in the US between 1968 and 1969. But, despite the group's success and Clapton's now heroically worshipped guitar playing, tensions between Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, lead to the group's dissolution and Clapton's departure.

After Cream's demise, Clapton soon returned to fame with the formation of Blind Faith, where he was reunited with Baker and joined Spencer Davis Group's Steve Winwood for the band's seminal self-titled album, which reached #1 in the UK and US in 1969 thanks to Clapton's lead vocals and blues riffs. However, the group was short-lived and soon split within a year of its inception. But with Clapton's guitar playing and vocals now becoming a sought-after commodity, it didn't take him long to find a new group.

In 1970, the new decade welcomed Clapton in to even greater commercial and musical success, with him forming the group, Derek & The Dominos alongside keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. The group spawned one of Clapton's most memorable guitar pop-hooked love songs, Layla, in 1970, with the song peaking at #10 in the US and #7 in the UK, thanks to Clapton's raw vocals and repetitive jangly riffs, which encompassed a more radio-friendly pop style, whilst retaining his rhythm and blues (R&B) style. Further successes with singles, Bell Bottom Blues and Let It Rain followed for Clapton, but tragedy was soon to follow.

Long-time close friend and fellow blues guitarist Jimi Hendrix died in London in a basement of the Samarkand Hotel in 1970 and fellow Derek & The Dominos member, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident during the same year. Coupled with his new-found heroin addiction and emerging alcohol problems, Clapton's world was shattering around him.

His relationship with Pattie Boyd helped him recover and after a string of US solo album hits in the 1970s, which spawned hit singles, I Shot The Sheriff - a catchy cover of Bob Marley's reggae hit, Knockin' On Heaven's Door - a cover this time of Bob Dylan's blues song and his worldwide soft rock hit in 1978, Wonderful Tonight - which perfectly amalgamates Clapton's husky blues vocals and gentle electric guitar performance, Clapton was returning to success with a vengeance. Meanwhile, his guitar playing was back to its adept best, despite his continuing self-induced personal problems.

However, Clapton needed a return to British stardom, which had eluded him since his success with Derek & The Dominos. In the mid 1980s, his appreciation of R&B and Motown tinged rock, ensured he would reap commercial and musical benefits through 1985's Behind The Sun and 1986's August. Behind The Sun saw expert production from close friend Phil Collins and Van Halen producer Ted Templeman and witnessed substitute rhythm guitar from Lindsey Buckingham. August meanwhile saw Clapton retain Collins and hire Tom Dowd, whilst collaborating with Tina Turner on the track, Tearing Us Apart. Both albums contained sizeable hits with a mixture of soulful pop music exhibited by heavy synthesis and Collins' horn sections - with Clapton demonstrating his skills on the Roland guitar synth on the track, Never Gonna Make You Cry - intertwined with Clapton's traditional blues rhythm guitar and vocals. The albums were a huge success in the UK, with Behind The Sun reaching #8 and August reaching #3, owing largely to the singles, Forever Man, She's Waiting and Behind The Mask.

But whilst his name was now back amongst the key rock fraternity in the UK, Clapton's music failed to overshadow his personal life. After divorcing Pattie Boyd in 1989 following Clapton's affair with Italian glamour model, Lori Del Santo, Clapton's son Conor - who had been illegitimately conceived by Del Santo - died at just four years old in 1991 when he fell from the 53rd floor of Clapton's mother's friend's New York apartment. Clapton, shattered by the experience for months afterwards, showed his grief in his worldwide hit, Tears In Heaven which reached #1 in the US in 1992. His 1995 single with Neneh Cherry, Cher and Chrissie Hynde also gained #1 spot in the UK charts. 

Today, Clapton continues to record and perform live and recently released his autobiography in 2008 detailing his personal troubles and rock stardom. Whilst remaining an often controversial and tortured figure, his maturity and overcoming battles against alcohol and drugs has helped him gain many fans, aside from those who respect his musical achievements. His range of instruments, his vocals, songwriting and his skill as an entertainer fully highlight why he has truly become a legend of rock.

1. David Gilmour - Pink Floyd

David Gilmour, often referred to as Dave, was given one of the highest accolades of the royal order, when in 2003 he was appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for his contribution to music. Many Pink Floyd fans would certainly not disagree with that achievement. Q Magazine's 2008 award for his Outstanding Contribution to music furthered the esteem of a man who helped develop one of rock's most successful groups and its multi-faceted musical stylings.

Gilmour, renowned for his husky, breathy vocals, intuitive songwriting and masterful guitar playing, started his musical "journey" in the late 1960s. Alongside school friend Syd Barrett, of whom both attended Cambridge High School for Boys, the duo set upon forming a band. Luckily, they were invited by drummer Nick Mason, who in 1968 hired Gilmour and Barrett to perform with the band, Pink Floyd. Initially, the group and Gilmour's guitar playing was psychedelic based with his Fender Strat and Telecaster being put through heavy effects units and the late Richard Wright's analogue synthesizers helped to enhance Gilmour's melodic, yet clattering and spacey sound behind the vocals of the intriguing character, Barrett. Alongside future lead vocalist, Roger Waters - who played bass - Pink Floyd through their long hair and flowery shirts, went on to inspire psychedelic audiences used to vibrant art and experimental drugs in the late 1960s. Gilmour's guitar was gradually becoming an even greater figurehead of the group.

See Emily Play in 1967 was a key example of the experimental, psychedlic rock of which Barrett embraced, as the single reached #6 in the UK. But by 1968 after Barrett's erratic behaviour overcame him, he had to be replaced because of seemingly uncontrollable drug abuse and perceived mental health problems. Luckily, Pink Floyd continued in the aftermath of Barrett's demise, with Gilmour moved to lead vocalist alongside Waters and Wright.

The album oriented group became a much adored progressive rock group during the 1970s and through Gilmour's gradual adoption of the Les Paul, ensured a mixture of bluesy harsh tones and layered riffs, amalgamated with his Strat, acoustic and fretless bass techniques. Furthermore, Gilmour's attractive vocal style ensured he would feature more prominently as lead vocalist, leading to a power sharing battle between him and Waters in the blockbuster albums, 1973's Dark Side Of The Moon - produced by popular rock engineer Alan Parsons, 1975's Wish You Were Here, 1977's Animals and 1979's The Wall. All four records were top three hits in the UK and received the same success in the US, owing to such acoustic and electric masterpieces engineered by Gilmour's sustained Strat chord style and Les Paul rhythms, which included Comfortably Numb, Money, Wish You Were Here and Another Brick In The Wall (Part II).

But despite their international acclaim and success, tensions grew within the group. Waters was keen on pursuing a contrasting musical direction to Gilmour and was keen to assume total control of the lead vocals within the band, with Gilmour's ego similarly becoming a driving wedge through Pink Floyd. After 1983's The Final Cut, Waters had become incensed with the group and in 1986 quit, following his admission that Pink Floyd was a "spent force creatively."

Although this did not stop Gilmour, Mason and Wright continuing to mesmerise the public with their music. Gilmour asserted authority of Pink Floyd in 1987 and alongside effective and polished electronics and distorted effects pedals, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason - which offered the hit single, Learning To Fly, returned the group to modest fame, eight years after their most famous hit, The Wall.

However perhaps some of Pink Floyd's and Gilmour's greatest and most elegant work arrived on their last studio album to date, 1994's The Division Bell - mainly produced by Gilmour. Alongside promotion of the album through the band's P.U.L.S.E tour at Earls Court in London, Gilmour's adoption of slide guitar for tracks including High Hopes - a UK #26 hit, and the rockability of Take It Back - a UK #23 hit, measured alongside the progressive masterpieces, Coming Back To Life, Wearing The Inside Out and Keep Talking - all remnants of Pink Floyd's more progressive past - ensured the group would record a hugely successful swansong. The album reached #1 in both the UK and the US and through Gilmour's blues notes, slide guitar and gentle acoustic fingerpicking, demonstrated a Mike Oldfield-esque musical versatility of which Gilmour played with ease.

Since the band's dissolution shortly after The Division Bell, Gilmour reunited with his fellow bandmates for the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, including Roger Waters. Despite visible tensions between the pair, which culminated in Gilmour ending the show and proceeding to walk off stage after saying goodbye to the audience, he was persuaded by Waters to come back on just as he was about to leave the stage and embrace in a group hug, which has since become an iconic image from the concert. Many fans hoped after the concert that Pink Floyd would reunite for live tours and perhaps record studio material, but since Richard Wright's death from cancer last September, the idea has become increasingly unlikely.

As for Gilmour's solo career, he released his acoustic-driven album, On An Island in 2006 to popular acclaim. Although a slight stylistic change from his work with Pink Floyd, his husky vocals and gentle plucking harnessed with strong songwriting, meant greater success for Gilmour, despite the heady guitar solos of the Pink Floyd era being increasingly sparse on his solo record.

To date, Gilmour is one of the most accomplished vocalists and instrumentalists and his love of the guitar and his very modest and understated character has resulted in his "iconic" image as a rock musician. If not the best, he is certainly one of the best guitarists in terms of his variety of harmonies, melodies, chords and tabs and his mixture of rock music styles, meaning David Gilmour is a true legend of rock music.

Comments

No Matt Bellamy or Angus..... makes this list, VOID!

By robhayes

That you would mention Angus :). Sorry, but his silly school uniforms just don't cut it for me. Although, I do think AC/DC's mainstay producer, Robert "Mutt" Lange is a legend, mainly for his work with other artists. As for Matt Bellamy, he doesn't fall in to the "Classic Rock" category yet, as I'm talking about artists who have basically finished up their studio album careers, not ones who are still ongoing. And don't worry, Dave Gilmour, Mike Rutherford and The Edge are in the top ten...hopefully that pleases you?

By stuartwilson

Angus Young is another glaring omission Stu!

By AlanMcGuinness

There's only about three AC/DC songs IMO which are okay: You Shook Me All Night Long - which is by far their best and most melodic, Back In Black and TNT - which are both catchy in their own way. But apart from that I've never got in to them, a bit too metallic and punky in their shouting ethic for my liking.

But as I say, their producer Robert "Mutt" Lange is a legend. Not necessarily for his work with AC/DC, but his production on the albums:

Foreigner: 4 - 1981.

Def Leppard: High N Dry - 1981, Pyromania - 1983, Hysteria - 1987 and Adrenalize - 1992.

The Cars: Heartbeat City - 1984.

Bryan Adams: Waking Up The Neighbours - 1991, 18 Til I Die - 1996.

AND Mutt's written and produced tracks:

Huey Lewis & The News: Do You Believe In Love - 1982.

Starship: I Didn't Mean To Stay All Night - 1989.

Heart: All I Wanna Do (Is Make Love To You) - 1990, Will You Be There In The Morning - 1993.

...are all pretty decent albums and tracks IMO (although bland commercial sell-outs in your opinion I'm sure haha :) ) and have that hard edge, but with catchy melodies and pop hooks which are generally nice.

I shall have to do a review of his production work next I think...

AC/DC haha, I don't know, I just can't take them seriously when they wear school uniforms and prat around like adolescents on stage when they're nearly 60. But I do at least get AC/DC's ethic, unlike Led Zeppelin, they're a curious mixture of electronic sounds, weird riffs and generally dire vocals (excluding the decent Stairway To Heaven and Whole Lotta Love). But that's only my opinion haha.

 

By stuartwilson

"There's only about three AC/DC songs IMO which are okay."

*points to the door*

Get.....out...

By AlanMcGuinness

Sorry but I just cannot bring myself to love them, sorry haha. Shoot me at dawn if you must, but I just can't like them across the board. To be honest, I'd much rather listen to Guns N Roses than AC/DC anyday, and I only like about 8 or 9 songs of theirs too...

Lange though, as I keep intimating, is a legend however! Even if his ex-wife, Shania Twain, isn't haha.

By stuartwilson

Excuse me?

Stu... if you like 10 of them, theres a good chance you'd like the majority. One needs to listen to more proper rock music it seems. 

As you leave out Ritchie Blackmore, formerlly of Deep Purple out as well. The guy who wrote Smoke on the Water... SMOKE ON THE WATER!!

I'd love to see your top 10 frontmen... perhaps Freddie Mercury, Bruce Springstein, Bruce Dickinson and Robert Plant won't get a mention...

By robhayes

Problem is, I've listened to more than 10 of Guns N Roses for example and I can't say I love them. Can you for instance say in every case that you like every single song a group has done, even if you like around 8/9/10 songs?

I don't know, and I'm not trying to be harsh, it's just personal. Don't worry Rob, haha my parents slated me for not having Ritchie Blackmore (and I know who he is, don't worry :) ) in the list, neither Steve Howe or Brian May...perhaps they have a point in terms of technicalities, as they're better. But I just prefer the riffs and chords that the ones in my list play, no matter how simplistic and tedious to people that they might be, they're still IMO quite effective. Admittedly though Smoke On The Water's alright.

Freddie's a great songwriter and performer, but can you honestly stomach the stage persona he used to portray? I like Queen, but seeing him poncing around with that moustache and with his chest nearly falling out of his top and that hairy caterpillar above his top lip just makes me cringe haha. Bruce Springsteen's good but Bruce Dickinson hmm, Robert Plant hmm. Good performers, but I just don't like the music.

Again, I can't stress enough it's all very personal, so I'm glad it's causing some good debate :).

By stuartwilson

I cannot BELIEVE you said that about Freddie! I love Queen and I love watching clips of Freddie Mercury on stage. Freddiiiiiiiie!

Smoke on the Water is alright? Oh my! 

Matt Bellamy is a rock god in the making, FACT! 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8WP7aOD_9Q&feature=related

And personally out of all the frontmen i have seen with my own eyes, this guy is someone who has such an amazing stage presence. One of my favourite all time live tracks too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vnvii7TToxE

 

Other of my favourite live tracks are Fear of the Dark by Iron Maiden, For Those About to Rock by AC/DC and Lord help me, Mercy by Duffy... I don't know what it is about that womans voice. 

By robhayes

His stage personna is part of the aura around him I think, its great to watch.

By AlanMcGuinness

No Slash!?

You've just made a very powerful enemy my friend.

But seriously, I remember you saying to me you were going to write a piece like this, and once again the breadth of your musical knowledge amazes me.

Nice one Stu.

By AlanMcGuinness

Sorry no, not good enough for my Top Ten. But, if there was a Top 137, he'd be in there somewhere haha :P.

Don't worry, I'm aware of his musical legend, but it's just in terms of preference, I prefer the ones I've chosen.

Thank you haha. This should add nicely to the theses length which is my Journalism portfolio haha.

I fully expect to get slated for this haha :(.

By stuartwilson

I've just realised how long this is...oops haha. Ah well, I wanted to write something feature length to add to the portfolio and I've just realised this is more like an encyclopaedia than a feature length article haha. But, I have seen long articles in Q Magazine and Rolling Stone etc devoted to lists on best artists/musicians etc, so I think I'm just about safe haha.

Suzanne, can I just submit this as the essay instead? haha. :).

By stuartwilson

I must strongly argue for Angus here: a brilliant guitarist, who indeed is not 'old/classic' yet, still has been around for a period comparable to Clapton and others. Such a legend in his own 'schoolboy' scene, that to me, he is nearly a symbol of ACDC - like it or not, a great and well-known rock band. So, you shouldn't exclude him because of his band or his dressing-fetishes, but include him because of his, often, awesome solos.

Who else...? Who was the Mountain guitarist?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFhM1XZsh6o&feature=related

I'll post others, when I get home to my playlist.

edit:

  • ZZ Top (La Grange pops into mind).
  • Lou Reed and Stirling (Velvet Undeground) for their smooth, sensual play.
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival/Festival (Fortunate Son, etc)
  • and since you like multi-instrumentalists (must inc. synths): Bowie?
  • Page and/or Plant?
By jaakpardi

To be honest the attire of Angus Young and AC/DC is a side issue, as is the multi instrumentation, as I've chosen guitarists who first and foremost can play the guitar. The reason my list is My Top Ten, is because it is of those as I've mentioned who are maybe not technically the best, but my personal favourites. It might be biased :(, I know haha, but I suppose that can be the case with music writing/journalism or any other arts type writing. I'm just not that keen on AC/DC because of the riffs and effects used and the very metallic tabs, that's why Angus isn't on the list. But, I really do not mind everyone else's opinions and I'm glad you've all chipped in with your thoughts, it's each to their own and it's very interesting. Besides, it's good to look at different music and styles.

Thank you for your contributions :).

By stuartwilson

...are, of course, the late Lowell George of Little Feat, the still later James Arbuthnott Hendrix and, joint top of the pile, the not late yet Skunk Baxter of Steely Dan and Neil Clark of Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. I hope everyone has taken careful note and that there will be no more of this nonsense. Tsk, tsk.   

By TimLuckhurst

Brilliant Tim! My tastes are probably repugnant and just to make it clear to everyone, my choices perhaps aren't the most technically brilliant and are questionable, but again it's down to preference. I mean for instance Brian May, Steve Howe (Yes), Ritchie Blackmore (Rainbow), Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck (Yardbirds) are probably a lot better than say Mick Jones and Rick Ocasek or Mike Rutherford for example. However, I just prefer the riffs and melodies that are used by the guitarists I've mentioned and their choices which contribute to the overall group.

It's all very personal and that's why I've opened this up for debate. The list is by no means a definitive one...so thank you for all your contributions.

By stuartwilson

of a Top Ten (or 20 perhaps) and then I can either write about them (and do this like a proper music journalism publication would, by polling or asking its readers) or just count the number of votes and decide who really is the best guitarist (perhaps rather than "classic" rock guitarist) of all?

Would that be fairer? Suggestions?

:)

By stuartwilson

How about Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music? And for my money, John Perry is up there with the best. Who? If you've heard of a song called "Another Girl, Another Planet" by The Only Ones, he's the one doing all the tricksy stuff and those great licks. I realise we're talking about rock guitarists here but if you wanted to start a folk list, can I put in a good word for Davy Graham (RIP)? "Anji" is one of my all-time favourite songs. 

 

By Paul Francis