Charles Hardin Holley, better known as Buddy Holly, was born in Lubbock, Texas on September 7, 1936. An American musician and singer-songwriter, Holly is widely recognized as a central, pioneering figure in the mid-1950s rock and roll. Growing up in a musical family during the Great Depression, the “Peggy Sue” singer learned the guitar and to sing alongside his siblings. Gospel, country and rhythm and blues all heavily influenced his style, and even opened for Elvis Presley!
He’s one of the first-ever to form what we know now as a “rock band” – his high school band featured bass and drums while Holly sang vocals and played guitar. Sadly, however, this musical genius lost his life too soon. In early 1959, Holly rustled up some troops – a new band – and they were scheduled to fly to Minnesota. Soon after takeoff, the plane crashed, taking his life and three others. This tragedy in fact featured in Don McLean’s “American Pie”, referring to it as “The Day the Music Died.” Now that’s a tribute.
Born in Minneapolis in 1958, Prince was an absolute guitar extraordinaire. At age seven he was writing songs, and his very first was titled “Funk Machine.” Sure, critics love to compare artists, trying to look for similarities or maybe just to tell them they’re copycats.
In Prince’s case, music reviewers have said they hear the sounds of Hendrix in his music, but Prince disagreed with these claims, saying: “If they really listened to my stuff, they’d hear more of a Santana influence than Jimi Hendrix.” Indeed, Prince is known for his melodic riffs. If you’ve not heard Prince in a while, go on, treat your Spotify followers to “When Doves Cry,” or maybe even to his solo in “Purple Rain.” Timeless.
Born in Aberdeen, Washington in 1967, it seemed like it was destiny for Cobain to pick up the guitar. On his 14th birthday, his uncle offered him a bike or a used guitar. We’re sure you can guess what he chose. Fun fact: Elvis was given a similar choice, albeit the fact he was offered a rifle over a bike! The 20-year-old Cobain, alongside Krist Novoselic and Aaron Burckhard, formed the band Nirvana.
Success was found in the 90s anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on their album Nevermind. Nirvana was known for their sense of balance in music, playing songs that were loud and heavy-metal-esque, as well as others which were quieter and more melodic. The band was and still is considered a pioneering force in grunge music. Sadly, this "Generation X" icon's life was cut too short; he took his own life in 1994, at the young age of 27.
Self-taught composer and performer Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1940. A talented multi-instrumentalist, his work was characterized by nonconformity, and his style was difficult to categorize. In high school he wrote classical music while simultaneously playing drums in an R&B band. He then moved on to the electric guitar.
His experience led to his 1966 album with the Mothers of Invention, titled Freak Out!, which combined conventional rock with improvisation and studio-generated sounds. Zappa's rejection of structure and established social norms led him to be described as the “godfather” of comedy rock. He really sought the upper limits of what a guitar can do, showcased in “Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer Guitar,” a 1981 solo album. Sadly, Zappa died of cancer, at just 53 years of age.
Born in Middlesex, England on May 19, 1945, Pete Townshend is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists of all time. A Pat McEnroe of the music world, it’s said that he was the first guitarist ever to smash his guitar onstage. Seems he set a bit of a trend – we find smashed guitars all over the place after rock concerts. The poor guitars! His controversial ways make him a “bad-boy” type who always seems to wind up on these great guitarist lists.
Best known for being a part of The Who, it is somewhat ironic that despite his successful solo career later on, while he was a part of the band, he never actually had a solo. The Who’s sound was heavier with drums and bass as opposed to guitars – almost as though Townshend was on a leash. And what creative genius wants to be restricted? But hey, songs like “My Generation,” “I Can See for Miles” and a cover of “Summertime Blues” are all a part of his discography.