Plenty of people play “fancy” guitar, and that’s fine, but it’s not what John Lee Hooker wants to play. He’s on record saying that he wants to play mean, mean licks. He burst onto the scene in 1949 with a number-one hit, “Boogie Chillen,” establishing his in-your-face tone.
The droning groove kept yanking the listener along for the ride. Even back then, he seemed like a throwback, but that didn’t stop many listeners like Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, and the boys behind ZZ Top from sitting up and taking notice. Even after turning seventy, he was raking in the Grammys.
Sadly passed away, Curtis Mayfield still makes it onto this list thanks to his skills at both the guitar and his time behind the mic. His songs and playing impacted players such as a little player named Jimi Hendrix, and the psychic effects he gave his playing was a huge influence.
Everybody wanted to play like Curtis during the sixties, but in the seventies, the man reinvented his style, adding funk and plenty of wah effects. He played almost exclusively in an open F-sharp tuning, which made his progressions difficult to imitate. He was self-taught, and he knew how he liked to do things.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen
Step one for becoming a great guitarist is getting lessons, but that took too long for Lucassen, a Dutch singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist behind multiple science fiction prog rock projects. His compositions range from folk music to shredding heavy metal (imagine a metal song about going through a black hole), and Arjen plays it all.
It's over the top, and the music doesn't care, incorporating Arjen's unique style – he can't even read sheet music. That doesn't stop him from pumping out music like it's keeping him alive. Few can hope to recreate the sounds that he puts into his mind-bending songs.
If someone like Keith Richards says he's in awe of your playing, chances are you're pretty good. Such is the case for Mick Taylor, who was only twenty when the Rolling Stones added him to their lineup to replace Brian Jones. The effects were immediate, with many of the Stone's tunes becoming enduring classics that music fans still enjoy.
He left the band a mere five years later, but many students of rock call this era of the Rolling Stones their most consistent and accomplished. Just give albums like “Exile on Main Street” or “Sticky Fingers” a spin to hear what he could do.
Solos might not have been his trademark, but Steve Cropper could still play with the best of them. He was the secret ingredient in many of the early great rock and soul songs. However, Cropper was fine not taking center stage. He liked being a band member, he liked making music with other people.
He can be heard on Sam and Dave's “Soul Man,” Booker T's “Green Onions,” and Otis Redding's “(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay.” He had his first hit as a teenager with “Last Night,” playing alongside the Mar-Keys, and his soulful additions can be heard in many other places, too.