One of the most widely recognized and famous guitarists on our list, next up is Beatles guitarist George Harrison. Born in Liverpool, England in 1943, this internationally worshipped musician was in fact often referred to as “the quiet Beatle.” He was a mystic of sorts, embracing Indian culture and using it to broaden his influence and scope in popular music – he actually incorporated Indian-style instruments and rhythms in the Beatles’ work.
Many considered Harrison as the “third-best” behind his two famous bandmates, McCartney and Lennon, but ironically, Harrison, upon launching a solo career, in fact, surpassed both of them in their solo attempts for a period of time. Famous Beatles songs like “Taxman” and the widely known “Here Comes the Sun” were penned by Harrison. Every album after 1965 actually featured at least two songs written by George.
With a stage name like Albert King, you’d be expecting this top guitarist to have a stage presence to match. Born Albert Nelson in Indianola, Mississippi in 1923, he’s well remembered for saying that he had no influences on his playing style. According to King, he couldn’t relate to any past guitarist, saying “everything I do is wrong.” His nickname, “The Velvet Bulldozer” comes from the fact that he was smooth, but also of large stature, weighing in at 110kg and standing at 6ft 7.
Also, fun fact: he was left-handed but taught himself to play on a right-handed guitar. This tall drink of water managed to master this type of guitar because he played it upside down! Best known for his songs “Born Under a Bad Sign”, and “As the Years Go Passing By”, this legendary guitarist even stopped Jimi Hendrix in his tracks when he opened for him in 1967.
The rhythm guitarist of the one and only, The Beatles, Lennon is the first of two Beatles to be included among the likes of Hendrix and Clapton. Lennon had a unique talent in that he could take a couple of simple notes and string them together in an incredibly beautiful way that was so catchy you couldn't help but get it stuck in your head. Now that’s talent. To this day, the Beatles are the best-selling band in history, having sold 1.6 billion records. While he was a talented guitarist, John Lennon’s reach and influence went much further.
He was also a staunch peace activist, well known for his criticism of the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration even attempted to deport him from the U.S. Unfortunately, as it often happens with musical geniuses, they leave us far too soon. Murdered by an avid fan, Lennon was tragically taken from the world. In the weeks following his murder, Double Fantasy topped the charts in both the UK and the U.S., and “Imagine” hit number one in the UK in January 1981. Fans were devastated but honored his memory by playing his music. RIP Lennon.
Born Ellas Otha Bates, this Chicago-born American singer and guitarist wrote and produced all of his own music. More importantly, Diddley helped usher in rock and roll from blues. It’s noted that he influenced artists such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Clash! With a nickname like “The Originator”, it’s fitting that his use of African rhythms and signature beat (five-accent hambone rhythm) is now a cornerstone of hip-hop, rock, and pop music today.
He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame and has received a Grammy! His groovy tunes include titles such as “Bo Diddley,” “Road Runner” and “Who Do You Love?” It’s said that his songs “unleashed a West African groove” because they were catchy and stayed with you. Did you know that his music went on to inspire Keith Richards and Buddy Holly, among others, to pick up the guitar?
Dick Dale was actually a stage name for the man born Richard Monsour. Of Lebanese and Polish-Belarusian descent, he was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1937. The man we know today as the force behind “surf rock” was ironically born on the East Coast. His family, however, did make the move to Southern California, where he learned to surf in his later teenage years. Music was in his blood from a young age – he learned the piano at age nine, was given a trumpet in seventh grade, and later won a ukulele.
His uncle helped him with his musical education, teaching him how to play the tarabaki (a Middle Eastern drum) and the oud. His knowledge of all these instruments influenced the sound he produced. He regularly used Middle Eastern music scales and experimented heavily with reverb. During his career, he even worked with Fender to produce custom amplifiers – including the first 100-watt guitar amplifier! Now go on and listen to “Misirlou,” and you’ll be transported to the beach.