I've always had a love/hate relationship with Rolling Stone since I picked up the guitar. I suppose a more fair way to put it is that I've had a love/hate relationship with music critics since I started learning how to play. There is definitely a cabal of taste-makers who, in my opinion, aren't entitled to opinions with a greater weight than anyone else. I get especially ticked when it's from people who don't even know how to play. As far as I know, Chrissy Hinde is the only critic-turned-musician out there and she gets my undying respect for putting down the pen and picking up the guitar.
All of this is to say that on a return flight from California, I needed some kind of dead-tree entertainment for all the sub-10,000 feet flying I was doing. So I hit the local sundry shop and picked up Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time. Now I'm no idiot. I know that going into this thing that I'm likely to end up pretty pissed that I forked out $12 on some blow-hard's vision of what is and isn't "good". But once in a while life throws you one of those nice curveballs and this turned out to be a pretty good read.
I'm not big on "Top X" lists of anything. I get that the idea is to draw an arbitrary box drawn around a topic in order to incite conversation. These kinds of lists make sense if the criteria is very clear. Unfortunately the The Rolling Stone list doesn't provide any such explanation and left me with the impression that this was some sort of straw-poll amongst some critics and a few musicians (though the panel did include folks like Brian May, Kirk Hammet and Dan Auerbach). If this were a list of the 100 most influential guitarists, I think we'd get a very different looking list.
The list includes a number of names I didn't expect to see on there. For example, Alex Lifeson just cracks the top 100. Perhaps this is part of the long post-"Beyond The Lighted Stage" reconciliation between Rush and popular music press. I was tickled to see Andy Summers and Johnnie Marr also on the list. Of course plenty of modern players didn't make the list, like Vai and Satriani. Also, while James Hetfield got in, Kirk Hammet did not. There seemed to be an begrudging inclusion of "guitar-hero" types on the list, especially from the 80's. Other than Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoades was the only other hard-rock/metal guy from the 80's on the list. Do guys like George Lynch and Warren DeMartini belong on the list? I don't know. Probably not, but it's a good question. I mean, Lindsey Buckingham made the list fer cryin' out loud.
Probably my biggest delight was finding Chuck Berry up so high on the list at #7. Yes, Chuck Berry. Let me be clear here people, Chuck Berry invented the rock and roll solo lick of all time (that little bend on the third string into the double-stop on the first and second strings). That lick divides the rock and roll guitar world into two camps: those that play it (Page, Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen) and those who do not (The Edge, Johnnie Marr). Yes, his music sounds delightfully old by today's standards, but I think it's hard to overestimate his impact on the genre.
Thankfully, the list only takes up about 2/3 of the issue. The remainder is dedicated to specific one-page interviews and a lovely gallery of famous guitars. I actually don't hate this Rolling Stone issue. You know what's even better about it? There isn't a single advertisement. That's right. Go back and read that again. Not…one…ad. Have you ever had the unadulterated pleasure of reading a magazine uninterrupted by ads? It's like a view into another universe. You can't believe you're getting away with it! Honestly, I was happy to pay $12 and get nothing but full content from cover to cover.