I was traveling yesterday and missed Jeff Beck's birthday. Happy seis-cinco, dude.
And my main man Charles is dead right about "best'' lists, but it's simply not possible to have a discussion about guitarists without referencing Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. So before we continue, here are the mad mag's Top 10 axemen:
1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Duane Allman
3. B.B. King
4. Eric Clapton
5. Robert Johnson
6. Chuck Berry
7. Stevie Ray Vaughan
8. Ry Cooder
9. Jimmy Page
10. Keith Richards
The first obvious point: if this were a "living'' list, half of that group -- including the top 2 -- would be eliminated. Second obvious point: Eric "God'' Clapton does not top the list. Despite widespread fan worship for Clapton, there are other amazing practitioners of the guitar who deserve to be ranked above him.
And then there's this: No Jeff Beck in the first group. He's at No. 14. That may not sound unfair until you notice that two other deceased players that couldn't hold a thumbpick to Beck's virtuoso jazz-rock alchemy are ranked above him: Kurt Cobain (No. 12) and Jerry Garcia (No. 13). Meanwhile, Mark Knopfler is No.27. John Fogerty is No. 40.
As Charles might comment: These lists are idiotic.
Nevertheless. The 14th best guitarist is still alive and kicking some serious Stratocaster at 65. His spring tour played to gushing reviews, and he is now a two-time inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (for his solo work, and earlier with the Yardbirds).
Beck doesn't waste time in front of a microphone. It's all about the guitar, and what he gets out of it can be spellbinding. But that must have made Rod Stewart feel like a second banana, and no doubt hampered Beck's commercial success. Listen to what I'm saying. Not even I'm going to spend much time with an album that doesn't offer at least supporting vocals.
But wasn't this supposed to be a ranking of the best guitarists?
In describing Hendrix's No. 1 position, Pete Townshend (who could only windmill his way to No. 50) wrote: "With Jimi, I didn't have any envy. I never had any sense that I could ever come close.''
Same goes for Beck, if you ask me. I'll never play like him, and neither will you. But from time to time I'll listen. And be amazed.
And, truthfully, I'm more disappointed that Dickey Betts was only No. 58. And Alvin Lee was nowhere to be found.