A rock guitarist since the 1970s, Kelley has been a fan of rock, blues and jazz since the 1960s.
Don't forget these guys and gals! And please check out the videos at the end of this article!
The years go by and you wonder what happened to so-and-so? So here is a list of rock guitarists who made a splash of some sort a while back and then suffered more or less from diminished exposure, waning popularity—or death. At any rate, they left a legacy of fine licks most people would like hearing again and again.
Keep in mind, this list is in no particular order. After all, who could be considered the most forgotten rock guitarist of all?
1. John Cipollina
Trained as a classical pianist, John Cipollina didn’t just play the usual pentatonic rock and blues riffs; he meandered about the fretboard, producing a plethora of melodic and evocative notes, inflected with plenty of whammy bar, his signature, particularly during the psychedelic era. Simply stated, nobody played lead guitar like John Cipollina! One of the forerunners of the San Francisco Bay Area sound in the middle 1960s, Cipollina played lead guitar for the fabulous Quicksilver Messenger Service, until the band went “poppy” in the early 1970s. Perhaps his best effort with the band was the album Happy Trails, recorded live. Then Cipollina played for Copperhead and numerous other bands until his death, attributed to respiratory problems, in 1989.
2. Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher, an Irish-born singer and lead guitarist was another one of those rockers from the British Isles who took American blues and gave it a modern spin. Gallagher joined the trio Taste in the late 1960s, which toured with groups such as Cream and Blind Faith, and was overall considered an impressive entity in the ilk of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Then in the 1970s, Gallagher formed his own trio, essentially going solo, as he played his brand of impassioned, energetic blues. Eric Clapton once said that Gallagher “got him back into the blues.” Gallagher was also known for his long performances. Later, his music showed a jazz influence, and his blues assumed a more “mature” sound. Rory Gallagher died of complications related to a liver transplant in 1995.
3. Elliott Randall
Growing up in New York City, Elliott Randall played with the likes of Richie Havens, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Then, in the early 1970s, Randall formed the group Randall’s Island, and their eponymous first album, including such catchy tunes as “Take Out the Dog and Bark the Cat,” is a classic. In 1972, Randall went to California and played guitar on Steely Dan’s first album Can’t Buy a Thrill. Guitarist Jimmy Page considers Randall’s solo on “Reelin’ in the Years” his favorite. Over the years, Randall has worked primarily as a session player for artists such as the Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton, and has also worked as a musical consultant on Saturday Night Live and for filmmaker Oliver Stone. Randall currently performs with Randall’s Rangers.
4. Leigh Stephens
Leigh Stephens was lead guitarist for Blue Cheer, a blues-tinged, acid rock power trio that erupted upon the San Francisco Bay Area scene in 1968. The Band’s fuzzy, distorted version of “Summertime Blues,” climbed to number fourteen on the Billboard Hot 100. Their first album, Vincebus Eruptum, is a definite forerunner of heavy metal and grunge, anticipating groups such as Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath. Incidentally, Blue Cheer called itself the loudest rock band in the world. Unfairly compared to other rock trios such as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer’s music was, in comparison, raw and chaotic, like watching an erupting volcano after taking a hit of Purple Owsley. After recording two albums with Blue Cheer, Stephens went on to form Silver Metre in 1969. Stephens performed at the Summer of Love Fortieth Anniversary concert in San Francisco in September 2007.
5. Tommy Bolin
Tommy Bolin started his career as a guitarist for the rock group Zephyr, producing two albums and opening for such bands as Led Zeppelin. Then in 1972, Bolin played on Billy Cobham’s album Spectrum, which highlighted Bolin’s talent for blazing jazz-fusion guitar, and this may be Bolin’s best work. Next, Bolin replaced Joe Walsh in the James Gang, churning out two albums, Bang and Miami. Then, in the middle 1970s, Bolin replaced Ritchie Blackmore, lead guitarist for Deep Purple and also produced the solo album, Teaser. Unfortunately, drug addiction got the better of Bolin at the very young age of 25. After playing a gig with Jeff Beck, Tommy Bolin, having taken a variety of hard drugs, died of complications thereof on December 4, 1976. Chuck Morris said that Tommy was so good he “could cry on that guitar.”
6. Frank Marino
One of many so-called Jimi Hendrix imitators in the 1970s, Frank Marino was perhaps the best of that bunch, with all due respect to lovers of Robin Trower, naturally. In the late 1960s, Marino had some kind of direction-altering epiphany while hospitalized for overindulgence in the drug LSD and, reacting to this, the press started saying Marino was Hendrix reincarnated, though Marino denies this hype. (Listening to Marino’s version of “Purple Haze,” you might think the story was true!) At any rate, suitably inspired, Marino then formed the group Mahogany Rush in 1970, eventually producing over ten albums with the band. Over the years, Marino has also produced two solo albums. Interestingly, he has two sons, Danny and Mike, who play in rock bands. In an interview, Marino was asked who he would love to jam with, alive or dead, and he chose Jimi Hendrix. Surprise!
7. Shuggie Otis
A definite guitar prodigy by the age of 15, Shuggie Otis (son of R&B bandleader Johnny Otis) recorded in 1969 the album Kooper Session with blues great Al Kooper. Sounding like a younger version of Mike Bloomfield, Shuggie’s licks are titillating on the tunes “Slow Goonbash Blues” and “Shuggie’s Shuffle.” Then in the 1970s, Shuggie continued his career in the jazz and R&B vein, writing the hit song “Strawberry Letter 23”. In 1974, Shuggie played all the instruments on the album Inspiration Information, a jazzy R&B, variety-filled experience evocative of Sly Stone and the Brothers Johnson, though it never really caught on. Incidentally, when Mick Taylor quit the Rolling Stones, Shuggie was offered the job, but he declined. More recently, in the 1990s, Shuggie Otis played with his own band in northern California.
8. Erik Braunn
Another guitar prodigy, Erik Braunn played lead guitar with acid rock band Iron Butterfly when he was only 16. Braunn picked lead axe on the band’s number one hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” one of the longest rock songs ever produced at 17 minutes. Braunn’s guitar solo on the marathon, emphasizing pedal effects, is one of the best from the period. In 1970, Braunn left the Butterfly and formed Flintwhistle, about which little is known except they performed live here and there. Then he worked as a studio musician until he formed a new version of Iron Butterfly in 1974, which lasted until 1977. Braunn, while working on his first solo album, died of a heart attack in July 2003.
9. Elvin Bishop
Elvin Bishop has been playing gigs seemingly forever. Born about the same time as Jimi Hendrix in 1942, Bishop, while going to the University of Chicago, joined the renowned Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963, trading licks with fellow lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield, until Bloomfield left and then Bishop became the main guitar man, doing plenty of singing as well, sometimes with comedic intent, such as on the novelty tune “Drunk Again.” Primarily a blues guitarist, though he dabbles much in rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, Bishop formed his own group in 1968. Bishop’s biggest hit came in 1976 with the release of “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then in 2008, Bishop released The Blues Roll On, featuring fellow blues artists B.B. King, Warren Haynes, George Thorogood and many others. Elvin Bishop will probably still be rocking in the twenty-second century!
10. Leslie West
Leslie West hit the big time when he formed the group Mountain in 1969. The band’s big hit was “Mississippi Queen,” which showed-off West’s hard-driving rock guitar and wailing, hell-bent singing. Mountain also performed at Woodstock, where West played a searing guitar solo on Jack Bruce’s “Theme for an Imaginary Western.” A hefty fellow, West’s nickname was “The Great Fatsby,” though these days he looks trimmer. Then, in 1974, West formed a power trio with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Corky Laing, billed to be the next super group, but, alas, this never came to pass. For a time, West put together the Leslie West Band or new incarnations of Mountain. Unfortunately, in the present day, Leslie West passed on December 22, 2020, age 75.
11. Robbie Krieger
Robbie Krieger has come full circle with the Doors, one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever. Krieger started as the band’s lead guitarist back in 1966, joining up with legendary singer/poet Jim Morrison. What many people may not know is that Krieger wrote many of the songs for which the band became famous, including “Love Me Two Times,” “Touch Me,” “You’re Lost Little Girl” and, most memorably, “Light My Fire,” perhaps the greatest Top 40 rock tune of the 1960s. Krieger showed his unique guitar style with long solos on songs such as “The End,” “When the Music’s Over,” and the long version of “Light My Fire.” Generally playing his signature Gibson SG, Krieger’s guitar style shows many influences - sitar music, flamenco, folk, jazz and blues. In the early 2000s, the Doors reformed, with Ian Asbury replacing the deceased Jim Morrison. Krieger also continues working as a solo artist and studio musician.
12. Alvin Lee
Alvin Lee began playing lead guitar in 1960 with the core of a rock band that would eventually become Ten Years After, which released its first album in 1967. The band’s breakthrough came with Lee’s rollicking, frenetic, singing out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth performance at Woodstock, perhaps stealing the show, and propelling the band to stardom, which it maintained until the middle 1970s. At this point, Lee, feeling limited by the band, left Ten Years After and formed Alvin Lee and Company, “a funky little outfit,” as Lee called it, releasing the double live recording In Flight, an R&B and rock extravaganza in 1975. Then Lee formed a power trio called Ten Years Later, of all names, garnering recognition and praise. In the 1980s, Lee formed the Alvin Lee Band. To date, Lee has released many solo efforts, including Saguitar in 2007. Alvin Lee passed on March 6, 2013.
13. Peter Green
Peter Green was the founder of the spectacular Fleetwood Mac, though long before they converted to mainstream rock in the middle 1970s. A blues-rock guitarist/songwriter, Green was an integral aspect of the British blues movement along with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, both of whom lauded Green’s playing. Following that muse, Green joined with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966, sounding nearly as “God-like” as Clapton, whom he had replaced. After leaving Fleetwood Mac, Green suffered from bouts of schizophrenia, perhaps exacerbated by his overindulgence in LSD and cocaine. Green became a tramp-like recluse for six years, and then made a comeback in the 1990s, forming the Peter Green Splinter Group, eventually making nine albums with the band. Sadly, Peter Green died on July 25, 2020.
14. Mark Farner
Mark Farner founded the fabulously successful power trio Grand Funk Railroad in 1969. Almost immediately, the band drew monstrous crowds and eventually produced numerous albums, many gold or platinum. Although Farner was never known for his technical virtuosity on the guitar, he became a kind of one-man band (as trios sometimes need!), playing lead guitar and keyboards, banging on percussion and writing most of the group’s songs. Then Farner left the band in 1977, going solo with albums such as Mark Farner. After that, Farner began playing Christian rock in the 1980s. Later, in the middle 1990s, Farner joined Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, and finally reformed the original Grand Funk Railroad in the late 1990s. Farner currently tours, often playing Grand Funk standards as well as his solo material.
15. Jorma Kaukonen
Jorma Kaukonen’s blues/bluegrass/rock guitar style highlighted the Jefferson Airplane, an acid rock band formed in San Francisco in 1965. Kaukonen’s acoustic fingerpicking licks can be heard on the band’s album Surrealistic Pillow, particularly the cut “Embryonic Journey.” The Airplane’s lead guitarist, Kaukonen provided requisite rock chops with the best guitarists in the San Francisco Bay Area. After the Airplane broke up in 1973 (some members joining the new Jefferson Starship), Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady formed Hot Tuna, an assemblage which lasted much longer than the Airplane. Over the years, Kaukonen has recorded a dozen solo albums and joined the reformation of the Jefferson Airplane in 1989. These days, Kaukonen as his wife Vanessa Lillian operate the Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio, where Kaukonen gives guitar lessons, a new pastime he really enjoys.
16. Peter Frampton
British rocker Peter Frampton joined his first major rock group, Humble Pie, in 1969. About this time, Frampton also did lots of session work with rock luminaries such as George Harrison, Harry Nilsson and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then Frampton went solo in 1971, producing the album Wind of Change, utilizing guest artist Ringo Starr. But his early solo albums had little commercial success. This changed, however, when Frampton produced the quintessential arena rock album, Frampton Comes Alive!, one of the best rock albums of the era, and one of the best-selling live albums of all time. The album’s hook-laden hits “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” have become staples on classic rock stations. Since then, Frampton has tried to recapture the magic with varying degrees of success, doing some work with friend David Bowie in the middle to late 1980s. Frampton’s album Fingerprints, highlighting his versatility, won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2007.
17. Mike Bloomfield
Appropriately, Mike Bloomfield was born in Chicago, Illinois, home of the Chicago style of blues, aka urban or electric blues. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bloomfield, of Jewish ethnicity, honed his blues guitar licks with bluesmen such as Sleepy John Estes, Little Brother Montgomery, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and many others. In 1965, Bloomfield’s leap forward came when he joined The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which recorded the highly influential album East-West in 1966. Then Bloomfield became the guitarist for the short-lived Electric Flag. He also performed and/or recorded with Bob Dylan, Al Kooper, Chuck Berry, Mitch Ryder, James Cotton and numerous others. Throughout the 1970s he was a solo act and produced many albums. Notably, Bloomfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. He was discovered dead in his car on Feb. 15, 1981, age 37. Heroin and cocaine were found in his system.
18. Roy Buchanan
Buchanan began his career in the late 1950s to early ‘60s, playing as a sideman for various bands or working as a session guitarist. Buchanan didn’t rely on pedal effects; he simply used the volume and tone knobs on his Telecaster. In the middle 1960s he played in Danny Denver’s Band and was considered one of the best guitarists around. Even Jimi Hendrix was impressed by him, especially his harmonic “pinch” technique and, not surprisingly, Buchanan played some of Hendrix’s songs. Buchanan gained national fame as a solo artist in the 1970s; the Rolling Stones wanted him but he famously turned them down! In 2004, Guitar Player magazine listed Buchanan as having one of the “50 Greatest Tones of All Time.” Buchanan died on August 14, 1988, having hanged himself in a jail cell.
19. Albert King
Albert King was a left-handed guitarist who usually played a right-handed guitar flipped over, so the base strings were on the bottom of the fretboard, then played it upside down. He often tuned his axe C-B-E-F#-B-E (low to high), producing a dramatic tone, which influenced numerous guitarists. Perhaps King’s greatest studio album was Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) and maybe his best live album was Live Wire/Blues Power (1968), recorded at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Along with B.B. King and Freddie Kings, Albert King was known as one of the Kings of the Blues and also nicknamed “The Velvet Bulldozer.” Notably, in 2011, Rolling Stone ranked Albert King #13 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Albert King died of a heart attack on December 21, 1992.
20. Bruce Conte
Bruce Conte is an R&B and jazz fusion guitarist who grew up in Fresno, California and hit the club scene in the late 1960s, performing in Common Ground. Then in 1969 Conte moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and joined Loading Zone. His big break came in 1972 when he became the guitarist for Tower of Power, an R&B, funk and soul band out of Oakland, California. Conte played with Tower of Power until 1979, having recorded with them on some of their best albums - Tower of Power, Back to Oakland and Urban Renewal. Perhaps his greatest solo can be heard on “What Is Hip.” After leaving TOP, Conte played with a number of other bands and produced four solo albums.
21. Howard “Buzz” Feiten
When just 20 years old, Buzz Feiten replaced lead guitarist Elvin Bishop in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which famously performed at Woodstock. Feiten’s Hendrix-like guitar solo can be heard on “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right.” Thereafter, Feiten played with bands such as The Rascals and the Dave Weckl Band and has worked as a session guitarist with numerous famous musicians, including Gregg Allman, Randy Brecker, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. In 1982, Feiten produced his debut album, Full Moon, and then produced a sequel for it in 1999. Interestingly, Feiten makes solid-body electric guitars (you can see his last name on the headstock) and has patented a tuning system for guitars.
22. Henry “The Sunflower” Vestine
Specializing in 1960s-style, electric blues, Henry Vestine was one of the original guitarists for Canned Heat, a progressive, boogie-rock blues band which formed in 1966 and performed at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, though Vestine had quit the group right before Woodstock and didn’t perform there (Harvey Mandel took his place). Notably, Vestine excelled at playing long, improvisational guitar solos, evidence of which can be heard on the Canned Heat double-album Living the Blues (1969), particularly the cut “Refried Boogie.” Into the 1970s and beyond, Vestine played with Canned Heat occasionally and other bands such as The
23. Mick Taylor
Maybe Mick Taylor’s major claim to fame is that he had the audacity to quit the Rolling Stones in 1974, mainly because he thought he wasn’t getting enough credit for his songwriting. Nevertheless, Taylor has performed with the Stones many times as recently as the 2010s, as he probably should have, because he played with the Stones during perhaps their greatest creative period (1969 – 1974). Raised in Hatfield, England, Taylor first break as a pro guitarist was at 16, when he performed with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, joining the band the following year. After leaving the Stones, Taylor joined with bassist Jack Bruce for a short time. Since then, Taylor has primarily been a solo artist, playing with Bob Dylan, Carla Olson and Joan Jett. Taylor has also worked as a session artist over the decades. Notably, in 2012, Rolling Stone magazine picked him #37 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
24. Jan Akkerman
Jan Akkerman is a Dutch guitarist who began taking guitar lessons when he was five and helped form a rock band, Johnny and His Cellar Rockers, at 11. Then his career really took off when he helped form Focus, a progressive rock quartet, whose biggest hits were “Hocus Pocus” and “Sylvia.” Akkerman’s guitar virtuosity didn’t go unnoticed, either. In 1973, Melody Maker magazine selected him as the Best Guitarist in the World! After Focus disbanded, Akkerman, now more of a jazz fusion guitarist and lute player, launched a solo career, producing numerous albums, the latest of which Close Beauty (2019). Akkerman has also been a superb session artist, playing with Jack Bruce, Charlie Byrd, Paco de Lucia, B.B. King, Ice-T and many others.
25. J.J. Cale
J.J. Cale began his musical career in Los Angeles in the 1960s, landing a gig at the soon to be famous Whisky a Go Go, for which he was a cofounder. In 1966, he cut a demo single of “After Midnight.” But, unable to make a living in LA, Cale returned to Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1971, he recorded his debut album Naturally, which highlighted his unique style of rock, blues, folk and jazz, and also his ability as a sound engineer. Neil Young was impressed by Cale’s guitar virtuosity: “Of all the players I ever heard, it's gotta be Jimi Hendrix and J. J. Cale who are the best electric guitar players.” Cale’s greatest hit single was “Crazy Mama,” which hit #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Eric Clapton, who often corroborated with Cale, was also a great fan of his. “He was a fantastic musician,” Clapton said. “And he was my hero." Cale’s last studio album was Stay Around (2019), released posthumously. J.J. Cale passed on July 26, 2013.
26. Rick Derringer
Rick Derringer, guitarist, songwriter and producer, has been a rocker since 1965 when he helped form the McCoys, whose song “Hang on Sloopy,” was a #1 hit. Then in the 1970s Derringer produced “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo” another hit single. He often joined forces with Edgar Winter and Johnny Winter, playing lead guitar and producing their records. He also discovered celebrities such as Cyndi Lauper and “Weird Al” Yankovic; he also worked with Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren and Meatloaf, and he hung out with Andy Warhol’s circle. Derringer has said that his favorite guitar solo was on “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” Derringer has produced 13 solo albums, and in recent times he toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Also, in 2018, he went on tour with “HippieFest,” featuring himself, Vanilla Fudge, Mitch Ryder and Badfinger.
27. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
One of the founders rock, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was nicknamed “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock and roll.” Tharpe sang and played the guitar often using distortion, thereby playing what came to be called electric or urban blues. But Tharpe started as a gospel/spiritual singer in the 1930s and ’40s, recording such hits as “Rock Me,” “This Train,” “Down by the Riverside” and “Strange Things Happening Every Day” (considered one of the first rock tunes.) Tharpe’s bluesy guitar licks impressed musicians such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Keith Richards; and Johnny Cash and Little Richard said she was their favorite singer when they were kids. In guitar battles at the Apollo Theater in NYC in the 1940s, Tharpe was often given the contradictory compliment, “she can play like a man.” In 2017, Tharpe was elected into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Sister Rosetta Tharpe passed away on October 9, 1973.
28. Ted Nugent
Ted Nugent began his musical career in 1963 when he played lead guitar for the Amboy Dukes. Then in 1975 Nugent exited the Amboy Dukes and formed his own band, which produced a number of hit albums: Ted Nugent (1975), Free-for-All (1976) and Cat Scratch Fever (1977), all of which spawning the hit singles “Hey Baby,” “Stranglehold,” “Dog Eat Dog” and “Cat Scratch Fever.” Nugent turned solo in the 1980s, producing albums, though none were critically acclaimed or popular. Nugent then joined the supergroup Damn Yankees in 1989; their power balled “High Enough” reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. At present, Nugent continues performing and producing solo albums, the latest of which, The Music Made Me Do It (2018.) Notably, Nugent remains an outspoken advocate for conservative causes and is a gun-toting member of the NRA.
29. Beverly “Guitar” Watkins
Beverly Guitar Watkins began playing guitar as a pro with Piano Red and the Meter-tones in 1959. While touring the legendary Chitlin Circuit, her guitar prowess on the blues quickly became apparent on such hit singles as “Dr. Feelgood” and “Right String but the Wrong Yo-Yo.” Over subsequent years she played with such great artists as James Brown, B.B. King and Ray Charles, though her riffs were seldom heard on the radio. But the advent of the internet in the late 1990s gave Watkins a much larger audience and the chance at a comeback at age 60. Watkins would play the guitar behind her head at various festivals in the US and other countries, blowing away the younger crowds. In 1999, Watkins produced her solo “debut” CD, Back in Business. Notably, Taj Mahal called her an “unsung hero of the blues.” Beverly Guitar Watkins passed away at 80 on October 1, 2019.
30. Dave Davies
Dave Davies was the lead guitarist for The Kinks, a British Invasion band that greatly influenced rock in the 1960s and well into the 1970s and ‘80s, when metal and punk musicians played their hits. Many rockers probably remember Davies’ distorted power chords on such hits as “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” While the Kinks’ popularity declined in the 1980s, Davies began a solo career that’s continued well into the 2010s, even though a stroke in 2006 nearly ended his career. Davies last solo album was Rippin’ Up Time (2014). In the present, Davies and his brother Ray Davies may resurrect the Kinks again. Interestingly, in 1965, Davies bought a used Gibson Flying V guitar for $60 in a pawn shop; this model eventually became famous for metal guitarists.
31. Johnny Ramone
John William Cummings, alias Johnny Ramone who, along with lead singer Joey Ramone, founded The Ramones, a punk rock group that erupted from NYC in 1974. Ramone, considering himself more of a rhythm guitarist, became known for his use of downstrokes and six-string barre chords; he also cranked up the gain on his Marshall stack, creating a more aggressive sound, which influenced many punk rock groups and metal bands. Ramone seldom played long solos, a style that fit the Ramones, which rarely played songs longer than two minutes. Notably, Ramone has been placed on many lists for guitar prowess, reaching #28 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, compiled in 2015 and #8 on Spin’s similar list in 2012. Ramone died of prostate cancer, at 55, on September 15, 2004. Commando, his autobiography, was published in 2012.
32. Martin Barre
Known primarily as the lead guitarist for the prog/folk rock group, Jethro Tull, Martin Barre began his professional career by playing guitar for the Moonrakers in 1966 and then Gethsemane, a blues band, in 1968. In 1969, Barre became the lead guitarist for Jethro Tull, which soon released Stand Up, an album highlighted by the hit single “Living in the Past.” He continued playing for the band until 2012. Barre began a solo career in the early 1990s, releasing the album A Trick of Memory (1994), and many others. Interestingly, Barre said in the beginning he never took guitar lessons and tried not listening to other guitarists so he wouldn’t sound like them; but he acknowledges being influenced by guitarist Leslie West of Mountain. Barre also plays the buzuki, mandolin, flute and saxophone. And Barre’s solo on “Aqualung,” the title track on Aqualung (1971) is considered one of the best in rock history.
33. Roger Fisher
One of the founding members of Heart, Roger Fisher played lead guitar with the group when it was known as Hocus Focus or White Heart, and then it became Heart when the Wilson sisters, Nancy and Ann, joined it in the middle 1970s. Then Heart released some of its best albums—Dreamboat Annie (1976), Little Queen (1977), Magazine (1977) and Dog and Butterfly (1978), all of which were very popular. One of Heart’s greatest tunes was “Barracuda,” on which Fisher provided some of his most memorable licks. Fisher left Heart in 1980 and in 1990 joined the band Alias, whose hit single was “More Than Words Can Say.” Since those days Fisher has worked as a solo artist and performs with various musicians in America’s Pacific Northwest.
34. Danny Gatton
Developing a style of guitar he called “redneck jazz,” Danny Gatton began playing jazz guitar in the early 1960s, and then while playing with various bands, he released the solo album, American Music (1975) and then Redneck Jazz (1975), the latter of which using pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons. Even though Gatton could play many different styles of music, he was known primarily as a country and rockabilly artist. Over the years, Gatton acquired many nicknames: “Telemaster,” because he played a customized 1953 Fender Telecaster; “The world’s greatest unknown guitarist”; and the “Humbler,” because he often beat other guitarists during competitive jam sessions. Notably, Gatton released over 19 albums, the last of which New York Stories with Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove (2009). Often suffering from depression, Danny Gatton took his own life on October 4, 1994.
35. Link Wray
In the late 1950s, Wray began releasing singles such as “Rumble,” “Raw-Hide,” “Apache” and “Jack the Ripper,” all of which became rock and roll classics played by numerous rock guitar aficionados, including Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend. Wray popularized the usage of distortion, whammy bar and power chords, influencing countless teenagers who wanted to play like him. His band was Link Wray and the Wraymen, with whom he often sang. On stage, Wray showed a tough demeanor—and many of his tunes seemed to reflect that attitude—causing some of his songs in the early days to be banned from the radio. In the 1970s, Wray collaborated with John Cipollina and Copperhead and rockabilly artist Robert Gordon. Over the decades, Wray produced numerous singles, albums and compilations. Link Wray died on November 5, 2005.
36. Dick Dale
Dubbed “The King of the Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale certainly lived up to that nickname in the early 1960s, the heyday beach rockers such as The Beachboys, Jan and Dean and The Trashmen. When that short window for surf music ended in the middle 1960s, about the time Jimi Hendrix sang “you’ll never hear surf music again,” Dick Dale’s style of guitar—liberal usage of reverberation, fast staccato notes, tremolo picking, high volume playing and exotic scales—continued to influence scores of guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Brian May. Two of Dale’s greatest hit singles were “Let’s Go Trippin’” (1961) and “Misirlou,” (1962). In 1997, Dale released the compilation Better Shred Than Dead, the Dick Dale Anthology. Dick Dale died on March 16, 2019, age 81.
37. Hilton Valentine
In the late 1950s, Hilton Valentine became a guitarist for the Wildcats during the skiffle craze in the UK. (Skiffle is a kind of folk music originating in the American South during the early 1900s). Then, during the so-called British Invasion, Valentine became the lead guitarist for the Animals, an R&B and rock group led by vocalist Eric Burton and organist Alan Price. In 1964, The Animals big hit was “The House of the Rising Sun,” which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. (Valentine’s licks on this rock standard may have been copied by a million guitarists!) Valentine left The Animals in 1966, before the group became Eric Burdon and the Animals, which produced such hits as “San Francisco Nights” and “Monterey.” Since then, Valentine has joined various reunions of The Animals and has produced skiffle albums such as It's Folk 'n' Skiffle, Mate! (2004) and Skiffledog on Coburg Street (2011).
38. Freddie King
Perhaps the least known of the Three Kings of Blues Guitar, Freddie King started playing the guitar at six and formed his first band, the Every Hours Blues Boys, in the 1950s. Influenced by such blues artists as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson, King released his debut single, “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” in 1960. Then he produced “Hide Away,” which became a blues standard; he also produced scores of instrumentals, including “The Stumble,” “High Rise” and “The Sad Nite Owl.” During the late 1960s and into the middle 1970s, King became a top blues act, often playing before all-white audiences and opening for such acts as The Jeff Beck Group, Grand Funk and Eric Clapton. Playing as many as 300 gigs per year and subsisting on a diet of Bloody Marys, because, as he said, “they’ve got food in them,” he died at 42 in 1976.
39. Deke Leonard
A guitarist of Welsh descent, Deke Leonard’s first band was Lucifer and the Corncrackers, and then in 1968 he joined the Bystanders, which soon changed their name to Man, a band playing a West Coast style of American psychedelic rock. But in 1972 Leonard left Man and became a solo act, releasing the album Iceberg (1973), which included the popular single, “Hard Way to Live.” Then Leonard rejoined Man and eventually helped produce 25 studio albums with the group, the latest of which, Anachronism Tango (2019). When Leonard wasn’t recording and performing with Man, he’d reform Iceberg, the band or do a solo gig for awhile. Then, in 2015, Leonard played with Son of Man. Interestingly, Leonard has written books about his experiences, including Maybe I Should Have Stayed in Bed? (2000), which received good reviews.
40. Mick Ralphs
Mick Ralphs is an Englishman who helped found the rock groups Mott the Hoople and Bad Company. Ralphs performed and recorded with Mott the Hoople from 1969 to 1973, and then he and singer Paul Rodgers helped form Bad Company, with whom Ralphs helped write some of their greatest hits: “Bad Company,” “Can’t Get Enough,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Shooting Star” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fantasy.” Notably, in 1984, Ralphs toured with Pink Floyd alumnus David Gilmour, who was promoting his second solo album, About Face. Over the decades, Ralphs has produced three solo albums, including That’s Life (2003), and continued recording and performing with Bad Company until 2016, when he suffered a stroke, which may have ended his performing career.
41. Mike Slamer
British guitarist Mike Slamer played with the band City Boy, a poppy, progressive rock sextet that pumped out hit singles from 1976 to 1981. City Boy’s most popular songs were “What A Night,” “The Day the Earth Caught Fire,” “22.214.171.124” and “Speechless.” Slamer also performed and recorded with the bands Streets, Steelhouse Lane, Chris Thompson and Mike Slamer, Seventh Key in the 2000s and Devil’s Hand in 2018; Slamer also produced the solo album, Nowhere Land (2006). In addition, Slamer worked as a session guitarist and staff composer with artists such as Angry Anderson, bassist/singer Billy Greer, Steve Walsh and Terry Brock.
42. Spencer Davis
Welsh guitarist Spencer Davis became hooked on American R&B music when he was 16. In 1963, Davis recruited Muff Winwood, Pete York and Steve Winwood, and then formed The Spencer Davis Group. (They used Davis’ name for the group because he was the only one who liked doing press interviews.) The group produced some hit singles in the UK: “Keep on Running,” “Somebody Help Me,” “I’m a Man,” and “Gimme Some Lovin’,” which reached #7 in the US. This group disbanded in 1974, and then Davis began a solo career, producing the album, Mousetrap. Then, when Davis became an executive and promoter for Island Records, he helped Steve Winwood launch a solo career. In 1993, Davis formed a super-group, the Class Rock All-Stars; and then another such highfalutin band, the World Classic Rockers, in 1995. Sadly, Spencer Davis passed on October 19, 2020, age 81.
43. Gene Cornish
A lead guitarist and harmonica player, Gene Cornish began his career by playing with Joey Dee and the Starliters, which released “I Wanna Be a Beatle” in 1964. Then Cornish was one of the founding members of The Young Rascals, a soulful rock band that produced eight albums and 13 charting singles from 1965 to 1970. In the 1970s, Cornish played in a series of bands, including Fotomaker and April Wine. In 1988, Cornish reunited with members of The Rascals and formed The New Rascals. Notably, in 1997, The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Finally, in the 2010s Cornish performed with various incarnations of The Rascals. But in 2018 Cornish began having health problems that keep him from performing in the present day.
44. Steve Cropper
Often considered one of the best soul and R&B guitarists of all time, Steve Cropper, also a song writer and record producer, played with the Stax Records’ house band, Booker T & the M.G.’s, which backed such famous artists as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Johnnie Taylor. Then in the 1970s, Cropper worked as a session guitarist and producer for such bands as Tower of Power, Rod Stewart, The Jeff Group, Ringo Starr and John Lennon; he also began releasing solo albums. In the late 1970s, Cropper joined the Blues Brothers Band and appeared in their two movies, Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000. Notably, in 1996, Mojo magazine named him “the greatest living guitar player,” and Keith Richards labeled him as “Perfect, man.” In addition, in 2018, Cropper released Telemasters with Arlen Roth.
45. Jesse Ed Davis III
The only Native American on this humble list, Jesse Edwin Davis had a great career as a rock, blues, country and R&B guitarist, pianist and banjo player from the 1950s into the 1980s. The first band Davis joined was Taj Mahal’s; he played on five of Mahal’s studio cuts. Davis began recording solo albums in the 1970s, beginning with ¡Jesse Davis! (1971). Notably, that same year Davis appeared with George Harrison in the Concert for Bangladesh. Davis was a session musician of note as well, recording with Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Steve Miller, Willie Nelson and many others. Davis was also a sideman for many famous artists: Bob Dylan, Albert Collins, Buffy Sainte-Marie, B.B. King, Jackson Browne, Arlo Guthrie, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and countless others. Suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction during his short life, Jesse Davis passed away on June 22, 1988, age 43.
46. Randy Rhoads
Randy Rhoads grew up in Los Angeles, California, and began playing the guitar at a young age; he eventually began teaching guitar in the 1970s. In 1976, Rhoads’ first major band was Quiet Riot, a heavy metal group he co-founded with friend Kelly Garni. Quiet Riot became popular in the LA club scene and produced two studio albums—Quiet Riot and Quiet Riot II. Then, in the early 1980s, after Rhoads joined Ozzy Osbourne’s band, he soon became known as one of the greatest metal guitarists around. In fact, some of his solos became legendary, particularly those in the songs “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley,” and his artistry on Osbourne’s album Blizzard of Ozz (1980) is considered exemplary. Then, tragically, Rhoads died in a plane crash on March 19, 1982, age 25.
47. Jimmy Nolen
One of the greatest funk and R&B guitarists, Jimmy Nolen played a style of guitar picking known as chicken scratch. Nolen started playing guitar for Jimmy Wilson in the 1950s; he also recorded his own singles during this time, and then started The Jimmy Nolen Band, more of a backup outfit than one that recorded records. Then in 1965, Nolen became a major player in James Brown’s band. He also played breakneck funk for the J.B.’s, and Maceo Parker and All the King’s Men. Nolen’s style of guitar, using lots of “chanky” arpeggios, can be heard on James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I’ve Got the Feeling.” Jimmy Nolen died of a heart attack on December 18, 1983.
48. Barry “The Fish” Melton
Becoming part of the counterculture movement of the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1960s, Barry Melton helped establish Country Joe and the Fish, a psychedelic rock band that eventually produced six studio albums and appeared at such iconic rock venues as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. Melton, a lead guitarist, along with singer/guitarist Country Joe McDonald, wrote most of the band’s songs. Melton also played lead guitar for The Dinosaurs, a supergroup formed in 1982. In the current day, Melton continues playing music in the US and other countries such as England, Thailand and Russia. Interestingly, Melton practices criminal law in Lake County, California.
49. Richard Thompson
An English singer/songwriter/guitarist, Richard Thompson began his musical career in the 1960s by playing lead guitar for Fairport Convention, and since the early 1970s he’s compiled an impressive résumé as a solo artist, producing 18 studio albums. In 1974, Thompson joined his then-wife, Linda Thompson, forming a duo that achieved success with the release of Shoot Out the Lights (1982). This husband and wife duo produced six studio albums. Then Thompson resumed his solo career, producing three albums that were nominated for Grammy Awards: Rumor and Sigh (1991), You? Me? Us? (1996) and Dream Attic (2010). Notably, in 2006, BBC Radio gave Thompson a lifetime achievement award; and 2015, his LP, Still, made the UK Top Ten.
50. Ike Turner Jr.
Ike Turner was one of the pioneers of early rock and roll in the 1950s; he worked as a guitarist, singer, bandleader, songwriter, producer, arranger and talent scout for Sun Records and Modern Records. Turner formed the band, the Kings of Rhythm, while just a teenager; this group helped produce “Rocket 88,” often considered the first rock tune in 1951. Then in the 1960s Turner and his wife, Tina Turner, were headliners in the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, which shot to international stardom with such hits as “Proud Mary” and “River Deep Mountain High.” Notably, Rolling Stone magazine picked Turner #61 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists; and Turner won five Grammy Awards. Ike Turner passed on December 12, 2007, age 76.
Please click on the videos below and listen to 50 Forgotten Rock Guitarists. Also, keep in mind if you have a slow computer, it may take five or ten minutes to load the videos!
John Cipollina with the Quicksilver Messenger Service
Leigh Stephens on lead guitar
Erik Braunn with Iron Butterfly
Tommy Bolin with Deep Purple
Young Shuggie Otis
Robbie Krieger with the Doors
Peter Green with Fleetwood Mac
Mark Farner with Grand Funk
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Henry Vestine with Canned Heat
Ted Nugent with Damn Yankees
Mick Taylor with the Rolling Stones
J.J. Cale with Leon Russell
Rick Derringer with the Edgar Winter Group
Beverly Guitar Watkins
Joey and Johnny Ramone
Martin Barre with Jethro Tull
Roger Fisher with Heart
Dick Dale and Stevie Ray Vaughan
Hilton Valentine with the Animals
Deke Leonard with Man
Mick Ralphs with Bad Company
Mike Slamer with Seventh Key
Spencer Davis with the Spencer Davis Group
Gene Cornish with The Rascals
Steve Cropper with the Blues Brothers
Jesse Ed Davis with Taj Mahal
Randy Rhoads with Ozzy Osbourne
Jimmy Nolen with James Brown
Barry "The Fish" Melton
© 2009 Kelley Marks
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on October 27, 2020:
Thanks for the tip, Johnny G! I changed the photo. Keep coming by, because I'll continue to add rockers to this list as soon as I remember them or when someone makes a useful suggestion. Later!...
Johnny G on October 27, 2020:
Love you mentioning Mick Ralphs.
But the pic you have of him is actually Paul Kossoff of Free. He of which should have been on this list.
Mr B on June 18, 2020:
What about Ray Davies of the Kinks? Also should add short clips of each of their performances.
Mark on June 10, 2020:
Would like to add:
1. Martin Barre (Jethro Tull)
2. Bill Nelson (Be Bop Deluxe)
3. Deke Leonard (Man)
4. Mike Slamer (City Boy and Streets)
Jan Gelderloos on May 10, 2020:
No sound on the videos at the bottom. Too bad, because it's a great list otherwise!
Woody on January 28, 2020:
David Prigent. on December 10, 2019:
Eric Baun great guitarist for Iron Butterfly, the Butterfly played much better songs than In a gada davida , 'Soul experience', 'Slower than guns' to name a few.
Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on November 07, 2019:
If I never mentioned this being a great article, it's only because I must have got distracted by something. I've plans to write things about several of these folks.
I often feel like I was born in the wrong decade with how I have so much preference for 1970s music.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 07, 2019:
Thanks for the comment, Robert Levine. The word forgotten is relative to one's point of view. But none of them are truly forgotten as long as we have their licks on vinyl, CDs and YouTube. Adios!
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on November 05, 2019:
I don't think John Fogerty, Jorma Kaukonnen, or Duane Allman are forgotten. Especially Fogerty: his solo career might have faded, but I don't think a day goes by without a radio station somewhere in the United States playing a CCR song. A huge proportion of their collected work has become classic.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on February 27, 2019:
Thanks for the comment, James A Watkins. It seems like you and your band have played many of the classic rock tunes. Must be fun to be able to play them!...
James A Watkins from Chicago on February 26, 2019:
Great selections. Excellent writing, too. I enjoyed your Hub. Terry Kath, one of my favorites. My band used to do 25 or 6 to 4; several Mountain songs including Tired Angels; of course In A gadda da vida and Summertime Blues; but also we did Mahogany Rush tunes such as The Answer and Dragonfly; did Standing in the Rain from James Gang with Tommy Bolin; and even Messin' with the Kid by Gallagher (in fact, I have a live recording of my band doing that one). Great stuff.
James on January 11, 2015:
Where is Jimmy Mcculloch ?
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 30, 2013:
Hey, Gans, your photo appears to be a Wikipedia Commons photo, so I shall indicate such in the caption. Satisfied? Later!
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on November 30, 2013:
Hey, David Gans, did you actually photograph Cipollina? If you did, you must be a pretty old guy. Anyway, many people have copied my Hubpages stories, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it. Welcome to the Internet. Later!
David Gans on November 27, 2013:
I find it kind of annoying that you posted my photo of John Cipollina without attribution.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on October 05, 2013:
Thanks for the comment, The Public Image. I enjoy hearing from guitar enthusiasts such as you and, I must say, I haven't heard of any of those guys you mentioned. More forgotten guitarists? Later!
Nik Farr from Middleton, MA on October 03, 2013:
Cool Hub, great idea and execution! I'm so glad you recognized Rory Gallagher as he just doesn't get the recognition he deserves these days.
To your list, I would personally add the following guitarists who haven't really gotten their due:
James Honeyman-Scott, who played on the first two Pretenders albums
Randy California, of classic rock band Spirit
Wilko Johnson, who played for Dr. Feelgood before going solo
Duane Denison, mostly recognized for his work with the Jesus Lizard
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on May 31, 2012:
How about the British Isles? Later!
BlackOutOrGetOut on May 29, 2012:
As pertains Mr Gallagher: Ireland is not the UK
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on October 26, 2011:
Hey, ieu50, I'll have to check out "Quantum Leap" one of these days. Thanks for the comment. Later!
ieu50 from Neath, South Wales, UK. on October 26, 2011:
Great hub - brought back some fantastic memories.. Anybody remember Quantum Jump (only did 1 album: 'Quantum Jump')? Their lead guitar was Mark Warner - worth checking the album out just for his playing!
Mike Spain from USA on October 07, 2011:
Padraig O'Shea on July 23, 2010:
Rory Gallagher was not a UK guy.He was Irish...simply (it isn't part of the UK)...and he was a superb guitarist (and certainly not forgotten in Ireland)...otherwise a cracking article.
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 01, 2010:
Thanks for the heads-up on the Rory Gallagher festival. Wish I could be there. Later!
Doire60 from Cleator Moor on June 01, 2010:
Hi Kosmo another great article, I'm off to Ireland coming weekend, for my 50th but also taking in annual Rory Gallagher in Ballyshannon, his birthplace. Festival is headlined by Bernie Marsden formally of Whitesnake, but it'll be full of tribute bands, including Shinkicker!! Keep up the good work.
Paul_Steads on May 26, 2010:
Fantastic article. It was great that you have included Rory Gallagher. I really enjoyed the movie of Frank Marino.
moondive from Modena,Italy on April 25, 2010:
Shinkicker from Scotland on January 18, 2010:
Fascinating article Kosmo and wonderful to see Rory Gallagher in there. I don't call myself 'Shinkicker' for nothing :-)
gwinto500 on December 28, 2009:
Great hub featuring three of my favourite guitarists: Rory Gallagher, Leslie West and Frank Marino. Tommy Bolin: a name from the past I remember when he replaced Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, but I had stopped buying Purple records by that time;so I'm not really familiar with his work despite being told he was one of the Greats! Nice to see what people were talking about on the video clip.
Krystal Paige from Midwest, America on August 20, 2009:
I like your taste, especially Rory Gallagher. Rory has been one major influence on my music. Nice Hub:-)
prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on August 14, 2009:
great guitarist rock legend. and thanks for great picture. let's go Rock!
gusripper on July 13, 2009:
Fantastic job cosmo,they all are and were in top 50 of all years
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 25, 2009:
Gotta dig those rock drummers!!!
James A Watkins from Chicago on June 21, 2009:
I like what you said because I'm a drummer! :D
Laughing Mom on June 20, 2009:
Different music draws people for different reasons. Rock to me is more about the drums, but these guys sound pretty good.
Susan Reid from Where Left is Right, CA on June 20, 2009:
Learned a lot from this hub. Also enjoyed the trip down memory lane. The 60s and 70s ROCKED! MM
James A Watkins from Chicago on June 20, 2009:
I just saw Satriani last year at House of Blues Orlando! Great show
James A Watkins from Chicago on June 19, 2009:
This is a great Hub! It brought back a lot of memories for an old musician as myself. My band regularly played "Messin' with the Kid" by Rory Gallagher. I used to play a song Tommy Bolin write with the James Gang called "Standing in the Rain." I saw Blue Cheer live in the late 60s.
Frank Marino? My band played The Answer; Tryin' Anyway & Dragonfly hundreds of times in clubs. And Mountain! Leslie West was the king! I love that stacato style of his. And I was sort a Corky Laing type of drummer—full throttle; but I sang somewhat like Felix.
Well, we played almost every song they ever made, including "When the wagons leave the city, for the forest and further on" and "I'm going to wrap my dreams in silver paper and give them all to you!" "Angels, Tired Angels" "Mississippi Queen" "Do you remember, the great train robbery" "Goodbye, Little Robin Marie; don't try, following me" and that;s not all . . .
Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on June 17, 2009:
Yes, we all dug John Cipollina's licks, espcially his tour de force on "Who Do You Love." As for Satriani, he's hardly forgotten, but I'm sure you know that!
Dori S Matte from Hillsborough on June 17, 2009:
Oh how I love the guitar, My favorite is Joe Satriani, if i spelled that right. A great hub, these guys are so talented and can literally make the guitar "talk" Love this idea!
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 17, 2009:
Wow, thanks for mentioning John Cipollina - I'm listening to your youtube of Quicksilver right now. I had the pleasure of attending a Quicksilver concert many long years ago - the sound always reminded me of the ocean and fresh air - he was really something! Now I'm just going to sit back and watch.
(I love the Cobra best)