There’s nothing like a good list to spark a little debate and controversy among rock fans. Last week, Rolling Stone unveiled their newest 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list. How did they decide the list? They “assembled a panel of top guitarists and other experts to rank their favorites and explain what separates the legends from everyone else.” (Featuring Keith Richards on Chuck Berry, Carlos Santana on Jerry Garcia, Tom Petty on George Harrison and more).
Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists” List:
1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Eric Clapton
3. Jimmy Page
4. Keith Richards
5. Jeff Beck
6. B.B. King
7. Chuck Berry
8. Eddie Van Halen
9. Duane Allman
10. Pete Townshend
The other 90 are here.
While it’s nice to see them place Eddie in the top 10, we think he should be in the top 4. We ask, if Rolling Stone honestly doesn’t think Eddie Van Halen belongs in the top 4, why does Eddie Van Halen adorn one of the four different collector’s covers for their issue, along with Clapton, Hendrix, and Page? They must trust that the general public sees him as being in the top 4…
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam on Eddie Van Halen:
When I was 11, I was at my guitar teacher’s place, and he put on “Eruption.” It sounded like it came from another planet. I was just learning basic chords, stuff like AC/DC and Deep Purple; “Eruption” really didn’t make sense to me, but it was glorious, like hearing Mozart for the first time.
Eddie is a master of riffs: “Unchained,” “Take Your Whiskey Home,” the beginning of “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love.” He gets sounds that aren’t necessarily guitar sounds – a lot of harmonics, textures that happen just because of how he picks. There’s a part in “Unchained” where it sounds like there’s another instrument in the riff.
A lot of it is in his hands: the way he holds his pick between his thumb and middle finger, which opens things up for his finger-tapping. (When I found out he played that way, I tried it myself, but it was too weird.) But underneath that, Eddie has soul. It’s like Hendrix – you can play the things he’s written, but there’s an X factor that you can’t get.
Eddie still has it. I saw Van Halen on their reunion tour two years ago, and the second he came out, I felt that same thing I did when I was a kid. When you see a master, you know it.
Key Tracks: “Eruption,” “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love,” “Hot for Teacher”
Eddie Van Halen on Eric Clapton:
Eric Clapton is basically the only guitar player who influenced me – even though I don’t sound like him. There was a basic simplicity to his playing, his style, his vibe and his sound. He took a Gibson guitar and plugged it into a Marshall, and that was it. The basics. The blues. His solos were melodic and memorable – and that’s what guitar solos should be, part of the song. I could hum them to you.
What I really liked was Cream’s live recordings, because you could hear the three guys playing. If you listen to “I’m So Glad,” on Goodbye, you really hear the three guys go – and Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were a couple of jazz guys, pushing Clapton forward. I once read that Clapton said, “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.” He was just trying to keep up with the other two guys!
After Cream, he changed. When he started doing “I Shot the Sheriff” and this and that, and when he hooked up with Delaney and Bonnie, his whole style changed. Or at least his sound. He focused more on singing than playing. I respect him for everything he’s done and is still doing – but what inspired me, what made me pick up a guitar, was his early stuff. I could play some of those solos now – they’re permanently imprinted in my brain. That blues-based sound is still the core of modern rock guitar.
Key Tracks: “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Crossroads,” “White Room”