Five Guitar Gods I Never Want to Hear Again


The great philosopher David Lee Roth once quipped, “Music is like girlfriends–I’ll never understand the choices some people make!”

He was talking, of course, about his former bandmate Eddie Van Halen, with a succinct triple-gainer that simultaneously threw sand at Eddie, Eddie’s (now-ex-)wife Valerie Bertinelli, and Eddie’s then-singer Sammy Hagar.  The quote has always stuck with me, and as I’ve seen friends and bandmates mate and change bands, well, the truth of Mr. Roth’s words have certainly become apparent.

Forget about bandmates, though:  I’ve never understood the choices some people make about their guitar gods, either.  And since I haven’t gored any sacred cows of rock and roll recently, I thought I’d just namecheck five guitarists whom the world generally seems to acknowledge as “great,” and whom I have no use for.  Whatsoever.

So, without further ado, here are the five guitar “gods” I never want to hear another note from.  Ever.  I’ll do everything I can to avoid hearing them in the future, and I urge you to do the same.

Do it for the kids.  They’re counting on you.

5.  Eric Clapton. My loathing for Clapton’s solo, um, oeuvre is no secret, so I won’t expound on it again here.  However, since I didn’t mention it in my earlier screed against The Clap, may I just take a moment to point out that “Rock and Roll Heart” is even worse than “Lay Down Sally,” and don’t even get me started on anything he’s done since, oh, hell, since ever.

4. The Edge. Once upon a time, Dave Evans was a pretty groundbreaking guitarist.  That’s because, for at least the first three U2 records, the guy could barely play.  He made the best of it, though, and combined his passion and his echo pedals to create a bold, original sound.  Bold and original for a while, anyway.  Maybe he’s just a victim of his own success.  He’s still got an original sound — I mean, his playing is instantly recognizable — but where it used to invigorate and inspire (see, oh, “Wire” from the Unforgettable Fire, for example) — in recent years it’s just become, well, sonic wallpaper.  It’s functional and it covers the space all right, but it’s mighty hard to pay any attention to.

3.  Eddie Van Halen. Everyone should hear one Eddie Van Halen guitar solo.  Just one.  His virtuosity is undeniable, his sound unique, and his chops enviable.  But holy shit is he boring, and ultimately kinda monochromatic. Moreover, as his post-Roth work demonstrates, he’s willing to spew his chops all over some of the most insipid cock-schlock imaginable.  I mean, “Poundcake”?  Jesus.  How low can you go?

2. Billy Corgan. “Cherub Rock”:  great.  Everything else:  Not.   Period.  And that goes quadruple for Zeitgeist.

1.  Jerry Garcia. There’s one, just one, Grateful Dead song that I’d rate (“Box of Rain,” for what it’s worth).  People have tried over the years to prove to me that Garcia’s status as a guitar hero is justified, but I’ve never gotten it.  Where some seem to hear the music of the spheres, I just hear wet noodling.

So in the turnabout is fair play department, I guess I’ll have to list five guitarists whom I’m always willing and eager to hear more from.  Stay tuned.

18 Comments

  1. Wow, I feel like I should go get my ears or cognitive faculties assessed because I really like Garcia, Eddie and some Clapton. Perhaps you should articulate the criteria for which you have measured these musicians; I have read your comments. Music is measured in the “minds eye”. It would be interesting to understand what motivates people to respect the music of their gods. Take video totally out of the measure. Let’s take lyrics out too. I am assuming you are specifically speaking to the guitar licks and song write of these guitarists? And frankly, compared to the “lost melody” of today, these three fellows are quite great for what they did in their prime before success and addiction destroyed their skills. Are you rating their health or skill. I think you might be biased.

  2. In thinking about my all time favorite album list, Clapton’s Behind the Sun is in the top 50. I don’t think “biased” is quite the word but rather dogmatic and unfounded except in your own bloody rite to squawk. Box of Rain and so many more Dead songs, especially thinking about Memorial Day around the bend…I think you might have had a sheltered life and struggle with rich orbs such as humanity. It motivated a purchase of your materials just to see what guitar standards we’re holding as you write with such poison tongue. I am ashamed to say that the last concert I bought tickets for was Van Halen in Pittsburgh. What do you think about SRV?

  3. Thanks for reading. Of course these are only my opinions, your mileage may vary, etc. etc. And I’m not claiming my material or my playing is equal to or better than anyone else’s. I’m a decent player, but I’m not claiming to be a guitar gawd. Heaven forbid.

    You’re right about articulating criteria, though, so here goes:
    1. Try not to use the same trick(s) over and over.
    2. Understand that technique and expression aren’t the same thing, and know which one counts.
    3. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you always SHOULD.
    4. In general, avoid solos that last longer than eight minutes. (Looking at you, Jerry…)
    5. Rule 62: Don’t take yourself so damned seriously.
    6. Make the playing suit the song, not the other way around.

    I’ll pre-emptively acknowledge I’ve violated all of these criteria on more than one occasion, and probably will again, so there.

    I’m a little unsure what you’re getting at with the sheltered life and humanity crack…I’ve seen and lived through things that are, well, pretty horrifying by most peoples’ standards. I’m no stranger to trauma or tragedy. Moreover, I pointedly made no personal attack against and don’t wish any (additional) suffering on Clapton, EVH, or anyone else. But bearing no personal grudge and not wanting to hear their music ain’t the same thing.

    Speaking of which, why be ashamed of buying Van Halen tickets? If you enjoyed it, good!

    If I’m going to listen to blues and Hendrix isn’t available, I’ll take Stevie Ray Vaughn. I’m not big on the blues in general, though, and when I do listen to it I prefer the Chicago school.

  4. Wow – skewering Edge was a surprise. I don’t listen to U2 that much these days, the last album I listened to much was Zooropa, but I hardly think they’ve descended to VH or EC lows.

  5. True enough about the Edge; U2 has at least tried to keep moving forward, and I’ve got much more sympathy for them than VH any day. I also really liked the Edge in the “It Might Get Loud” documentary. Maybe it’s just “biggest band on the planet” syndrome. Or maybe they just can help sounding like themselves, which means when you’ve heard and loved the older stuff, you’re less able to hear the newer stuff with the fresh ears you brought to it back then. That’s not their fault, but I still don’t find anything since, well, “Unforgettable Fire” all that exciting. I did try to kind of go soft on Mr. Evans. I didn’t just want to hit the easy targets, so I thought hard about people whose work I’ve really admired but who now leave me cold. It was a toss up between him and REM’s Peter Buck.

  6. Maybe there should be a 7th criterion in there then – if the franchise worth exceeds say $100M then your work should justify the wealth, do it very very well or don’t bother.

    Thinking of someone like Jimmy Reed who chewed the same bone for years and good songs came from early and late in his career – part of what makes it OK is that he never made megabucks. If he made $2M in sales & endorsements each time he cut a record I’d probably think less of him & the music.

    But man I’m with you on Clapton, VH, & JG.

  7. Guitarists: Lindsay Buckingham, David Gilmore, Keith Richards and Dave Murray. Bassists: Chris Squire, John Entwistle, King Scott and Geddy Lee. Vocalists: Freddy Mercury, Sheryl Crow, Robert Palmer. Fav Bands: Foo Fighters, Queen, Weezer, Stones, Scorpions, Fleetwood Mac, Ozzy and Grateful Dead. Chicago very decent, also Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Pavarotti.

    Five years in the Mid-South was an experience with funk, grunge, Zydeco, reggae and cajun persuasion music…the connection you might be missing in your feelings about Garcia and Clapton. The sheltered-life is not a crack but a comment about knowing what it’s like to be homeless, a very common theme in many musician’s lyrics. It’s easier to live without a house in the south / west, but necessary to build a community of people around you.

  8. I’ll definitely rate Lindsey Buckingham. He’s one of the few guitar gods who’s actually underrated.

    I have absolutely no idea what you’re getting at with the homeless/zydeco/grunge/southern/reggae/sheltered/cajun comment, though. Seriously, I’m not picking up on your point. I think you may be getting at something about the alt-communal appeal of the Dead, or maybe the Mississippi-via-London conceits of Clapton as bluesman, but it ain’t clear to me. I will say, though, I didn’t have to take up arms in Nicaragua to appreciate the Clash’s Sandinista (of course, neither did they!), nor become a rastafarian to get off on Lee “Scratch” Perry’s bottomless grooves.

  9. Hmmmm…yeah, I can see where you’re coming from with that: the angularity and jaggedness of his early stuff is clearly Levene-derived. But Mr Evans really did some pretty amazing work with effects that is pretty out there — the hook from “Wire,” for example.

  10. I agree that Jerry Garcia is terrible from a technical and musical stand point. Also add his signing in there as well.

    However, if I’m in the right state of mind (I don’t mean drugs), the Dead don’t sound half bad–cold beer, summer evening, people all around.

    I disagree with Van Halen only because he can play solos that most people can never dream of playing right and his solos don’t fit any theoretical molds but somehow end up melodic.

  11. Thanks for the comments, Chris — I appreciate your insight and thoughtfulness on this and the Clapton post.

  12. Well when I was a kid I loved the Blues Breakers with EC and Peter Green, (but man, John Mayalls voice is finger nails on the chalk board). The early English stuff, made me want to play.
    After Layla it’s down hill. More and more lame. As you learn more about guitar and music it gets harder to listen to. And even before I learned anything, I hated sentimental crap…! What you gonna do?
    It seems that most artists gradually get more and more lame the more “suck”cess they have. Nothing better than someone that’s young and talented and hungry. To me the one with the most chops and fire is John McLaughlin, smokes them all, if that’s what it’s about for you, and it’s not for me. His records with Mahavishnu are great. And Shakti, are beautiful. Even he eventually gets lame. And he was never called a “god”.
    To me the Edge was always a joke, as is Peter Buck, if you’re talking “Guitar” players. I think of their bands as electric folk music. But a great sound. Fuck, I get tire of Bono.
    Jeff Beck is one who did seem to get better and better. Carlos got better over the years and then suddenly sold out to lameness, though sometimes he breaks through in spite of himself.

  13. You lost me when you got to Eddie Van Halen. Yeah, the Van Hagar stuff stunk, but what about the first six albums with Roth? IMO, Eddie did more to reinvigorate and reinvent the guitar than any other guitarist, period. If he’d had the sense to die in 1984, I think he’d top every guitar poll out there. Monochromatic? Far from it. He wrung every sound you can get from the instrument, but he pretty much completed that quest almost thirty years ago, and no one since has added much, IMO, unless you count the creative use of pedals, which I don’t. He gets additional props for unsucking himself recently. The 2007 tour with Roth was the absolute balls. One of the highlights of my pathetic life. And the new album, although not particularly inspiring in terms of tunes, features some truly kick-ass guitar work.

  14. Clapton played OK with Yardbirds…great with the Bluesbreakers…Cream…well…overamped & tunes were mostly embarrassing (Skip James just hated what they did to “I’m So Glad”…tend to agree)…Derek & Dominos were good…let’s see…up to 1973?…nothing of value after that (and that is 40 years!!!)…and so so dull in concert…and if I were BB King & Hubert Sumlin & Albert King & Freddie KIng…I’d kick his ass…never had a good original idea ever…

    Jerry Garcia…ugh…thin tone…wandering pointless solos…just horrible

  15. Oh and Robert Johnson too…crawl out of the grave and kick his ass…read somewhere that Eric thought Robert didn’t MEAN the “devil” in “Me and the Devil Blues”…thought he was speaking symbolically or something…um …no Eric…listen again…..

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