It is that sacred time fellow music fans where once again I get on my high horse. Well I TRY to get on my high horse it is rather high at this point and my legs stopped growing years ago.
Rolling Stone has released another thrown together list that makes no sense on either a macro or micro or maximalist scale… mainstream or indie it is all over the map going from, “What the hell?” to “Oh hell no…” to “Who the hell is this?”
“The 250 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time” list is upon us. Updated from their last list, which if I recall correctly had two females on it, Joni Mitchel and Bonnie Raitt. Neither in the top 50. And so to correct that they have given us another haphazardly thrown together list with m ore more females and more international artists (more on that in a moment).
I won’t rage too much about placement but… St. Vincent above Bonnie Raitt??? In what universe where actual musicians who know about music is St. Vincent above Bonnie Raitt as a greatest guitarist of all time. Just the fact that Bonnie has logged more playing hours puts her ahead of St. Vincent in my book.
And Lucy Dacus (#213) literally once said in an interview, “I’m not good at guitar.”
Jimi Hendrix is #1 for traditions sake even though he was on record saying Jeff Beck was the greatest there will ever be. And now since enough time has passed we all know Prince was the greatest there will ever be. Jimi did one style. Prince did all styles, even Jimi’s style and yet made it his own style. Literally he did a cover of Purple Haze for a tribute album.
In terms of mainstream names not present my biggest gripe is there is no Brian Setzer or Robert Smith and honestly with what little I actually know about guitar playing Brain should at least be be top 25 and Robert not far below that.
Also on the international side of things. Where is Charo? Or her teacher Andres Segovia?
But- let me praise the list for a few things. Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Memphis Minnie finally made one of their lists. And so did Peggy Jones. I liked to think it was all my ranting for the past 20+ years about everything anthology and list being a cock fest.
Though they left out the very important fact that Peggy was the one who created the “Bo Diddley Beat” with Bo Diddley (who made the cut again) and she was also one of the first artists to layer multiple guitar tracks over each other on a recording (playing all the guitar parts herself). But I am glad they are finally named here.
Then there is Rolling Stone trying so hard to not just be the US/UK hand job it usually is and acknowledge non English speaking countries. And really all it does is show how little they actually know about non-western music. This was also glaringly apparent on their greatest vocalists list, which excluded Nana Mouskouri, the greatest selling female artists of all time.
I am glad they finally included Ernest Ranglin but they did not include Bob Marley like the last time, which is usually how Rolling Stone signals to the audience, “We know Jamaicans made some music”. Ernest was the OG and without him there is no Reagge, boss. But Bob was WAY more influential on a global scale.
Jeez Bear! Make up your mind! Which one should be on the list then?
Both. Why can’t you have two Jamaicans? Or is that over quota?
Africa got some shout outs but uh… Oliver Mtukudzi was not given a shout out. Once again showing that while trying to be international they don’t know much about the music they are choosing to represent. Or don’t want to pay the properly educated people that could make this list more “valid”.
They dipped into Brasil, which your average music fan reading the article will know nothing about beyond maybe the song, “Girl From Ipanema”. Good. Brasil has lot of great guitarists… and if you are trying to get more females represented- well to leave off Joyce… or if you need someone more “mainstream” Rita Lee (who just passed)… Also to leave of Baden Powell means you are either trolling or don’t really know much about the music of Brasil (or even guitar) and maybe should stop talking out of your ass and defer to the scholars.
Kenji Heino is there to represent Japan (I had never heard of him). And yet when you google “greatest Japanese guitarists” he doesn’t show up. Even when you google 最も偉大な日本人ギタリスト he doesn’t list on ANY of the lists! Masayo Ando, Tak Matsumoto, Hide, Kaori Muraji, June Yamagashi, Tatsuro Yamashita, Toshihiko Takamizawa… I don’t know much about Japanese music, I admit it. But what I do know, tells me Japan could easily rank at least 20 greatest guitarists all time if we wanted to discuss technical merits, alone. But I guess we have filled quota, again. One token Asian. And not even with the name that shows up most at #1 on actual Japanese lists, Tomoyasu Hotei! And to make it mainstream, his work was featured in “Kill Bill”!
But let’s get back to the women.
We have Rolling Stone suggesting Erin Smith of Bratmobile is one of the GREATEST all time. Hahahaha… I LOVE Bratmobile (they were KILLER live) but I also am not dumb, if you include her you have to leave of somebody MUCH better like I dunno Mary Osborne (who not played guitar but manufactured them) or Orianthi (to pick a more modern name). But then you arrive at the quandary of apples to oranges (i.e. jazz to punk punk).
The Raincoats… really in what universe? You might as well add The Bags if we are going this route.
They included Mother Maybelle Carter. Yes! But with a picture of her and an auto-harp??? AND, they even included the fact that that she herself said she was taught her style from the black musical pioneer Lesley Riddle. Great! So uh… where is Lesley Riddle on the list then? Because without Ernest Ranglin there is no Bob Marley, remember?
Look I am glad there are more females here but again it does feel like putting females on a list just to put more females on a list without doing any actual research or serious critical thinking because many of the male acts present feel justified (even if I disagree with placement). The females still often feel like token picks and I noticed there were no two females back to back on the list, just like radio.
All that leads me to the disgusting (but not surprising) fact that once again Sharon Isbin’s name is nowhere to be found. We’ve gone reggae and rock, blues and bluegrass, funk and folk and yet Rolling Stone doesn’t seem to know or maybe doesn’t want to acknowledge classic music exists even though large swaths of their list were people HEAVILY influenced by classic music.
*Waves and prog-rock and metal.*
I’m sure if Nirvana had written an opera or symphony they’d be all over it. Or if Taylor Swift ever composes such things they will wet themselves.
And again, I know these lists are meant as discussion points and not to be taken so seriously… So why am I going off again?
Well, the fact remains people DO take them seriously and usually these are people not that well educated about music. So when you have the uneducated masses getting their info from journalists who are either largely uneducated or simply pandering willy-nilly for clicks this egregious knowledge gets passed on like fact to say nothing of the erroneous history being passed on. And it is egregious in my book to pull this tokenism and not include a classical music shout out. Especially on a list of guitarists where the major classical guitarist of our time is not only the best in their field but pretty much the ONLY one in their field. And IMO overall is largely untouchable in terms of skill.
PS: Dear Rolling Stone,
Music is more than just guitars and vocalists so how about a list of greatest piano players. This will give you a chance to ignore Martha Argerich.