WEIRDLAND: Gifted Guitarists: Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Gifted Guitarists: Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders

Not a one-hit or two-hit wonder, but a 27-hit wonder, all in about 18 months of worldwide fame, Buddy Holly's songs will live until there is no more music. Some artists shape their sound from what came before; others create new sounds. Buddy Holly did both. Prior to the release of “That’ll Be the Day” in May, 1957, there were very few recordings that managed to combine elements of country, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll. The sonic qualities of the record were friendly but different from anything heard on the radio. Perhaps they were different from anything ever played.  Source:

Band: the Traveling Wilburys
Iconic Guitar: Gibson ES-335
Classic Riff: “Oh, Pretty Woman”—The Essential Roy Orbison

Most people think of Roy Orbison as the super-smooth crooner who sang songs like “Crying,” “In Dreams” and “Only the Lonely.” But Orbison was also a wicked guitar player, who ripped out several impressive solos on early Sun Records singles like “Ooby Dooby.” In fact, Sun owner Sam Phillips was more impressed with Orbison’s guitar playing than his singing.

By 1964, most of Orbison’s early rock and roll contemporaries were either dead, strung-out on drugs, in jail or making crappy movies, but Orbison’s musical career still hadn’t reached its peak. In between the ballads, he recorded singles like “Mean Woman Blues” (check his wild guitar solo) and “Oh, Pretty Woman” that showed upstarts like the Beatles, the Animals and the Rolling Stones that Americans still could rock harder than any Brit.

Band: The Velvet Underground
Iconic Guitars: Gretsch Country Gentleman (Velvets), Schecter, Klein, Sadowsky and other customs
Coolest Riff: “Sweet Jane”—Loaded (The Velvet Underground)

Emerging in the mid Sixties at the helm of the Velvet Underground, he offered up a gritty black-and-white alternative to the rainbow-colored pyschedelia of the prevailing rock culture. He brought us along, albeit reluctantly, to meet junkies and hustlers. He was one of the first rock guitarists to embrace chaos truly and wholeheartedly. But the avant-garde din of Velvet Underground rave-ups seemed a genteel curtain raiser compared with the cacophony of Lou’s 1975 solo opus Metal Machine Music. The noise-guitar side of Lou’s legacy set the stage for cutting-edge genres like industrial, art damage, dream pop, grunge and present-day noise exponents.

But Lou’s edgy lyrical stance and image spawned something even more fundamental to deviant aesthetics: punk rock. He graced the first cover of Punk magazine in 1976 and was subsequently dubbed the Godfather of Punk. Lou embodied a new kind of rebel hero, an amalgam of two distinctly different but equally vilified social pariahs: the disaffected intellectual and the scumbag street hustler. In recent years, he added a third persona: the grumpy old man. Still, there can be no underestimating Lou’s immense contribution to rock or the fierceness of his commitment to obtaining guitar tones and lyrical images that cut like a knife and leave a permanent scar.

Band: New York Dolls, the Heartbreakers, Gang War
Iconic Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Jr.
Coolest Riff: "Chinese Rocks" — Blank Generation: The New York Scene (1975-78)
Johnny Thunders’ snot-nosed New York take on Keith Richards’ cool is one of the pillars on which punk rock was built. An Italian-American guy (birth name John Anthony Genzale Jr.) from Queens, he was born a little too late to be part of the Sixties rock explosion. But the bands of that era were his influences, and he put his own spin on them in the early Seventies.

Thunders had the riffs to match the glam-trash group’s mascara. He took rock guitar and cooked it down to its essence, playing open chords and switchblade riffs that laid bare the amphetamine urgency behind the Dolls’ concise, catchy tunes. The Dolls had split up by the time punk rock got underway in New York and London, but their influence was profoundly felt on both shores. While Thunders shared Keith Richards’ appetite for excess, he sadly was not blessed with Keef’s monumental endurance. Thunders died in New Orleans in 1991 under mysterious, although most likely drug-related, circumstances. Source:

Jonas Akerlund will direct the film adaptation of Nina Antonia’s seminal rock biography, “Johnny Thunders in Cold Blood,”  with production slated for early 2017. “Rock n’ Roll movies are always something of an awkward beast to nail. Do you get an insider or an outsider to direct? Finally we got both in Jonas Akerlund,” Antonia said.

Imagine, if you will, a band that wrote perfect rock n' roll songs, played them with furious abandon, and featured no fewer than two outrageous personalities whose charisma was only matched by their raw power, one of whom was one of the most gifted guitar players of the punk rock era. This band you're imagining is the New York Dolls. If you're not familiar with Johnny Thunders, the three essential albums are the first, self-titled New York Dolls album, L.A.M.F. (with The Heartbreakers), and his first solo album So Alone. Source:

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