The Axeman Cometh (Part Two)


WELL, well. I never dreamed my post of last Monday would garner such a reaction. I refer, of course, to the deluge of comments about dreary, weak, fizzy keg beer in the early 1970s.

In my corner of the North West, Bass Charrington took over many of the much-loved local breweries and combined their flavours to produce a frothy monstrosity called Brew Ten, which aspired to taste like all of them and in the end tasted of nothing. It was that, Watneys or Whitbread. The world was saved eventually by the Campaign for Real Ale, which I joined in 1974 after picking up a leaflet in the Crown Posada, a strange, railway-carriage-like pub (still going) in Newcastle upon Tyne, between the Bigg Market and the docks. On our first Camra trip, to the Blackpool Beer Festival, my friend and I took part enthusiastically in the lunchtime session then went for a snooze on a seafront bench. It being January, we woke to find our faces frozen to the woodwork. The beer was great, though.

Back to the axemen, and may I remind you that I announced the list as My Top Ten Guitarists Ever. The operative word being My, rather than The. I cannot play a note myself and realise that every one of my selections is a male born between 1943 and 1951 – so much for diversity. All I ask is that you the reader keep an open mind. So listen, enjoy, and no more death threats, please, from the Bert Weedon Liberation Front.

On with the list (oh and by the way, a reader named DaveClemo kindly sent me a link to this clip by Jeff Beck. He is not one of the Chosen Few [I can’t think of a great Jeff Beck album although I stand to be corrected] but he certainly has his moments).

Following last week’s numbers six to ten (Keith Richards, Nils Lofgren, Lowell George, Neil Young, Robert Fripp), here are my top five in the traditional reverse order.

Number 5 David Lindley (US), born 1944. The unsung hero. He can play any stringed instrument from acoustic guitar to zither with virtuosity, and has made some enjoyable good-time albums in his own right, but his finest achievements in my view come when providing accompaniment on lap steel guitar. Jackson Browne’s classic albums For Everyman and Late For The Sky would be far less successful without Lindley, and the two of them made a charming live double album Love Is Strange relatively recently. But for the highlight track I choose Ian Matthews’s Biloxi, from Some Days You Eat The Bear . . . And Some Days The Bear Eats You. Great song (by Jesse Winchester), superb vocals and marvellous, soaring lap steel.

Number 4 Richard Thompson (UK), born 1949. Cornerstone of Fairport Convention when they were the best band in the world (in my humble opinion obviously), then went on to produce magnificent records with wife Linda before they broke up and he went solo. I saw them on stage in Manchester in the mid 1970s. Linda had a sore throat and cried off after a couple of songs. Richard made his displeasure abundantly clear to the audience. Not Mr and Mrs Happy, by any stretch of the imagination. This is a version of Nick Drake’s The Thoughts of Mary Jane with Thompson on guitar, from the album Time of No Reply. Awesome. And here is a live version of the magnificent, brooding Night Comes In.

Number 3 Frank Zappa (US), 1940-1993. FZ was misogynistic, crude, patronising and, in his latter years, just not funny. However his guitar work, much of it not released until after his death, is something to cherish. I recommend You Can’t Do That On Stage Any More volumes 1-6, particularly vol 2. Zappa’s oeuvre (pretentious, moi?) included complex jazz workouts, wicked putdowns, but most of all amazing solos. For example Black Napkins, recorded with a cheesy resident TV show band in 1976. And this stunning live version of Inca Roads from 1974.

Number 2 Ry Cooder (US), born 1947. Keeper of the flame for indigenous American folk and blues, much improved singer in later years, blinding guitarist. I discovered Ry in 1972 when a friend sold me the Into The Purple Valley album for £1. I loved the guitar, slide and mandolin, and most of all the concise, pithy little solos. Since then I have seen him live four times. The first, in Manchester in 1975, was memorable for a stonking version of Dark End of the Street. The last was in 1995 at the Royal Festival Hall with the aforementioned David Lindley. Highlight was probably his old favourite, Vigilante Man. Here’s an undated live version from San Francisco. And for a great piece of rock showoffery, the guitar duel from the movie Crossroads. Steve Vai is himself while Ry supplies most of the young boy’s licks.

Number 1 James Marshall Hendrix (US), 1942-1970. OK, not the most original choice but the only one possible. When Jimi picked up that guitar he became a man possessed, letting the music take him where it would. There are live albums such as Band of Gypsies and Live At The Fillmore East which feature several versions of the same song, recorded within hours of each other. Each one is quite different.

After Jimi died his record company rush-released a maxi-single of Voodoo Chile, All Along The Watchtower and Hey Joe. For the princely sum of six shillings (30p). Possibly the greatest vinyl value of all time. Voodoo Chile never fails to excite – it sounds almost like someone playing a six-stringed motorbike. Vying with this as my favourite Hendrix track is Like A Rolling Stone, his version of the Dylan classic played at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Jimi’s childlike enthusiasm comes out in the intro as he pauses and says: ‘Y’gotta excuse me for a minute while I play my guitar.’

So what do you reckon? Since I’m sure none of you will agree with all, or indeed any of my choices, send your own top tens to and I’ll publish the most interesting.

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