5 Forgotten Greats
Every art form has them and music is no exception. Those giants who were either there at the very beginning setting the bar awfully high or perhaps whose talents screamed across the horizon like a lightning strike and disappeared quick like flash paper. The vanished greats. Despite being lost (or at least misplaced) to the back pages of music history, these ‘forgotten’ power players remain as influential and striking in their abilities now as they did in their heydays. Here are 5 guitarists that you should know if you don’t already.
It is a generally accepted fact that Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll. It was the exuberance of Elvis; the gyrating hips, the slick, raw sexuality that was rock and roll in those early days. But if Elvis was the King, guitarist Scotty Moore was the crown prince. It was Moore’s guitar that bore the mark of rock and roll’s tone and set the base line for just about everything that came after it. Moore met Elvis on Sunday July 4h 1954 at Sun Studios along with bassist Bill Black. The following evening, the 3 young men entered the studio under the watchful ear of Sam Phillips and recorded ‘That’s Alright Mama’ (A cover of Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup’s single) and rock and roll was born. Moore stayed with Elvis through his monumental run in the 50’s only breaking when Elvis was inducted into the Army. When Elvis returned from the service in 1960, Moore and the boys formed up again and stayed with him up through the famed 1968 Comeback Special (considered by many, myself included) to be one of the best live performances ever captured on film. Moore went onto form his own record label (briefly) but spent the majority of the remainder of his career as a much sought after studio engineer. He may be one of the most influential guitarists of his generation despite rarely being mentioned by many these days. Keith Richards once said about the first time he heard ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, “All I wanted to do was to be able to play and sound like that. Everybody else wanted to be Elvis. I wanted to be Scotty Moore”.
Unflatteringly known as ‘The Great Fatsby’ during his early days (although appearing much slimmer these days) was the driving force behind the band Mountain. Mountain is often credited as being the band that was to usher in heavy metal a few year after their demise. West, born Leslie Weinstein in New York City (although he was raised in Hackensack, New Jersey), began his career playing with the band The Vagrants in 1966 catching gigs in and around the New York City metro area. West hooked up with producer Felix Pappliardi and two formed Mountain, rounding out the band with the additions of Steve Knight and N.D Smart. For Mountains third ‘job’, they appeared on the second day of Woodstock delivering a blistering 11-song set. According to West in a recollection printed in an August 1989 Rolling Stone issue, the band caught the gig because they shared booking agents with Jimi Hendrix. No matter how they got it, the bands Woodstock appearance helped turned them into a national presence. However the original band did not survive long, breaking up in 1972 for a time only reform again in 1973 for another year. The finally called it quits (again) in 1974. West went on to form up briefly with Jack Bruce and Corky Laing for West, Bruce and Laing who had a run of a few albums as well. West continues to perform both in new incarnations of Mountain and with other artists he is also extending into other areas including voice over work and acting. Most rock fans the world over immediately know the opening thunder of ‘Mississippi Queen’ or the bluesy slow burn of ‘Nantucket Sleigh ride’.
Ireland born, Rory Gallagher felt the blues in his blood. He began his career by winning a talent contest at the age of 9 and using his prize money to buy his first electric guitar. Gallagher taught himself the guitar primarily by sitting up late at night listening to American music programs being broadcast from the Netherlands when he was a child and a handful of recordings of Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie. By the time he was in his late teens, Rory Gallagher had begun his assault to take the blues and rock to the U.K. and to the world with his band Taste. The band was solid and eventually earned themselves opening spots for both Cream’s last show at the Royal Albert Hall and a few Blind Faith shows. When Taste disbanded, Gallagher took off on his own. He was invited to join the Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor left in 1974 but his scorching playing style and his ‘loner’ personality failed to gel with Mick and Keith. Despite having a rather prolific recording period through the 70’s, Gallagher never really caught on big with American audiences, which was a true shame when you listen to his recordings. But even without a real solid footing in America his world-wide fan base allowed him to claim total album sales of over 20 million units throughout his lifetime. He understood the blues in a way that many great American blues musicians ever truly did. Gallagher died in 1995 as a result of complications of a liver transplant at the age of 47.
: As the guiding force behind the band Zephyr, Bolin was a tremendous guitarist. His ability to easily morph back and forth between rock and jazz-fusion gave him a unique sound; mellow and easy at times and a solid, crippling rock and roll bump and grind at others. Zephyr in a very short amount of time earned a spot opening for Led Zeppelin on a few of their American tours. After Zephyr disbanded Bolin took his considerable chops and played on Billy Cobham’s jazz masterpiece Spectrum. When Joe Walsh left The James Gang, the band brought in Bolin as their lead guitarist and songwriter for two albums, Bang and Miami. From The James Gang Bolin produced his first solo recording, Teaser and at the same time found himself named to replace guitar legend Ritchie Blackmore in the heavy rock powerhouse Deep Purple. Deep Purple was on their last legs despite Bolin’s help and disbanded after one album with him. Bolin returned to the studio where he began work on his second and final solo work, Private Eyes. While on tour promoting Private Eyes, Bolin opened for Peter Frampton and Jeff Beck. He died a day after a gig in Miami from a heroin overdose. He was 25 years old. A tragic end to a major talent who was just getting warmed up for what could have been an incredible career.
The ‘Telemaster’ was one of those guitarists who held an enormous fan base for someone who never really went mainstream. Still cited as a monster influence to a broad base of guitarists, Gatton was a powerhouse. His ability to float easily between several diverse genres like R&B, blues, country and rockabilly, Gatton earned his reputation as a guitar alchemist with frightening skills and a warm and easy stage presence. He was asked many times by a variety of other commercially successful musicians to go on the road nationally and yet he always declined. The enigmatic Gatton prefered to stay close to his farm where he could be with his family and spend time on his hobby of working on antique cars. Based primarily out of the Washington D.C. area, Gatton was known as The Humbler due to his ability to ‘humble’ just about any guitar player who had the guts to climb on stage and go up against him in a ‘head cutting contest’. Despite the accolades and almost rabid fan base, Gatton stayed on the fringes of commercial success throughout his career. In 1994 Gatton gave into his lifetime battle with depression when he walked into his garage, locked it behind him and took his own life. It was a sad and tragic end to the ultimate guitarists guitarist. Fittingly his long time friend and band mate Evans John said of Gatton, “Danny had God’s hands. I heard God coming out of his amp.”
These five guitarists under the spot light are just a smattering of guitar masters that have slipped to the background of musical history. There are a multitude of others out there waiting to be rediscovered and enjoyed again. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get to the future that you ignore your past. You might be surprised at what you may find.