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The Power of Your Musical Bloodline

Seventies Rock

Ask any successful band or performer how they got their start or what influenced a change in their musical direction and they're sure to credit some other band or artist. The influence musicians have on one another is openly recognized and celebrated for the innovations it inspires. No musician creates in a vacuum. Be it consciously or not, we are all part of a network of influences. A musical chain, if you will. A family tree.

Take The Beatles, for instance. They were strongly influenced by Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison who, respectively, were influenced by Elvis Presley, The Clovers, Hank Williams, and Hank Ballard. Black Sabbath name Cream as an influence who give a nod to The Yardbirds who cite the music of John Lee Hooker who names Son House who acknowledges Furry Lewis, driving Sabbath's musical roots some five levels deep. Even the great Chuck Berry, who seemingly invented a whole new approach to playing the guitar, readily cites T-Bone Walker as his prime inspiration. Walker in turn was inspired by Leroy Carr and Cab Calloway, both of whom credit Robert Johnson who tips his hat to Son House who, well, you get the picture.

When we're young and in our formative years, we are subjected to the music of our parents, which starts the shaping process. My earliest musical memories are of my father playing the album Whipped Cream and Other Delights by Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass. I can't say exactly what affect sassy little trumpet-driven numbers like "Taste of Honey" and "Whipped Cream" had on my burgeoning musical sensibility, but those songs mesmerized me as a child and opened me to some of the other music my father listened to—like The Mamas and the Papas, The Doors, The Beatles, James Taylor, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Before I was legal, I was playing acoustic guitar in local dives, singing songs like "Fire and Rain" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." My taste in music splintered in myriad directions over the ensuing years, the effects of which are now evident in the eclectic musical tastes of my children.

You should strive to create music that's unique to you, but you should feel free to arrive at it by learning from the masters who have come before you. Actively seek out music that inspires you, figure out what it is specifically about an artist and his or her music that speaks to you, and let their influence be the catalyst for your creativity.

Below is a collection of thoughts from guitar kingpins about the music and artists who have incited them to make music that has inspired the rest of us.

Slash - Guns N' Roses, Slash's Snakepit, Velvet Revolver
(As told to The List, 2010)

"When I was a kid in England, it was all about the Stones, The Who, The Kinks, and The Beatles and that's what my dad was into. My dad was a real rebel tearaway art student, one of those kids, that whole generation. And that's what I was raised on in England, but when I moved to the States it was about The Doors and Led Zeppelin and everything else that was going on. We had a really vast music collection and I was raised around rock 'n' roll. So when I got to be about 13 or 14, I started listening—even though my parents music was way cool—to contemporary hard rock at that time, which was Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Ted Nugent and all that, and that's just where I came from. I always loved rock guitar. I just never put it together that that's what I'd end up doing. I had no aspirations to be a musician, but I picked up a guitar for two seconds and haven't put it down since."

Earl Slick- David Bowie, John Lennon, New York Dolls
(As told to Gibson.com, 2012)

"Seeing The Beatles on television really got my attention. And then, when the Stones came on the scene, that's when I knew I really wanted to be a guitar player. I don't think I'm very influenced by The Beatles as a player. It's more the Stones, early Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, going back to their Yardbirds days, and British Invasion blues and American blues. There's also a particular way Keith Richards plays an acoustic, when he's picking. I zeroed in on that when I was a kid, and I still play that way. You can see him on The Ed Sullivan Show playing 'Lady Jane' on a Gibson acoustic. I've gravitated to Gibson acoustics ever since."

Eddie Van Halen - Van Halen
(As told to Rolling Stone, 2011)

"Clapton is basically the only guitar player who influenced me—even though I don't sound like him. There was a basic simplicity to his playing, his style, his vibe and his sound. He took a Gibson guitar and plugged it into a Marshall, and that was it. The basics. The blues. His solos were melodic and memorable—and that's what guitar solos should be, part of the song. I could hum them to you. What inspired me, what made me pick up a guitar, was his early stuff. I could play some of those solos now—they're permanently imprinted in my brain. That blues-based sound is still the core of modern rock guitar."

Dave Grohl- Nirvana, Foo Fighters
(As told to ItSoundedSweet.com, 2013)

"When I was young, I had a guitar and a Beatles songbook. I would listen to the records and play along. Of course, it didn't sound like The Beatles, but it got me to understand song structure and melody and harmony and arrangement. I never had a teacher—I just had these Beatles records… Even in Nirvana—The Beatles [were] such a huge influence. Kurt loved The Beatles because it was just so simple. Well, it seemed simple… they sound easy to play, but you know what? They’re f**king hard."

Peter Frampton - Humble Pie, The Herd
(As told to Performing Songwriter, 2006)

"I would listen to The Shadows, with Hank Marvin, and then go upstairs to practice. Halfway up I would hear my Dad put on 'Minor Swing,' by Django Reinhardt. I thought, 'What is that? Is that jazz?' I was extremely young—maybe nine years old—but each time I paused on the stairs a little longer before going up to my room. Eventually I realized there was this whole other side of guitar playing. It made me want to listen to every kind of guitar-playing—jazz, blues, and classical, as well as rock and roll."

Tom Morello - Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Street Sweeper Social Club
(As told to The Progressive, 2003)

"I got the Sex Pistols record, and had the punk rock epiphany of 'I can do this, too.' Prior to that, I was a big fan of heavy metal music, which involved extravagance. You had to know how to play 'Stairway to Heaven' and have a castle on a Scottish loch, limos, groupies, and things like that. All I had was a basement in Illinois. When I heard the Sex Pistols and The Clash and Devo, it was immediately attainable. I thought, this music is as good as anything I have ever heard, but I can play it this afternoon. I got the Sex Pistols record and within 24 hours, I was in a band."

Lindsey Buckingham- Buckingham Nicks, Fleetwood Mac
(As told to Gibson.com, 2011)

"My influences jumped from Scotty Moore to Chet Atkins to whoever was playing on Elvis's records. The folk music that became popular when the first wave of rock 'n' roll ebbed—just before The Beatles hit big—was also something I jumped into. I didn't play lead guitar until much later. That's when Dave Mason's 1970 album, Alone Together, had a big impact. I was trying to embrace lead playing, and the things Dave Mason was doing on that album seemed to mesh with what I was aspiring to do. He wasn't trying to be technically proficient, and the playing had a plaintive quality that fit what I was already doing as an acoustic player."

Joe Bonamassa
(As told to M Music & Musicians, 2011)

"My influences early on were Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher and Paul Kossoff of Free. Kossoff is such an unsung hero. His playing cuts like a knife through butter. You can feel his emotions in every note, whether it's a hard note or a soft note. He's a tactile player. And the tone he got with that beautiful '59 Les Paul was just crushing."

Gary Clark Jr.
(As told to MusicRadar.com, 2011)
"I grew up listening to all kind of things, not just the blues, although I certainly did listen to a lot of blues. There's a lot of influences that are in me and they come out in my music. Shuggie Otis. Hendrix—he's a big one. Curtis Mayfield…Stevie Wonder…Prince—I think he's just mad! And then the Kings—Freddie King, Albert King, BB…they're all amazing. Let's see…Albert Collins, Hound Dog Taylor—he totally flipped my whole thing around. And Elmore James—he's a guy I keep going back to. There's so many people, it's hard to think of them all. Guys like Son House, Skip James, Charlie Patton, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy, Otis Rush—those are my guys, my big blues heroes."

Yngwie Malmsteen
(As told to NPR, 2013) When it comes to rock guitarists, their usual pool of musical influences tends not to cover the classical world. However, Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen, who is famous for his virtuosic and flamboyant style, has cited Paganini, Bach and Vivaldi as his chief influences. Malmsteen tells NPR that seeing a video of a violinist performing Paganini's 24 Caprices for Solo Violin when he was a teenager changed his life: "I completely freaked out, because I knew that's what I was hearing in my head. I decided I was going to use all of the arpeggios and linear notes and wide vibrato of the violin." He also said that Bach and Vivaldi were big influences on his musical style when he felt "frustrated with the simplicity of rock 'n' roll and blues."

Dave Navarro - Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers
(As told to NBC Latino, 2013)

"I was always a creative kid and after playing the piano I developed an ear for music and I realized that some of my favorite music was guitar oriented, so I picked up the guitar and just moved into that. Rock influenced me a lot. My family was all born in LA, [but] I didn’t listen to Spanish music or speak Spanish. I grew up on Monica and Westwood and in Hollywood there is obvious cultural mixture here. So I’m just as influenced by the hip-hop culture as I am Latino culture as I am by the rock and tattooing culture."

David Gilmour - Pink Floyd
(As told to The Guardian, 2006)

Back when Pink Floyd formed, Gilmour says his influences were as diverse as "Hank Marvin with elements of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and a bit of Leonard Bernstein thrown in as well. And Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. I mean, to me, I was never one of the people who thought Dylan was a monster for going electric [with his guitar]. I liked the change. But I must say the power of the young Dylan as the acoustic-playing protest singer—which he's always denied, but sorry Bob, you were a protest singer—just to get his guitar and play to a crowd of people and it's like an arrow. His words come out and the music... People underestimate his actual musical abilities. And the melodies and the words just shoot out like an arrow. I think he was unbelievable. And is."

Jimmy Page - The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin
(As told to Scotsman.com, 2010)

"I learned from playing records, and I could tell the ones which were really honest from the ones which were manufactured. You start to read it and understand it and you take these things on board when you're young and they stay with you. It was rock 'n' roll that I accessed before I accessed the blues. It was purely what was available to be heard in those days. I started listening to it on the speaker and it [the music] came out and sort of grabbed me in. I was seduced to listen to it and I was just pulled in. That was it from that point, even in my teens. That's how I functioned from that point."

Page says of his early influences that they were "the ones that came out of Memphis—Little Richard, [Elvis] Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis. But you see, it took a little while—and the ability to be able to hear things—to realize where the source[s] of those blues artists were coming from. Presley was doing a lot of blues, but he was doing it his way, which was brilliant."

Alex Lifeson - RUSH
(As told to Gibson.com, 2011)

"There was The Who, for sure, and earlier on, the Stones. For me it was always more the Stones than, say, The Beatles. But there were all those other great bands from the '60s. The Searchers were amazing, The Zombies were incredible," he says. "And then over the years came Cream, The Who, Zeppelin of course, Jeff Beck and then Yes—it just goes on and on and on."

Lifeson goes on to single out The Who, and specifically Pete Townshend, as being key to Rush's development as a band. "Pete Townshend for me was a huge influence. Because essentially they were a three-piece band and the way he structured his chords and took up a lot of space musically in the songs was really important to the way Rush developed. Geddy [Lee] and Neil [Peart] both were such active players and lot of the time we were all playing like crazy and it was too much and somebody had to reel it in and me being the faceless guy, I would do that."

Jack White - The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather
(From the documentary It Might Get Loud, 2009)

"By the time I was about eighteen, somebody played me Son House. That was it for me. He spoke to me in a thousand different ways. I didn't know that you could do that, just singing and clapping. It meant everything about rock 'n' roll, everything about expressions, creativity and art. One man against the world in one song. ["Grinnin' in Your Face"] is my favorite song. It became my favorite song the first time I heard it. Still is. I heard everything disappearing. It didn't matter that he was clapping off time. It didn't matter that there were no instruments being played. All that mattered was the attitude of the song."

Who are your greatest musical influences? How have they inspired and informed your sound?

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