It is so critical that you, as a guitarist who is starting out, really and truly appreciate those who came before you, and who helped forge the way for what the guitar has become today! There are many great names that have been practically forgotten, and who are certainly not in the vocabulary of many of the younger players, who they are names that should be! For example, perhaps the most obvious is the man himself, Les Paul! Too many folks just think that his name is just the name of a guitar, and forget that he was a major hit record maker, and one of the most prolific and adventurous inventors in American history! Not only is he credited with the birth of the solid body guitar, but he also perhaps even more impressively, created multi-track recording!
Even when I was 15 years old, and bought my ’52 Les Paul guitar, I had no idea who Les Paul was….but sure enough, we became friends, and I got to play with him many times! The players who came before you always had player that they emulated who also came before them! It’s like a chronology that can be drawn between us all, that is the artistic connection between us all! If I had not listened to Clarence White for example, using the b-bender he invented (which I didn’t know!), I wouldn’t have invented the string-bending licks I am so known for these days. Or if I had not listened to Elmore James on slide, even Little Walter on harmonica, I wouldn’t have played slide guitar the way I do. It goes on and on…..Merle Travis influenced Chet Atkins, Son House influenced Robert Johnson, who in turn influenced Muddy Waters, and on and on.
The most important thing is to always go to “the source” as close as you can. Being a student of the guitar, you can only be helped by understanding where what you are trying to play came from, and the real history behind it. When I fell in love with Mike Bloomfield’s playing, I quickly understood that I needed to get into B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Otis Rush if I really wanted to know where his style evolved from, and then sure enough, before I knew it, I was looking into Robert Johnson and Son House!
So seek out guitar history wherever it may come from, and you’re bound to know more and more about what it is you’re playing. Hey, it’ll even make you a better player without you even realizing it! Good luck!