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Mentors: 10 Guitar Greats on Their Biggest Influences

Russell Hall
|
05.17.2013
Jeff Beck

In the process of forging his or her own style, every guitarist studies the work of some master – or masters – who came before. Even the great Chuck Berry, who seemingly invented a whole new approach to the instrument, readily cites T-Bone Walker as his prime inspiration. Below we’ve collected thoughts from 10 guitar giants about their biggest influences. Feel free to tell us about your biggest influence in the comments section.

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. I actually got to play that guitar at a show in Newcastle last year. I felt like I was channeling Kossoff.”

Zakk Wylde (as told to Music Radar, 2012)

"What Randy Rhoads achieved in just a couple of years is right up there with the best of the best. He did on two albums what most guys can't do on 20. I studied him. He had unbelievable technique and could do all the things on the guitar that are astounding. His scales, the diminished scales he used – unreal. But it was his writing and the way he composed his solos – I mean, his solos were songs within the songs. He was way ahead of what everybody else was doing."

Derek Trucks (as told to M Music & Musicians, 2010)

“Duane Allman’s slide was the first sound that really grabbed me, especially the intro to ‘Statesboro Blues.’ Elmore James had a huge impact as well. Then there are several jazz players, many of whom are horn players:  Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, the obvious ones. Charlie Christian had an impact as well. Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Bobby Womack are singers who’ve influenced my playing, in the sense of making the guitar sound like the human voice, making what you play lyrical and making everything count, in the sense of not wasting notes. When I hear Duane Allman play guitar, I also hear Otis Redding singing.”

Earl Slick (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.”

Pete Townshend (as told to Sound International, 1980)

“Before The Beatles emerged - and of course The Beatles had quite strong roots in R&B - I had already started to develop some knowledge of what lay behind rock music. I never got much into roots-rock apart from Bill Haley; I never liked Elvis very much or his band.  I did like Jimmy Burton, who played with Rick Nelson. He was a big influence. But the guy who really influenced the sound I ended up with was John Lee Hooker. He really impressed me.”

Tom Morello (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.”

Slash (as told to Guitar for the Practicing Musician, 1988)

“My parents were in the music business, so I was weaned on music as a kid. I picked out what I liked and didn’t like real early. I listened to Who albums, I listened to Cat Stevens. I was into Sabbath albums. I got into a few that made me start playing guitar: Rocks, by Aerosmith, Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan, any Ted Nugent album at the time, and Zeppelin. Then I started listening to UFO, Strangers in the Night.”

Peter Frampton (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.”

Neal Schon (as told to the author, 2012)

“I loved what Clapton was doing with the Bluesbreakers and then later with Cream. I learned a lot from listening to Cream’s live performances, learning how to improvise. They sometimes sounded like they were in an improvising trance – the way they were jamming. I really got it, and I wanted to know more about it. I did that with all the Cream stuff, the Hendrix stuff, and the early Jeff Beck stuff with Rod Stewart – the Truth record. There was a lot of magic and chemistry there.”

Lindsey Buckingham (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.”

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