As guitar players we all have our idols that got us to pick up the instrument in the first place. Sometimes those influences are directly indicative of the type of music we end up pursuing, but in some cases that initial contact with the world of rock or blues might just be a starting point and you end up veering off in a completely different direction. But what about our guitar heroes - who inspired them? In this list we’ve taken quotes from ten influential guitarists where they talk about their own guitar heroes.
1. Billy Gibbons
It might not come as a surprise that Billy Gibbons has drawn inspiration from Robert Johnson. "Everybody stopped in their tracks," said Gibbons in an interview with NPR about hearing Johnson for the first time. "But as many times as a Robert Johnson number has been covered and rerecorded and reinterpreted, no one has yet recaptured what guitar players would refer to as that internal DNA of Robert Johnson," Gibbons continued. "You can get the same guitar, you can probably go back to the same hotel room, but delivering it like R.J. did in 1936 — forget about it. It's not going to happen." In conjunction with the release of ZZ Top’s latest record last year, Gibbons discussed his band's early aspirations in an interview with Classic Rock "we modeled ourselves on the Jeff Beck Group. It’s taken me 30 years to get a voice as nasty as Rod Stewart’s."
2. Eddie Van Halen
In his first major interview as a professional musician in 1978, Eddie Van Halen told Guitar Player magazine about his influences: "My main influence was Eric Clapton," said Eddie. "I realize I don’t sound like him, but I know every solo he’s ever played, note-for-note, still to this day. My favorites were the Cream live versions of ‘Spoonful’ [Wheels of Fire, RSO] and ‘I’m So Glad’ [Goodbye, RSO]. I liked Jimi Hendrix, too."
“All of my playing is basically influenced by blues players,” said Slash in an interview with MusicRadar. “That might sound surprising, but really, that's where my whole trip comes from. [...] Then there was Jimi Hendrix and Mick Taylor and Jeff Beck - all of my information was coming from the classic '60s and '70s players. [...] I realized that the licks were pretty much the same stuff I'd been listening to all along - only the context that was different. I've listened to a lot of great blues guitarists, but the two guys who I go back to consistently are Albert King and BB King. Their appeal never fades.”
4. Joe Bonamassa
Having a good vibrato is important for all guitarists, but even more so for blues musicians who basically use the guitar to convey feelings to the audience. Joe Bonamassa spoke of his influences when it comes to vibrato in an interview with Guitar Center: “I learned about vibrato from basically three people. B.B. King has the most identifiable vibrato— you know it's him right off the bat. I also learned from Clapton and Paul Kossoff, who played with Free. Kossoff would really shake the note and get the most emotion out of each phrase. The most important thing I learned from these three players is that vibrato is basically your fingerprint or your stamp. Anybody can play just the notes with no vibrato, but your phrasing and vibrato are your sonic DNA.”
5. Zakk Wylde
When Gibson asked Zakk Wylde who his influences were, the guitarist revealed how he came to be a Les Paul player: "Well, there was Jimmy Page, Randy Rhoads, Hendrix, Gary Moore—they all played Gibsons. Plus, I've seen pictures of Clapton and Keith Richards with Les Pauls. I said to myself, 'Okay, that's the guitar for me.' It's just the greatest guitar in the world. The spectrum of sounds you can get with a Les Paul is unbeatable. You can be crunchy, warm; you can play Al Di Meola licks or crank up the super metal. You can't do that on any other guitar. No way."
6. Jack White
Old blues greats like Robert Johnson and Blind Willie McTell have had a profound influence on Jack White and all his musical endeavors. In an interview with The Guardian he explains what it is about these early blues roots that inspire him: "As a songwriter, even if you're singing about other people or making up characters, it's still your job to be against the world and that all began in the 1920s and 1930s with these blues singers. It was the first time in history that a single person had been recorded to tell whatever story they had to the world." But White is not completely stuck in the past. When he was interviewed in Seattle Weekly by former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan, Jack revealed that he was inspired by McKagan's former band in his youth: "I listened to so much of your music when I was younger, by the way, and [it was] a really big influence on me."
7. Matthew Bellamy
There's no doubt that Muse main man Matt Bellamy draws on a number of influences from various genres when he is writing music for his band. But when it comes to playing guitar, there was one person in particular that inspired Bellamy, as he told NME: "The first time I really got excited by guitars was when I was about 12. At the time, I wasn’t really into heavy music at all. I was into the sort of stuff my dad plays – Dick Dale type stuff, Simon & Garfunkel. But then I saw a video of Jimi Hendrix performing his famous set at the Monterey Pop Festival. More than the songs, what changed my life was the freedom, the expression that he brought to the performance. There was a sense of wild, reckless danger, capped when he famously smashed his guitar at the end, then set it on fire."
8. Richie Sambora
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Richie spoke about what inspired him to jam on his latest solo album Aftermath of the Lowdown: "There was a ferocity to our communication that you could really hear on this record. … I decided to leave those extended jams on the record. That was my influences, the Jimi Hendrixes of the world, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck - guys that played their electric guitar and moved you solely."
9. Joe Perry
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry revealed to Premier Guitar that the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green at the helm greatly affected his style as a guitarist: "Peter Green's style, attitude and sound really got to me. These guys didn't care about being rock stars. It was all about the music for them. I became a big fan of Fleetwood Mac. I guess you could say I was most influenced by the second wave of British bands, like The Yardbirds, Mac and The Who."
10. Dan Auerbach
It’s no surprise that Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys is heavily influenced by late blues guitarist Junior Kimbrough. After all, The Black Keys released an album of Kimbrough covers back in 2006 called Chulahoma. In an interview with Guitar World Dan expanded on what it is about Kimbrough’s music that inspires him: “Junior changed everything for me. When I heard his album All Night Long, I dropped out of college and started playing seriously. His shit is weird North Mississippi dance music. He came up with his own style, influenced by local folks. He had the bravery to try something different.”