A great CD came across my desk this week: Joe Bonamassa’s magnificent, soon-to-be-released Dust Bowl. As a collection of songs, it’s got everything: bone-rattling blues, hard and heavy rock, even boot-stompin’ country (with Vince Gill and John Hiatt, no less!). And it’s got guitar. Like, serious guitar — the kind of ungodly blazing kissed with soul and nuance that one generally only associates with those Mount Rushmore of Rock guys — Clapton, Beck and the like…which got me to thinking. Who will occupy the Mount Rushmore of the 21st Century?
It’s pretty difficult to hit that iconic status of Hendrix and Page these days. The guys in the ’60s and ’70s had the luxury of being the first ones there, or at least the first widely recognized ones there. There were certainly creative speed demons like Django and Les before them. But the ’60s rock stars were part of the dawn of an unprecedented youth culture movement and had an audience exponentially greater than their predecessors. And they were pretty freakin’ great to boot. And since their time, we’ve pretty much seen everything accomplished on the technical end, thanks largely to ’80s metal. So, therein lies the quandary: how can anyone attain guitar god status when everything’s pretty much been done already?
Well, let me offer a few nominees for apotheosis (look it up)…with a brief explanation of what gets them there:
The Chapeaued Shredder is hardly a young gun. In fact, next year marks — can you believe it? — 25 years since the release of Appetite for Destruction. But the past decade has found Slash truly transcend to rock god status, due to a combination of a second trip to the top of the rock charts with Velvet Revolver (and a third with his ace solo CD) and the cementing of his top-hatted icon status on Guitar Hero. Say what you will about the game, players, but it put Mr. Saul Hudson in every living room in America.
It’s hard to stand out as a blues player 100 years after the birth of Robert Johnson, but White has managed to forge a unique place in popular music. He somehow vaulted to the top of the rock scene with the previously unthinkable prospect of a two-piece, bassless band. Eventually, the sheer volume of top-shelf riffs (“Seven Nation Army,” anyone?) and wicked licks, combined with a unique and captivating visual style has elevated him to a place somehow completely at home in a conversation with Jimmy Page and The Edge.
It is incredibly difficult to find sounds in a guitar that no one has previously discovered, and yet Tom Morello has made it commonplace. Both his aggressive work with Rage Against the Machine and his more mainstream fare with Audioslave have set him apart from the scale-handcuffed crowd. Listen to “Like a Stone” and tell me anyone else would have come up with that solo…and how much greater the song is because Morello did.
The aforementioned Bonamassa has yet to find the widespread popularity of the other candidates on this list, but it’s just a matter of time. The more he evolves as a songwriter on his own increasingly interesting solo albums and as a player, both in his solo work and in the supergroup, Black Country Communion, the more people will come to know this jaw-dropping monster of a player. The thing about Bonamassa is that, yeah, he’s taking the same path that Page, Bolin and others have taken, but he’s just doing it so freakin’ well! There’s just something to be said about the dying breed that is the great blues rock player. That magical thing that Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher had – Bonamassa’s got it in spades!
Perhaps the age of the guitar god isn’t over just yet. I’ll keep my rock carving tools handy.