McKinley Morganfield, better known as “Muddy Waters,” was an outstanding American blues singer-songwriter and musician, who’s earned the title of “father of modern Chicago blues”, born in Issaquena County, Mississippi on April 4, 1913. At 17 he was a whiz with the harmonica and guitar, looking up to local artists Son House and Robert Johnson. In 1943 he made the move to Chicago and recorded his first records for Columbia Records.
Fun fact: The Rolling Stones actually named themselves after Waters’ 1950s song, “Rollin’ Stone.” Now that’s a useful bit of trivia. It’s also said that his style influenced Jimi Hendrix. While he had a career dip in the 60s, his popularity peaked again in the early 70s, a wave which he rode until his death. Muddy Waters, you will never be forgotten!
Self-taught composer and performer Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1940. A talented multi-instrumentalist, his work was characterized by nonconformity, and his style was difficult to categorize. In high school he wrote classical music while simultaneously playing drums in an R&B band. He then moved on to the electric guitar.
His experience led to his 1966 album with the Mothers of Invention, titled Freak Out!, which combined conventional rock with improvisation and studio-generated sounds. Zappa's rejection of structure and established social norms led him to be described as the “godfather” of comedy rock. He really sought the upper limits of what a guitar can do, showcased in “Shut Up ‘n’ Play Yer Guitar,” a 1981 solo album. Sadly, Zappa died of cancer, at just 53 years of age.
Born in Middlesex, England on May 19, 1945, Pete Townshend is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists of all time. A Pat McEnroe of the music world, it’s said that he was the first guitarist ever to smash his guitar onstage. Seems he set a bit of a trend – we find smashed guitars all over the place after rock concerts. The poor guitars! His controversial ways make him a “bad-boy” type who always seems to wind up on these great guitarist lists.
Best known for being a part of The Who, it is somewhat ironic that despite his successful solo career later on, while he was a part of the band, he never actually had a solo. The Who’s sound was heavier with drums and bass as opposed to guitars – almost as though Townshend was on a leash. And what creative genius wants to be restricted? But hey, songs like “My Generation,” “I Can See for Miles” and a cover of “Summertime Blues” are all a part of his discography.
Anthony Joseph Pereira, or better known by his stage name Joe Perry, was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1950. Who would’ve thought he’d go on to found and play lead guitar for the American rock band, Aerosmith? Well, not many, but the “Bad Boys from Boston” sure rocked the charts, not to mention the world! Being part of such an iconic band from the 70s is no mean feat – did you know that Aerosmith has sold over 150 million albums worldwide?
With the iconic pipes of Steven Tyler by his side, it was undoubtedly going to end in success for them both. Rolling Stone magazine once said that Perry’s riffs are like “blues-on-steroids.” His sound has that Jeff Beck familiarity, combined with his own unique spin on playing the guitar. All in all, the guy is rock royalty. As for his hit songs with the band, well- you can’t go past “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, “Dream On”, “Walk This Way” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.”
As soon as we read his name, we can just hear the opening notes to “Tears in Heaven”, can’t you? Born in Surrey, England in 1945, the next man on our list is the famed rock and blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, Eric Patrick Clapton. He’s the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – for being a solo artist, as a member of the Yardbirds, and as a member of Cream. The 74-year-old, over the years, has created stunningly simple melodies out of base notes and chord progressions.
As we’ve researched our list, we’ve found that the very best guitarists have trained in blues or adopted a bluesy style in rock ‘n’ roll. Clapton fuses both styles effortlessly, creating music for the ages. Funnily enough, when Clapton was part of Cream, playing alongside two jazz guitarists, he recognized that he was “just trying to keep up.” Now, that's saying something! Having a lifelong odyssey discovering the guitar, Clapton is a true guitar god.