With the given name Charles, “Chuck” Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1926. One of the pioneers of rock and roll music, he’s basically a musical immortal. Songs like “Maybellene”, “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode”, saw him refresh and refine the rhythm and blues movement, which evolved into the elements that make rock and roll so distinctive. His musical style was very much focused on guitar solos and wonderful showmanship. Many of the greats look back on Berry as one of their most important musical influences.
With his blues upbringing, Berry always stayed true to his roots, but managed to mix it up so that he would influence some of the greats over the next fifty years and more! One of the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame upon its opening in 1986, he’s remembered for having “laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance.” Truly, one of the greatest of all time.
This Canadian singer-songwriter was born in Alberta in the 40s and is our first female on the list. Mitchell's very singular tuning-style helped maximize the sounds in each and every chord. Drawing from a mixture of genres, she enjoyed folk, pop, rock, and jazz, and her songs often focused on social and environmental issues, as well as her personal take on love, confusion, disillusionment, and joy.
Towing nine Grammy awards and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she’s been hailed as “one of the greatest songwriters ever.” What makes Mitchell so unique is her ability to write songs with the same chords, but in different tunings – one song had 50 different variations! Would you believe that at 75 years of age she’s still performing? What a legend!
You can just hear the sexy, moody, smooth guitar of Santana when you say his name. Born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1947, Carlos Santana is a must-have on our list. Moving to San Francisco as a young man, by the time the fabled “Summer of Love” came around, he was a name in the area. But it was when he played Woodstock that he truly gained fame and it was decided that he wasn’t going to be “not-so-well-known” for long.
He’s received high praise over the years for his extremely melodic sound, with musicians such as Prince acknowledging Santana as a greater influence on him than Jimi Hendrix because “Santana played prettier.” Sometimes musicians have to err on the side of caution when discovering their sound or voice, with the legendary guitarist attributing LSD to finding his voice: “You cannot take LSD and not find your voice.”
Born on July 12th, 1967, in New York City, Petrucci attended Berklee College of Music in Boston with his childhood friend John Myung. The pair met Mike Portnoy, and together with another friend Kevin Moore, the four created Dream Theater. In a group full of some of the best musicians in the world, Petrucci's playing stands out.
His high-speed alternate picking requires mastery of the instrument, and his speed while playing some of Dream Theater's faster songs puts most other axemen to shame. He's also been lauded for his slower, emotive playing. Influenced by some of the best, he is now one of the best.
If you want to talk about being fast, Michael Romeo is the man to speak to. His shredding has been melting face since 1994, when he formed the progressive metal band Symphony X. Whether he's building the chords of a ballad underneath singer Russell Allen's singing or running through the mind-bending solo of a half-hour long song about Plato's “The Odyssey,” Romeo displays an incredible mastery of his chosen instrument.
If you like fast playing, you're probably a fan of Romeo, whether or not you know it. He also loves to put classical touches from Mozart or Beethoven into his playing. A man of culture.