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Sound Trek – The Five Best Guitarists You’ve Never Heard Of

Sound Trek – The Five Best Guitarists You’ve Never Heard Of
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By Owen McDonald

Lists of great guitar players are a dime a dozen. They’re easy. Most conclude that Jimi Hendrix was number one. I don’t protest that assumption, or the inevitable presence of Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Duane Allman, etc. What’s hard to take is how many people get left off most lists. Many of those greats just never had the hits or the tours to get on people’s radars. And while some of the following do appear on top 100 guitarist lists, no one would call them well known. So here’s a short list of great guitar players you (maybe) never heard of, along with signature songs.

Ali Farka Touré – Lasidan

Martin Scorsese did well to feature Malian phenom Ali Farka Touréin his 2003 documentary, Feel Like Going Home, which drew a dotted line between American blues and far older west African music. The hypnotic playing of Touré certainly invokes African muziki, although western audiences may not hear the blues. That’s ok, because songs like Lasidan (here with maestro Ry Cooder) prove that great guitarists needn’t be incendiary or technical. They just have to play from the heart.

Adrian Belew – Fly

If Adrian Belew’s name isn’t instantly familiar to you, don’t worry. You’ve heard him a hundred times without realizing it. From Zappa to Bowie to Talking Heads to the best incarnation of prog-rock band King Crimson, Belew has been a major session/tour guitarist since the late 70s. His prodigious solo career has never grabbed much attention, because he’s not sexy and tends toward the experimental. Even so, any “greatest guitarist” list is incomplete without him.

Trey Anastasio – You Enjoy Myself

In the late 1990s Trey Anastasio blew in from New Jersey by way of an acid flashback straight outta Marin County, fronting the jam band Phish. Those who hadn’t recovered from Jerry Garcia’s sad death cheered up because not only did Anastasio embody Garcia’s lilt and tone, but also channeled his exuberance. Since his debut Anastasio has closed the Dead loop by touring with Phil Lesh and Friends, but that’s really the least of his accomplishments. His score for Hands On A Hardbody was nominated for a Tony in 2013, and his numerous compositions (like this one, performed here with the Colorado Symphony) exhibit a versatility that put him among the world’s finest axe men.

Robert Randolph – Amped Up

The pedal steel guitar was destined for embellishment only, situated horizontally as it is, and always playing second fiddle to athletic country flatpickers. That is, until Robert Randolph got a hold of it. Taking nothing away from the great pedal steel players of the world (and there are several), no one ever used the instrument as a front-and-center showpiece until Randolph. Burning with funk/blues fire like the best convention slide guitar players, this man (who learned his craft playing in church) is an evangelical force on pedal steel, and a truly unique guitar hero.

Doyle Dykes – Wabash Cannonball

If Chet Atkins and Django Reinhardt mixed their DNA and irradiated it, the result might be Doyle Dykes. The maddest of country finger pickers, Dykes seems to infuse even country standards (like this piece) with the essence of a Paganini fu

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