This Rabbit Hole is a fist in the air to all my favorite axe-wielding maniacs!
When someone once asked me what my ten favourite guitarists and guitar solos were, I said I didn’t know off hand. I think I mumbled something about Loveless by My Bloody Valentine being one of the coolest guitar albums ever made.
It is! But the reason I was so coy was because I knew exactly who would be on my list, and at the time I was self-conscious about saying these things out loud.
That was a few years ago; now my attitude is screw that! These are great solos, great songs, great artists, and they’ve given me so much pleasure over the years, they deserve to be celebrated.
NOTE: In the end, I had to break this post into a three-parter. I didn’t realise I had so much to say, and I'm trying not to make these posts too long.
If you feel like it, click on the videos and listen as you read. This Rabbit Hole is a radio show on paper. Paper? Well, paper or whatever they make the Internet out of.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the weird numbering, I couldn’t decide whether to go in ascending or descending order—or which one was first or last—so I went with counting up and down at the same time to confuse that part of my brain that cares.
Oh, oh! And the pic in the featured image at the top is by my good friend, Greg Hosking (firstname.lastname@example.org).
1/10. Jimi Hendrix – “Freedom”
Hendrix? Mais oui. Bien sûr! But yes. Of course!
“Freedom” is my favourite Hendrix track. He layers all these different guitar parts, sounds and styles, and they’ll all in conversation with each other. It’s the traditional idea of ‘call and response’ that makes Black music so dynamic and so important. "Freedom" uses all the ‘modern’ tricks to take 'call and response' to the next level.
Putting my professor-jacket-with-elbow-patches on for a moment... It’s totally fine to skip this bit if you want. I only do it once, I promise... this solo is like Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of ‘dialogism’ and ‘polyphony’ in literature.
Bakhtin said some novels, especially those by Dostoevsky, don’t always have depend solely on the point-of-view of one character like most novels do, but can give equal attention to multiple characters and their different viewpoints, worldviews and voices. The solo in “Freedom,” in the way Hendrix plays one blues style against another, does exactly that. (Prince uses this trick too, but we’ll get to him later.)
“Freedom” is up there with Crime and Punishment. Yep, Hendrix is that good.
If the song hasn't finished yet, give yourself permission to 'wave your freak flag high.' As Dave Chappelle via Rick James says... Yes, this is coming out of my mouth... "It's a celebration bitches!"
2/9. Marc Ribot – “Chewing Gum” and “Clap Hands”
Such a wonderfully idiosyncratic artist, Marc Ribot's playing with Elvis Costello and Tom Waits gives their music an intensity and inventiveness that many songwriters and guitarists can only dream of and envy. Ribot is a guitarist’s guitarist and an iconic song-smith's best friend.
His playing sounds out of tune, awkward, troubled, anxious, broken. It’s like there’s something wrong with him—like something loose that shouldn’t be is rattling around inside him. Like he has a degenerative brain disease that has addled his motor skills, but no one has the heart to tell him when he keeps turning up uninvited to play at their recording sessions.
But playing in this style is extremely hard—it takes a lot of skill to sound like you don’t know what you’re doing.
Years ago, my friend Pete put on a Tom Waits tribute night and I was in the house band. We did “Clap Hands” with Lucky Oceans and ‘Rockin’ Bill Rogers from the Zydecats—two of our biggest heroes. I thought, ‘Yay, I’ll learn to play like Marc Ribot for the gig. Easy. It'll be fun!’
It didn’t go exactly as planned. Every rehearsal it would come to my solo, and every time I failed. I remember Lucky and Bill giving me this look that said, ‘Has this guy just started learning to play the guitar? What is he doing?!!’
It didn’t sound 'good-Marc Ribot-bad’; It just sounded bad.
Come the night of the gig, and I was petrified, so I decided to give up and just do my usual thing.
Onstage, Lucky is singing and the solo break is coming, but the song’s going surprisingly well. Then something happened and, to this day, I’m still not sure how I did it. At the end of the middle chorus, Lucky turned away from the microphone and looked at me, or motioned with his national guitar in a way that said, ‘Hey kid, go for it!’
I did, and it came out perfectly! Just like Ribot—all wrong, and angular and strained, and, well, sounding like him and great. I felt the whole band kick into another gear as I played, and when I looked up at the end, Bill and Lucky were looking at me like, ‘Shit, he does know how to play the guitar. Who knew?!’
#greatestmomentofmymusiccareer #flukedit totallybytheseatofmypantsnevertoberepeated.com itmaynotofhappenedexactlythatwaybutthatshowirememberit.org
3/8. James Mankey (Concrete Blonde) – “Caroline”
James Mankey’s solo in “Caroline” is Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” updated for the 90s. Angular, fluid, bluesy, with a hint of shuffle at the end of each perfectly crafted phrase.
Mankey’s solo is a mystery of modern design—his lines seem to go up and down simultaneously. It’s architectural in the way it's put together, and he plays these beautiful crisscrossing phrases without a pick, legato, with his fingers. (How!)
Any similarity between this song and the band I used to be in, Schvendes, is both unintentional and unconsciously deliberate. Racey and I love this band!
Yikes. Word limit. That's it for now. Part Two of Ten Top Turks in a few weeks or so. Until then, like my man Jimi says,
“Keep on pushing, straight ahead!”
Or, as I thought he was singing until I looked it up just now and was disappointed, “Keep off the bullshit, straight ahead!”