What is quite clear is that it is not all about talent or ability. Some of the best Rock songs have been very basic, not requiring any great virtuosity, such as ‘Louie Louie’ by the Kingsmen.
Some artists, like Joe Satriani, are so incredibly talented and so technically proficient on the guitar that you can marvel at their skill in much the same way as you would any classical musician yet I find them uninspiring.
The best Rock guitarist I have ever seen (and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Page, Peter Green, Keith Cross, Pete Townsend, Eric Clapton, Rory Gallagher, Paul Kossof, Dave Gilmour and Jack White up close) without a doubt is Jimi Hendrix. Nobody come close. The sounds and melody that Jimi could squeeze out of a guitar were extraordinary. He could make it talk with his elbow better than most good guitarists could with their hands. Jimi would weave in feedback, distortion and effects to create new complex melody that was never boring.
Jimi was the consummate Rock guitarist. His limitations were the extent of his imagination. He could conjure up any sound, feeling or rhythm.
An important element of Rock music is the showmanship and ability to create excitement through the power of performance. When a band like Cream, Free, early Pink Floyd, Stiff Little Fingers, Hendrix, Lee Scratch Perry, The Who, Elvis Costello, Led Zeppelin or White Stripes let rip there was a pulse of energy that surged through the audience and created a synergy of excitement.
Some bands did not rely so much on power as the creation of a mesmerising sound that melted you away to get lost in its complexity and melody such as Traffic, Neil Young and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Sometimes that power of performance is melded with complexity to create something powerful and mesmeric. The best gigs I have ever experienced were Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band and Jimi Hendrix. Both of them merged the power and drive with complexity and skill into an unbeatable magic.
For me the words have always been an important element. When a truly gifted poet, such as Roy Harper, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, entwine their poetry to music it creates something far greater than the parts. It provides another dimension that engages the intellect as well. That propels the music to greater heights that stimulates the cerebral cortex in a more consuming, and satisfying manner.
I like my Rock having content that makes me think, a social or political thread, a spiritual element, a comment or purpose.
The best acoustic guitarist I have ever seen, from a large field including Davey Graham, Leo Kottke, Bert Jansch, John Fahey, Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn, is undoubtedly Nick Harper. He crafts his incredible guitar skills to varied brilliant songs full of imagery, meaning and love.
Then there are the giants like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Love who were simply majestic. Or the sheer exuberance of the early Blues of Robert Johnson, Son House, Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters and Rock ‘n’ Rollers such as Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.
I can take my Rock basic and raw or intellectual and profound, depending on my mood, but I like it real, not over-sanitised by the record labels, not reduced to satisfy the lowest common denominator, not processed for mass public consumption, not devoid of content for fear of offending. I want my Rock to challenge. It is not the music of the establishment. It is always the stuff of rebellion. As soon as it is adopted, clichéd or restricted it is dead!
Find out what I think the most essential 537 albums are in my book available on Amazon:
Or read about the story of my life in music:
Or the times when Rock was at its peak in the counter-culture of the sixties:
Rock music has been the backdrop to my life. It has informed my views and philosophy. I am who I am because of it!