30 guitarists name the guitar heroes who changed their life

Guitarists’ Inspirations: Tracing the Roots of Guitar Heroes

Musical inspiration often springs from unexpected sources. For many guitarists, their journey into the world of six-string virtuosity began with a chance encounter – the discovery of a guitar icon whose mastery of the instrument would go on to shape their own playing style, their approach to music, and even the course of their lives. Classic Rock has delved into the minds of renowned guitarists to uncover the figures who ignited their passion for guitar playing and left an indelible mark on their creative journeys. From Slash of Guns N’ Roses to Angus Young of AC/DC, from Paul Stanley of Kiss to the likes of Metallica’s James Hetfield and fretboard maestro Steve Vai, these guitarists have revealed their personal sources of inspiration that set them on the path to greatness. Here, we explore their revelations and insights.

Slash (Guns N’ Roses)

Among the myriad influences that helped shape Slash’s iconic guitar style, Mick Taylor of the Rolling Stones stands out as a pivotal figure. Slash’s adoration for the Stones’ records, particularly “Beggars Banquet,” “Let It Bleed,” and “Sticky Fingers,” traces back to his childhood. These albums, encountered during his formative years, bore the fingerprints of Mick Taylor’s guitar work. Unbeknownst to Slash at the time, Mick Taylor’s playing was quietly etching its mark on his musical psyche. In Slash’s own words, Taylor’s bluesy, round-toned style resonated deeply with him, ultimately influencing his own approach to rock guitar.

Angus Young (AC/DC)

While Eric Clapton often garnered widespread acclaim, it’s Chuck Berry who commanded Angus Young’s admiration. Young credits Berry with pioneering the fusion of blues, country, and rockabilly, thereby birthing rock ‘n’ roll itself. A staunch advocate for the enduring legacy of rock music, Young attributes its inception to the ingenious amalgamation of these influences. The raw, unadulterated quality of Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll resonated with Young, serving as a foundation for AC/DC’s signature sound.

Paul Stanley (Kiss)

Paul Stanley extols the genius of Jimmy Page, likening him to Beethoven in his capacity for conceptual brilliance. Page’s role as a sonic architect, orchestrator, and visionary set Led Zeppelin apart from their contemporaries. In contrast, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath garners Stanley’s admiration as a master of riff and rhythm. Stanley lauds Iommi’s ability to infuse heavy, doom-laden riffs with diverse tonalities, seamlessly transitioning from somber to uplifting melodies. This blend of intensity and versatility profoundly influenced Stanley’s perspective on guitar playing.

Steve Vai

Jimmy Page holds a special place in Steve Vai’s heart as his first guitar hero. Vai lauds Page’s multifaceted talents, from arrangement and production to his distinctive touch on the instrument. While Vai recognizes many contemporary talents, he singles out Yvette Young for her organic, artistic approach to the guitar. Vai’s admiration for artists whose creativity flows naturally into their work resonates deeply with Young’s profoundly artistic expression.

Phil Collen (Def Leppard)

Phil Collen traces his initial spark of inspiration to Deep Purple’s performance during their “Machine Head” period. Witnessing the band’s rendition of “Highway Star” at Brixton Sundown left an indelible mark on Collen, propelling him toward the guitar. Ritchie Blackmore’s dynamic and flashy lead guitar style captivated Collen’s imagination, demonstrating the potent influence of virtuosic guitar playing on aspiring musicians.

Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top)

Billy Gibbons lauds the iconic BB King for his distinct one-note style, sustain, and lyrical call-and-response interplay between vocals and solos. Gibbons considers King an underrated maestro entertainer whose blues artistry left a lasting impact. He highlights King’s remarkable humility, even as a former cotton-picker turned musical legend.

Rich Robinson (The Black Crowes)

Rich Robinson acknowledges the greats like Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Jeff Beck, while emphasizing the pivotal role of songs in his musical focus. Robinson’s appreciation for musicians who seamlessly integrate virtuosity with songcraft illustrates the importance of striking a balance between technical prowess and artistic expression.

Eric Bloom (Blue Oyster Cult)

Despite the reverence for Jimi Hendrix and his contemporaries, Eric Bloom champions Prince as an underappreciated guitar virtuoso. Bloom believes Prince’s instrumental prowess often took a backseat to his showmanship and songwriting. In his eyes, Prince’s guitar mastery deserves greater recognition alongside his other talents.

Luke Morley (Thunder)

For Luke Morley, Jimmy Page emerges as the ultimate guitar hero, celebrated not only for his playing but also for his architectural sonic vision. Morley’s firsthand experience of celebrating Jimmy Page’s fiftieth birthday reveals the guitar legend’s undeniable talent and unexpected humanness.

Steven Van Zandt

Steven Van Zandt extols the uniqueness of Jeff Beck’s musicality, particularly during the mid-sixties era when pop and rock converged. Beck’s ability to craft remarkable guitar solos within concise songs epitomizes the artistry that resonates with Van Zandt.

Lzzy Hale (Halestorm)

Lzzy Hale’s unexpected inspiration came from Tom Keifer of Cinderella, whose videos she studied on VHS tapes during her early years. Keifer’s influence unwittingly infiltrated Hale’s guitar style, leading to occasional comparisons by her bandmates. Hale’s journey from keytar to guitar reveals the unanticipated ways in which iconic musicians shape emerging artists.

Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson’s artistic trajectory aligns closely with Robert Fripp and his pioneering work with King Crimson. Fripp’s departure from conventional blues scales distinguishes him as a unique guitar player and visionary bandleader. Wilson’s admiration extends beyond mere musicality, embracing artists who shape entire ideologies around their music.

Scott Ian (Anthrax)

Scott Ian’s evolution as a guitarist saw his transition from admiring Angus Young’s lead guitar brilliance to recognizing the songwriting genius of Malcolm Young. While Angus received the spotlight, Malcolm’s role as a songwriter became evident to Ian, underscoring the profound influence of songcraft on the trajectory of a band’s sound.

George Thorogood

Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones stands as George Thorogood’s early inspiration for slide guitar playing. Jones’s influence on Thorogood and his peers underscores his pivotal role in shaping the rock landscape. The Stone’s rendition of blues standards set a precedent for Thorogood’s chosen musical path.

Steve Rothery (Marillion)

Steve Rothery’s musical admiration extends to Steve Hackett and David Gilmour, both known for their capacity to serve the song’s requirements without unnecessary embellishments. Rothery’s emphasis on purposeful playing highlights his appreciation for guitarists who prioritize musicality over flashy displays of technique.

Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Etheridge’s rhythm-oriented approach led her to revere Richie Havens and Keith Richards. Havens’s acoustic guitar mastery and Richards’s blues-infused rhythm guitar style informed Etheridge’s own musical identity, emphasizing the significance of rhythm in shaping her guitar heroes.

Michael Åkerfeldt (Opeth)

Michael Åkerfeldt’s reverence for Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow speaks to the impact of Blackmore’s music on Åkerfeldt’s artistic journey. Åkerfeldt acknowledges Blackmore’s fearless innovation and his multifaceted contributions, even extending to Blackmore’s humorous and unique dress code.

Joe Satriani

Joe Satriani’s unwavering admiration for Jimi Hendrix’s multifaceted brilliance speaks volumes about Hendrix’s enduring impact. Satriani cites Hendrix’s exceptional musical ability, originality, and dedication to his craft in an analog era as qualities that continue to resonate with musicians today.

Frank Hannon (Tesla)

Randy Rhoads takes center stage in Frank Hannon’s roster of influences. Rhoads’s technical prowess, discipline, and musical background shaped his guitar virtuosity. Rhoads’s commitment to his art, instilled by his mother’s music school, serves as a testament to the influence of early education on musicianship.

Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke)

Charlie Starr holds both Jimmy Page and Billy Gibbons in equal regard. Despite their distinct styles, both Page and Gibbons stem from electrified blues origins, emphasizing their shared roots in blues-based rock music. Their ability to craft timeless songs underscores their profound influence on Starr’s musical journey.

Ace Frehley (ex-Kiss)

Ace Frehley’s unique playing style, rooted in his unorthodox approach to the guitar, mirrors the influence of his hero, Jimmy Page. Frehley’s pragmatic ethos, “If it sounds good, do it,” draws inspiration from Page’s unconventional yet highly effective playing techniques.

Paul Gilbert (Mr Big)

Robin Trower occupies a significant place in Paul Gilbert’s list of influences. Gilbert’s introduction to Trower’s music at a young age sparked his journey into learning and emulating Trower’s songs. Despite accusations of imitating Jimi Hendrix, Trower’s legacy as a blues-inspired guitar virtuoso remains undeniable.

Kenny Wanye Shepherd

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s intensity and passion served as a beacon for Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s guitar playing journey. Vaughan’s ability to convey emotion through his playing resonated deeply with Shepherd, solidifying Vaughan’s status as a transformative influence. Meanwhile, Jimi Hendrix’s unparalleled innovations continue to inspire awe and respect in Shepherd’s eyes.

Danko Jones

Danko Jones’s appreciation for Billy Gibbons stems from Gibbons’s tasteful and subtle approach to guitar playing. Gibbons’s ability to balance flashy and restrained playing resonates with Jones, who encountered Gibbons in person and experienced his magnetic presence firsthand.

Steve Hackett

While Peter Green typically garners recognition as Eric Bloom’s influence, he chooses to champion Eric Clapton. Clapton’s groundbreaking guitar sound at Cream’s inaugural performance left an indelible mark on Bloom, inspiring not only his musicianship but also his fashion choices and musical direction.

Fantastic Negrito

Sister Rosetta Tharpe emerges as Fantastic Negrito’s choice due to her groundbreaking contributions to music. Negrito emphasizes Tharpe’s role as an architectural figure, a trailblazer who laid the foundation for subsequent rock ‘n’ roll legends. Negrito’s affinity for the pioneers who built the musical landscape underscores his respect for those who shaped the genre.

Satchel (Steel Panther)

Satchel’s reverence for Ritchie Blackmore’s impressive song catalog and guitar solos is evident in his description of Blackmore’s enduring influence. Satchel cites iconic tracks like “Man On The Silver Mountain” and “Since You Been Gone,” underscoring Blackmore’s prowess in crafting timeless rock anthems.

In Conclusion

The personal narratives of these guitarists illuminate the profound impact that their predecessors and contemporaries have had on their musical identities. From blues legends to trailblazing innovators, each guitarist’s journey is shaped by the unique sounds, styles, and artistic visions that resonated with them. By tracing the footsteps of their guitar heroes, these musicians pay homage to the rich tapestry of rock history while adding their own distinctive voices to the ever-evolving narrative of guitar playing.

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Stevie Flavio
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