A rock guitarist since the 1970s, Kelley has been a fan of rock, blues, and jazz since the 1960s.
The years go by and you wonder what happened to various rock guitarists who made a splash back in the '60s and '70s (or even earlier). They suffered from diminished exposure, waning popularity, and in some cases, death. At any rate, they left a legacy of fine licks many rock fans like hearing again and again. Keep in mind, my list is in not in order. I simply wanted to pay tribute to some of my favorite forgotten musicians.
1. John Cipollina (Quicksilver Messenger Service)
Trained as a classical pianist, John Cipollina didn’t just play the usual pentatonic rock and blues riffs; he meandered about the fretboard, producing a plethora of melodic and evocative notes, inflected with plenty of whammy bar, his signature, particularly during the psychedelic era. Simply stated, nobody played lead guitar like John Cipollina!
One of the forerunners of the San Francisco Bay Area sound in the middle 1960s, Cipollina played lead guitar for the fabulous Quicksilver Messenger Service, until the band went “poppy” in the early 1970s. Perhaps his best effort with the band was the album Happy Trails, recorded live. Then Cipollina played for Copperhead and numerous other bands until his death, attributed to respiratory problems, in 1989.
2. Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher, an Irish-born singer and lead guitarist was another one of those rockers from the British Isles who took American blues and gave it a modern spin. Gallagher joined the trio Taste in the late 1960s, which toured with groups such as Cream and Blind Faith, and was overall considered an impressive entity in the ilk of the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
In the 1970s, Gallagher formed his own trio, essentially going solo, as he played his brand of impassioned, energetic blues. Eric Clapton once said that Gallagher “got him back into the blues.” Gallagher was also known for his long performances. Later, his music showed a jazz influence, and his blues assumed a more “mature” sound. Rory Gallagher died of complications related to a liver transplant in 1995.
3. Elliott Randall
Growing up in New York City, Elliott Randall played with the likes of Richie Havens, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Then, in the early 1970s, Randall formed the group Randall’s Island, and their eponymous first album, including such catchy tunes as “Take Out the Dog and Bark the Cat,” is a classic. In 1972, Randall went to California and played guitar on Steely Dan’s first album Can’t Buy a Thrill.
Guitarist Jimmy Page considers Randall’s solo on “Reelin’ in the Years” his favorite. Over the years, Randall has worked primarily as a session player for artists such as the Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton, and has also worked as a musical consultant on Saturday Night Live and for filmmaker Oliver Stone. Randall currently performs with Randall’s Rangers.
4. Leigh Stephens (Blue Cheer)
Leigh Stephens was lead guitarist for Blue Cheer, a blues-tinged, acid rock power trio that erupted upon the San Francisco Bay Area scene in 1968. The Band’s fuzzy, distorted version of “Summertime Blues,” climbed to number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their first album, Vincebus Eruptum, is a definite forerunner of heavy metal and grunge, anticipating groups such as Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath. Incidentally, Blue Cheer called itself the loudest rock band in the world.
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Unfairly compared to other rock trios such as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer’s music was, in comparison, raw and chaotic, like watching an erupting volcano after taking a hit of Purple Owsley. After recording two albums with Blue Cheer, Stephens went on to form Silver Metre in 1969. Stephens performed at the Summer of Love Fortieth Anniversary concert in San Francisco in September 2007.
5. Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple)
Tommy Bolin started his career as a guitarist for the rock group Zephyr, producing two albums and opening for such bands as Led Zeppelin. Then in 1972, Bolin played on Billy Cobham’s album Spectrum, which highlighted Bolin’s talent for blazing jazz-fusion guitar, and this may be Bolin’s best work. Next, Bolin replaced Joe Walsh in the James Gang, churning out two albums, Bang and Miami. Then, in the middle 1970s, Bolin replaced Ritchie Blackmore, lead guitarist for Deep Purple and also produced the solo album, Teaser.
Unfortunately, drug addiction got the better of Bolin at the very young age of 25. After playing a gig with Jeff Beck, Tommy Bolin, having taken a variety of hard drugs, died of complications thereof on December 4, 1976. Chuck Morris said that Tommy was so good he “could cry on that guitar.”
6. Frank Marino (Mahogany Rush)
One of many so-called Jimi Hendrix imitators in the 1970s, Frank Marino was perhaps the best of that bunch, with all due respect to lovers of Robin Trower, naturally. In the late 1960s, Marino had some kind of direction-altering epiphany while hospitalized for overindulgence in the drug LSD and, reacting to this, the press started saying Marino was Hendrix reincarnated, though Marino denies this hype. (Listening to Marino’s version of “Purple Haze,” you might think the story was true!)
At any rate, suitably inspired, Marino then formed the group Mahogany Rush in 1970, eventually producing over ten albums with the band. Over the years, Marino has also produced two solo albums. Interestingly, he has two sons, Danny and Mike, who play in rock bands. In an interview, Marino was asked who he would love to jam with, alive or dead, and he chose Jimi Hendrix. Surprise!
7. Shuggie Otis
A definite guitar prodigy by the age of 15, Shuggie Otis (son of R&B bandleader Johnny Otis) recorded in 1969 the album Kooper Session with blues great Al Kooper. Sounding like a younger version of Mike Bloomfield, Shuggie’s licks are titillating on the tunes “Slow Goonbash Blues” and “Shuggie’s Shuffle.” Then in the 1970s, Shuggie continued his career in the jazz and R&B vein, writing the hit song “Strawberry Letter 23.”
In 1974, Shuggie played all the instruments on the album Inspiration Information, a jazzy R&B, variety-filled experience evocative of Sly Stone and the Brothers Johnson, though it never really caught on. Incidentally, when Mick Taylor quit the Rolling Stones, Shuggie was offered the job, but he declined. More recently, in the 1990s, Shuggie Otis played with his own band in northern California.
8. Erik Braunn (Iron Butterfly)
Another guitar prodigy, Erik Braunn played lead guitar with acid rock band Iron Butterfly when he was only 16. Braunn picked lead axe on the band’s number one hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” one of the longest rock songs ever produced at 17 minutes. Braunn’s guitar solo on the marathon, emphasizing pedal effects, is one of the best from the period.
In 1970, Braunn left the Butterfly and formed Flintwhistle, about which little is known except they performed live here and there. Then he worked as a studio musician until he formed a new version of Iron Butterfly in 1974, which lasted until 1977. Braunn died of a heart attack in July 2003 while working on his first solo album.
9. Elvin Bishop
Elvin Bishop has been playing gigs seemingly forever. Born about the same time as Jimi Hendrix in 1942, Bishop joined the renowned Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963, trading licks with fellow lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Bloomfield left the band in 1967, so Bishop became the main guitar man, singing as well, sometimes with comedic intent, like the novelty tune “Drunk Again.”
Primarily a blues guitarist, Bishop also dabbled in rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, forming his own group in 1968. Bishop’s biggest hit came in 1976 with the release of “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then in 2008, Bishop released The Blues Roll On, featuring fellow blues artists B.B. King, Warren Haynes, George Thorogood and many others. Elvin Bishop will probably still be rocking in the twenty-second century!
10. Leslie West (Mountain)
Leslie West hit the big time when he formed the group Mountain in 1969. The band’s big hit was “Mississippi Queen,” which showed-off West’s hard-driving rock guitar and wailing, hell-bent singing. Mountain also performed at Woodstock, where West played a searing guitar solo on Jack Bruce’s “Theme for an Imaginary Western.”
In 1974, West formed a power trio with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Corky Laing, billed to be the next super group, but, alas, this never came to pass. For a time, West put together the Leslie West Band or new incarnations of Mountain. Unfortunately, Leslie West passed away due to heart failure on December 23, 2020, age 75.
11. Robbie Krieger (Doors)
Robbie Krieger has come full circle with the Doors, one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever. Krieger started as the band’s lead guitarist back in 1966, joining up with legendary singer/poet Jim Morrison. What many people may not know is that Krieger wrote many of the songs for which the band became famous, including “Love Me Two Times,” “Touch Me,” “You’re Lost Little Girl” and, most memorably, “Light My Fire,” perhaps the greatest Top 40 rock tune of the 1960s.
Krieger showed his unique guitar style with long solos on songs such as “The End,” “When the Music’s Over,” and the long version of “Light My Fire.” Generally playing his signature Gibson SG, Krieger’s guitar style shows many influences, including sitar music, flamenco, folk, jazz and blues. In the early 2000s, the Doors reformed, with Ian Asbury replacing the deceased Jim Morrison. Krieger also continues working as a solo artist and studio musician.
12. Alvin Lee (Ten Years After)
Alvin Lee began playing lead guitar in 1960 with the core of a rock band that would eventually become Ten Years After, which released its first album in 1967. The band’s breakthrough came with Lee’s rollicking, frenetic, singing out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth performance at Woodstock, perhaps stealing the show, and propelling the band to stardom, which it maintained until the middle 1970s.
At this point, Lee, feeling limited by the band, left Ten Years After and formed Alvin Lee and Company, “a funky little outfit,” as Lee called it, releasing the double live recording In Flight, an R&B and rock extravaganza in 1975. Then Lee formed a power trio called Ten Years Later, of all names, garnering recognition and praise. In the 1980s, Lee formed the Alvin Lee Band. To date, Lee has released many solo efforts, including Saguitar in 2007. Alvin Lee passed on March 6, 2013.
13. Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac)
Peter Green was the founder of the spectacular Fleetwood Mac, though long before they converted to mainstream rock in the middle 1970s. A blues-rock guitarist/songwriter, Green was an integral aspect of the British blues movement along with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, both of whom lauded Green’s playing. Following that muse, Green joined with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966, sounding nearly as “God-like” as Clapton, whom he had replaced.
After leaving Fleetwood Mac, Green suffered from bouts of schizophrenia, perhaps exacerbated by his overindulgence in LSD and cocaine. Green became a tramp-like recluse for six years, and then made a comeback in the 1990s, forming the Peter Green Splinter Group, eventually making nine albums with the band. Sadly, Peter Green died on July 25, 2020.
14. Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad)
Mark Farner founded the fabulously successful power trio Grand Funk Railroad in 1969. Almost immediately, the band drew monstrous crowds and eventually produced numerous albums, many gold or platinum. Although Farner was never known for his technical virtuosity on the guitar, he became a kind of one-man band (as trios sometimes need!), playing lead guitar and keyboards, banging on percussion and writing most of the group’s songs.
Farner left the band in 1977, going solo with albums such as Mark Farner. After that, Farner began playing Christian rock in the 1980s. Later, in the middle 1990s, Farner joined Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, and finally reformed the original Grand Funk Railroad in the late 1990s. Farner currently tours, often playing Grand Funk standards as well as his solo material.
15. Jorma Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane)
Jorma Kaukonen’s blues/bluegrass/rock guitar style highlighted the Jefferson Airplane, an acid rock band formed in San Francisco in 1965. Kaukonen’s acoustic fingerpicking licks can be heard on the band’s album Surrealistic Pillow, particularly the cut “Embryonic Journey.” The Airplane’s lead guitarist, he provided requisite rock chops with the best guitarists in the San Francisco Bay Area.
After the Airplane broke up in 1973 (some members joining the new Jefferson Starship), Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady formed Hot Tuna, an assemblage which lasted much longer than the Airplane. Over the years, he has recorded a dozen solo albums and joined the reformation of the Jefferson Airplane in 1989. These days, Kaukonen and his wife Vanessa Lillian operate the Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio, where he gives guitar lessons, a new pastime he really enjoys.
16. Mike Bloomfield
Appropriately, Mike Bloomfield was born in Chicago, Illinois, home of the Chicago style of blues, aka urban or electric blues. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bloomfield, of Jewish ethnicity, honed his blues guitar licks with bluesmen such as Sleepy John Estes, Little Brother Montgomery, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and many others. In 1965, Bloomfield’s leap forward came when he joined The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which recorded the highly influential album East-West in 1966. Then Bloomfield became the guitarist for the short-lived Electric Flag. He also performed and/or recorded with Bob Dylan, Al Kooper, Chuck Berry, Mitch Ryder, James Cotton and numerous others. Throughout the 1970s he was a solo act and produced many albums. Notably, Bloomfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. He was discovered dead in his car on Feb. 15, 1981, age 37. Heroin and cocaine were found in his system.
17. Roy Buchanan
Buchanan began his career in the late 1950s to early ‘60s, playing as a sideman for various bands or working as a session guitarist. Buchanan didn’t rely on pedal effects; he simply used the volume and tone knobs on his Telecaster. In the middle 1960s he played in Danny Denver’s Band and was considered one of the best guitarists around. Even Jimi Hendrix was impressed by him, especially his harmonic “pinch” technique and, not surprisingly, Buchanan played some of Hendrix’s songs. Buchanan gained national fame as a solo artist in the 1970s; the Rolling Stones wanted him but he famously turned them down! In 2004, Guitar Player magazine listed Buchanan as having one of the “50 Greatest Tones of All Time.” Buchanan died on August 14, 1988, having hanged himself in a jail cell.
18. Albert King
Albert King was a left-handed guitarist who usually played a right-handed guitar flipped over, so the base strings were on the bottom of the fretboard, then played it upside down. He often tuned his axe C-B-E-F#-B-E (low to high), producing a dramatic tone, which influenced numerous guitarists. Perhaps King’s greatest studio album was Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) and maybe his best live album was Live Wire/Blues Power (1968), recorded at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. Along with B.B. King and Freddie Kings, Albert King was known as one of the Kings of the Blues and also nicknamed “The Velvet Bulldozer.” Notably, in 2011, Rolling Stone ranked Albert King #13 on its list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Albert King died of a heart attack on December 21, 1992.
19. Bruce Conte (Tower of Power)
Bruce Conte is an R&B and jazz fusion guitarist who grew up in Fresno, California and hit the club scene in the late 1960s, performing in Common Ground. Then in 1969 Conte moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and joined Loading Zone. His big break came in 1972 when he became the guitarist for Tower of Power, an R&B, funk and soul band out of Oakland, California. Conte played with Tower of Power until 1979, having recorded with them on some of their best albums: Tower of Power, Back to Oakland and Urban Renewal. Perhaps his greatest solo can be heard on “What Is Hip.” After leaving TOP, Conte played with a number of other bands and produced four solo albums.
20. Howard “Buzz” Feiten
When just 20 years old, Buzz Feiten replaced lead guitarist Elvin Bishop in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which famously performed at Woodstock. Feiten’s Hendrix-like guitar solo can be heard on “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right.” Thereafter, Feiten played with bands such as The Rascals and the Dave Weckl Band and has worked as a session guitarist with numerous famous musicians, including Gregg Allman, Randy Brecker, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. In 1982, Feiten produced his debut album, Full Moon, and then produced a sequel for it in 1999. Interestingly, Feiten makes solid-body electric guitars (you can see his last name on the headstock) and has patented a tuning system for guitars.
21. Henry Vestine (Canned Heat)
Specializing in 1960s-style, electric blues, Henry Vestine was one of the original guitarists for Canned Heat, a progressive, boogie-rock blues band which formed in 1966 and performed at the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock, though Vestine had quit the group right before Woodstock and didn’t perform there (Harvey Mandel took his place). Notably, Vestine excelled at playing long, improvisational guitar solos, evidence of which can be heard on the Canned Heat double-album Living the Blues (1969), particularly the cut “Refried Boogie.” Into the 1970s and beyond, Vestine played with Canned Heat occasionally and other bands such as The Vipers, veteran blues musicians based in Eugene who performed throughout the Pacific Northwest.
22. Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones)
Maybe Mick Taylor’s major claim to fame is that he had the audacity to quit the Rolling Stones in 1974, mainly because he thought he wasn’t getting enough credit for his songwriting. Nevertheless, Taylor has performed with the Stones many times as recently as the 2010s, as he probably should have, because he played with the Stones during perhaps their greatest creative period (1969–74).
Raised in Hatfield, England, Taylor's first break as a pro guitarist was at 16, when he performed with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, joining the band the following year. After leaving the Stones, Taylor joined with bassist Jack Bruce for a short time. Since then, Taylor has primarily been a solo artist, playing with Bob Dylan, Carla Olson and Joan Jett. Taylor has also worked as a session artist over the decades. Notably, in 2012, Rolling Stone magazine picked him #37 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
23. Jan Akkerman
Jan Akkerman is a Dutch guitarist who began taking guitar lessons when he was five and helped form a rock band, Johnny and His Cellar Rockers, at 11. Then his career really took off when he helped form Focus, a progressive rock quartet, whose biggest hits were “Hocus Pocus” and “Sylvia.” Akkerman’s guitar virtuosity didn’t go unnoticed, either. In 1973, Melody Maker magazine selected him as the Best Guitarist in the World! After Focus disbanded, Akkerman, now more of a jazz fusion guitarist and lute player, launched a solo career, producing numerous albums, the latest of which Close Beauty (2019). Akkerman has also been a superb session artist, playing with Jack Bruce, Charlie Byrd, Paco de Lucia, B.B. King, Ice-T and many others.
24. J.J. Cale
J.J. Cale began his musical career in Los Angeles in the 1960s, landing a gig at the soon to be famous Whisky a Go Go, for which he was a cofounder. In 1966, he cut a demo single of “After Midnight.” But, unable to make a living in LA, Cale returned to Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1971, he recorded his debut album Naturally, which highlighted his unique style of rock, blues, folk and jazz, and also his ability as a sound engineer. Neil Young was impressed by Cale’s guitar virtuosity: “Of all the players I ever heard, it's gotta be Jimi Hendrix and J.J. Cale who are the best electric guitar players.” Cale’s greatest hit single was “Crazy Mama,” which hit #22 on the Billboard Hot 100. Eric Clapton, who often collaborated with Cale, was also a great fan of his. “He was a fantastic musician,” Clapton said. “And he was my hero." Cale’s last studio album was Stay Around (2019), released posthumously. J.J. Cale passed on July 26, 2013.
25. Rick Derringer (Edgar & Johnny Winter)
Rick Derringer, guitarist, songwriter and producer, has been a rocker since 1965 when he helped form the McCoys, whose song “Hang on Sloopy,” was a #1 hit. Then in the 1970s Derringer produced “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo” another hit single. He often joined forces with Edgar Winter and Johnny Winter, playing lead guitar and producing their records. He also discovered celebrities such as Cyndi Lauper and “Weird Al” Yankovic; he also worked with Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren and Meatloaf, and he hung out with Andy Warhol’s circle. Derringer has said that his favorite guitar solo was on “Making Love Out of Nothing at All.” Derringer has produced 13 solo albums, and in recent times he toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band. Also, in 2018, he went on tour with “HippieFest,” featuring himself, Vanilla Fudge, Mitch Ryder and Badfinger.