I'm always asked about my favorite guitar players in interviews. Inevitably, I answer with names of the lead guitarists that have influenced me, whether it's Peter Green, Richard Thompson, Eric Clapton, Albert King and so on BUT I rarely talk about the guys who play rhythm guitar who totally inspire me. These are the people who often make it possible for those very same lead players to fly and improvise over the top of a really cool groove. On the other hand they can actually be the guys who say it all without the need for any lead work at all.
I'm thinking about one of my all time favorites; Malcolm Young of AC/ DC. Where would his brother Angus be, without Malcolm's rock solid, clean Gretsch tones, laying down an endless stream of faultless, attitude - laden raunch? Then there's Pete Towsend. I've said this before. Pete IS stadium rock! As a young Mod, I watched some of his first shows with the Who, in the London provinces. I'd stand 5 feet from him, watching him chord the parts to Heatwave or something. The Who would often open with that song, originally by Martha and the Vandellas. But it was when I heard the staccato attack of Pete's own song, Can't Explain that I was initiated into the wonders of the power chord. Held up high under his chin, that Rickenbacker twelve string would wake you right up as he punched out the opening chords. I'd never heard anything like that before. Later on during the set, he'd go on to destroy the instrument right in front of my very eyes and I'd never seen anything like that either. I recently checked out Pete laying down the groove on the song The Real Me - a YouTube recommendation.
Working backwards in time, one of the first rock and roll rhythm guitar - marvels to me, was Buddy Holly's outrageous solo in Peggy Sue. No lead noodlings required here. Buddy just cranked up a version of the chords he'd been playing in the verse, and let them speak. John Fogerty could do the same. Check out Proud Mary or Green River. John's right hand sets the groove. The whole song comes from this movement. It could stand up on its own without even adding drums or bass. Chuck Berry had it too, that chug a chug thing underpinning his rock & roll poetry, always reminded me of a train on a track, interspersed with car horns and train whistles when he wanted to punctuate the proceedings with some double string bends. The right hand pretty much kept up the same motion though.
Though George Harrison is a greatly underrated lead player, he constructed one of the best harmony lead lines to ever grace a song - I'm thinking of And Your Bird Can Sing. It's definitely also, some of his rhythm work that is so memorable, because it's always there, driving the song and punctuating the action. Think of Here Comes the Sun. Say no more.
Keith Richards still has it. That's for sure. He uses open tunings on his Telecaster but it's the right hand that lays down the groove. More attitude comes across from a guy playing simple meat - and - potatoes, rhythm guitar than any dilettante lead player, moving around on the stage, working with just one string at a time. A rhythm guitarist grabs a fistful of steel wires and wood, the chords vibrating up his or her forearms, filling the belly and rooting the band to the stage. That's what I'm talking about.
Talking of wood, and going way back into European jazz, you can hear and feel the wood of those Macceferri guitars, as Roger Chaput and Joseph Rheinhardt vamp up a storm behind Joseph's much better known brother, Django. They'd push him and his partner, violinist, Stephane Grappelli, to ever greater heights with their wonderful flights of improvisational gypsy jazz. Again, a stand - up bass helps the proceedings, but the essence of the music is contained in the forearm of the rhythm guitarists.
I'm personally known for some of my electric lead guitar solo work but some of the parts I'm most proud of, in our lexicon of work, include rhythmic stuff. I'm thinking of the opening chords to possibly our best known song, Blowin' Free. Then there's the rhythm work in the song Sometime World. There are loads of songs where I'm quite content chugging away in the background on rhythm guitar letting one of my many lead guitar partners take the limelight. It's been the same for them too, of course. To be a player in Wishbone, you need both. I'm thinking of things like Come in From the Rain, Perfect Timing, Another Time and of course the epic piece, which contains so many rhythm guitar dynamics in its arrangement, Phoenix.
So, guitarists, next time you berate yourselves for not having more lead licks in your guitarist's bag of tricks, pick up an acoustic guitar and just start strumming for all you are worth. It's a great feeling.