How These Guitar Gods Started Their Musical Journey
Acoustic geniuses, virtuosos, shredders, riff masters, straight up rockers, the finger tappers, the string benders, the whammy wranglers, whatever they may be referred as, this species never ceases to amaze. Better known as “Guitar Gods”, they are the true masters of their craft and inspire millions of followers across the globe through their music. Most of us think they were born with talent and just brushed their skills to reach such heights. But that’s not true. They all had humble beginnings and worked their way up by sheer hard work, dedication and practise of their craft. Their style, innovation, actual guitar skills and signature sounds excited the imagination of countless individuals and kindled a flame to pick up the guitar.
Based on how impactful these guitarists have been among a larger number of guitar players and with their influence on world music, we decided to list the Guitar Gods (in no particular order) and share with you how they started their musical journey. By singling them out, we honour their contribution to world music, and at the same time remember these legends and treasure the amazing music they have given us.
In 1952, Page’s family moved to Miles Road, Epsom in Surrey and eight-year old James came across his first Spanish Guitar in this house. He practised six to eight hours a day at that time with a bunch of musicians from school and was soon good enough to cover Elvis Presley hits on his guitar. By 13, he was playing gigs with local bands and at 15, decided to leave secondary school to pursue music. In 1962, he began touring with ‘The Crusaders’ and continued to do so for two years. During this stint he fell severely ill and couldn’t continue touring, He took an 18-month break from music. Soon he was one of the most favored session guitarists and played for Who, The Kinks, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. In 1965, Eric Clapton quit The Yardbirds and Page was offered this spot. After the sad demise of his fellow band mates over the years, in 1968 he recruited Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham and renamed the new Yardbirds as “Led Zeppelin”. The rest was history. Led Zeppelin went on to become one of the best-selling groups in history of audio recording. They became the second best-selling band in the United States. With all 9 studio albums reaching the top 10 of the US Billboard album charts, six of them even made it to the top. They remained commercially and critically successful in the 70s and did record-breaking concert tours. Following the death of Bonham in 1980, Led Zeppelin broke up. Jimmy Page continued to collaborate and contribute through his guitar playing and music production skills. He is one of the most respected and influential guitarist and music producer of all times. He was one of the major driving forces behind the rock sound in his era.
Led Zeppelin Live Performance - January 9th, 1970
Charles Edward Anderson Berry (October 18th, 1926 – March 12th, 2017) was one of the pioneers of Rock and Roll music. He was credited with combining various elements of rhythm and blues and making rock and roll distinctive. His music style was unique and included guitar solos and showmanship. From an early age Berry had a keen interest in music. While he was still in high school, he was convicted of armed robbery and sent to a reformatory where he stayed from 1944-1947. After his release, Berry decided to settle into a married life and took up a job at an automobile assembly plant. By early 1953, influenced by Blues musician T-Bone Walker, he began performing with the Johnnie Johnson Trio. In May, 1955 he travelled to Chicago and met Muddy Waters who referred him to Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Berry went on to record “Maybellene” with Chess, which sold over a million copies and also reached number one at the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Charts. By late 1950s he was a big star and gave several hits. He was again sent to prison in 1962, under the Mann Act and was released in 1963. After this, he released several more hits, but did not achieve the same success. In 1979, he was given a four month jail sentence and community service for tax evasion as he insisted payments in cash. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in 1986 and Berry was amongst the first musicians to be inducted. He was credited as a pioneer of Rock and Roll music who most closely captured the real essence of it and became an inspiration and influence on other guitarists and music producers. Legends like Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, David Bowie, Bryan Adams, and The Kinks were among many that covered Berry’s songs and released them. Berry was found dead in his apartment on March 18, 2017, due to a cardiac arrest. The loss to the music fraternity was immense but the legend of Chuck Berry could never be forgotten.
Chuck Berry - Live at the Toronto Peace Festival, 1969
Born on 30th March 1945, Eric Clapton stayed with his grandparents in Surrey. For his thirteenth birthday, he received a steel stringed instrument which was difficult to play, and he briefly lost interest. Two years later he again picked up the instrument and practised rigorously. He was influenced by Blues from an early age. In 1961, he was dismissed from Kingston College of Art because his main focus was on music rather than art. He began performing as a duo with blues enthusiast David Brock in Surrey. Later in 1963, he went on to play with multiple bands and performed gigs on a regular basis. He was only 18 then. In 1963, he also joined Yardbirds and because of his distinctive style he rapidly became one of the most talked about guitarists in the British music scene. Since, the Yardbirds decided to move towards a more pop oriented sound, Clapton chose to part ways with the band in mid-1965. He joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and also collaborated with multiple artists and gained his reputation as the best blues guitarist in the music scene. In July 1966, Clapton formed a new band Cream and continued to develop as a singer, songwriter and blues guitarist. By early 1967, Hendrix’s arrival into the music scene had an immediate and major effect on the next phase of Clapton’s career. In 28 months, Cream sold millions of records and performed extensively in the US and Europe. They were a commercial success and redefined the role of an instrumentalist in a band. He played as a session musician for many famous artists including The Beatles. Blind Faith was formed in 1969, only to dissolve after seven months post multiple concerts and releases. Derek and the Dominos was formed in the 70s and shot up the charts. In the 70s, Clapton was troubled by romantic longing and drugs and alcohol addiction. After 1975, he continued to record albums and toured on a regular basis. After struggling extensively with alcohol addiction, Clapton continued his musical journey and collaborated with great names like George Harrison, Phil Collins, Bee Gees, Roger Waters and many more. Clapton has been a recipient of 18 Grammy Awards and has been referred to as one of the most important and influential guitarists of all times. He is the only artist who has been inducted thrice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At 75, he is considered as one of the greatest guitarists ever in the music scene and is a major influence for young musicians.
Eric Clapton - 16th May 2019, London, Royal Albert Hall
Born on November 27th, 1942, James Marshal Hendrix was an American guitarist, singer and song writer. He is regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in history of music and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th Century. He began playing when he was 15. He played for hours daily and listened to blues masters like B.B.King, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. When he formed his first band The Velvetones, he felt the need of acquiring an electric guitar. When he was 19, he was caught twice by the law authorities riding in stolen cars. In 1961, given a choice of prison or joining the army, he enlisted himself in the US Army and trained as a paratrooper. He was released in a year. In 1963, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, formed a band, and played low paid gigs. In 1964, he did extremely well at the Apollo Theatre amateur contest. He played with various bands in the club circuit sighting an opportunity to secure a career. In 1964, he also landed his first big recording, but failed to reach the charts. He joined the Isleys and toured with them. Next couple of years he kept collaborating with other artists and making television appearances. By 1966, Jimi was struggling to earn a living playing in R and B circuits. Later in London, Chas Chandler, who was keen on managing and producing artists and wanted to highlight Jimi’s playing capability, began recruiting the members to form “The Jimi Hendrix Experience.” This band enjoyed great success in the UK. In 1967, he released the most commercially successful and his only number one album in the US. He soon became the World’s Highest Paid Performer. But died at an early age in 1970, when he was just 27. The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. He is often ranked as the greatest guitarist of all times.
Jimi Hendrix - Live at The Newport Festival, 1969
Many musicians receive “the call” – the endless desire to become a musician. Their dreams and aspirations give them energy and direction. They may be haunted by demons like illness, demotivation, mental and emotional issues, financial issues, negative feedback and criticism. Failure may come because of external factors, but pushing the boundaries forces them to develop and discover resources to help them, including guides and mentors to overcome the demons and cross all thresholds, and learn to transform failures into the most valuable resource and succeed.
Hope this post motivates you to keep doing what you love doing and keep expanding the horizons of opportunity despite hindrances in your way. Keep growing, keep fighting, and keep working hard, just like our “Guitar Gods.”
We will keep sharing regular updates, latest news and more stories on world music here. So stay tuned, keep enjoying the good music and watch this space for more.
By: Atul Pandey