09 January 2011

The Year of the Guitar? I Reckon So

Yes, of course it’s true that I was personally paying more attention to guitars in 2010 than at any other time in the past, but I don’t think it was just me. It first occurred to me this past October that there had really been rather a lot of guitar-related happenings, events, publications and releases in the course of the year. At that point I started paying more particular attention, and, sure enough, I discovered even more than I had previously realized. Almost everywhere I’ve looked, actually. Not since the late 80s, so far as I am aware, has there been such a surge of interest in listening to and learning how to play the guitar.

The rampant popularity of the Guitar Hero and Rock Band video games crested right around Christmas 2009, and I strongly suspect that many people were prompted by that excitement to learn how to play the real thing. It did work that way for me, that much I know; but again, I don’t think I'm unique in that respect. Take a look around, and you’ll find more “teach yourself to play guitar” resources, both in print and online, than you could shake a whammy bar at, many of them quite good (others, not so much, but they're out there). Old and new books on guitars and guitarists are likewise plentiful, with more appearing seemingly every few months. Check out the selections at Barnes & Noble and at Borders, or do a simple search on Amazon.com.

In any event, the guitar certainly didn’t die with Les Paul in August 2009. The legacy of that legendary guitarist and guitar craftsman continued with renewed vitality and vigor in 2010. That’s what I reckon. A case in point was a “Rock and Roll Party to Honor Les Paul” in June 2010, sponsored by Gibson Guitar and hosted by another legend of the instrument, Jeff Beck, at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, the Times Square nightclub that Les Paul played every Monday for 14 years. Beck will be taking the same show on the road in this New Year.

Jeff Beck also released a new studio album in 2010, Emotion & Commotion, his first in seven years. Eric Clapton released a new album, Clapton, and hosted his triennial “Crossroads Guitar Festival” at Toyota Park, Chicago, in June 2010. And Jimmy Page published his autobiography, regrettably in a pricey limited edition, but nevertheless. Page also helped to usher in the year with It Might Get Loud, a movie he made with the Edge (of U2) and Jack White (of the White Stripes), on the art of playing the guitar. So Clapton, Beck and Page are still at it, 40-plus years after hitting their groundbreaking stride in the 60s.

Jimi Hendrix has often been identified as the greatest electric guitarist of all times. Whether or not that’s true, he’s been dead for decades, yet, even he managed to release a number of new albums in 2010, by way of the official Hendrix-family-authorized productions of his recordings.

Ronnie Woods (variously of the Rolling Stones, the Faces, the Jeff Beck Group, and on his own), released his first album since 2001, I Feel Like Playing, with guest appearances from Slash, Flea, Billy Gibbons, Kris Kristofferson, Eddie Vedder, et al. Another Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, released a solo album, Vintage Vinos, and published his autobiography, Life. And Ozzy Osbourne published his, I Am Ozzy, almost as much the story of Tony Iommi and Randy Rhoads as the singer himself. Speaking of the late great Randy Rhoads, 2010 also saw re-releases of the now classic Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman, finally remastered with the original bass and drums, though not yet readily available in the United States.

On his new album, Scream, Ozzy introduced his new guitarist, Gus G, who also released a new album with Firewind, Days of Defiance. Gus G is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to shredding, but he shares some of his knowledge and experience with learners on a new Rock House Method set of DVDs, focusing on “Lead & Rhythm Techniques.”

Similarly, Gary Hoey released a new album, Utopia, and a Rock House Method set of DVDs, entitled The Need for Lead: Phrases, Hooks & Melodies. (How is it that I somehow managed never to have heard of Gary Hoey until this year? He is an outstanding and entertaining guitarist, and he’s been around for a good many years.) Nevermore released The Obsidian Conspiracy, and that group’s gifted guitarist, Jeff Loomis, also produced a Rock House Method set of DVDs, Extreme Lead Guitar: Dissonant Scales & Arpeggios.

Not only the classic guitar triumvirate of Clapton, Beck and Page, but the modern equivalent, Malmsteen, Satriani and Vai, also released new material in 2010. Yngwie Malmsteen came out with Relentless toward the end of the year; Joe Satriani gave us Black Swans and Wormhole Wizards in the fall; and Steve Vai released the video, Where the Other Wild Things Are, a companion to 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are. Vai also taught a special master class at “Guitar Nation Live 2010” (in the United Kingdom), and now, as 2011 begins, he’s teaching an online class for the Musicians Institute of Los Angeles.

Steve Vai also plays with the young Australian girl wonder, Orianthi, on the song “Highly Strung,” from her excellent album, Believe. A second revised “edition” of Believe was released in 2010, a testimony to Orianthi’s growing popularity. She deserves the attention. She’s that good.

Though not always mentioned in the same breath as Malmsteen, Satriani and Vai — but he should be! — the shredmaster Paul Gilbert treated us to his latest release, Fuzz Universe, in the late summer of 2010. Seriously, any year with new releases by both Satriani and Gilbert is a great guitar year! Another of their peers, Eric Johnson, released Up Close in 2010.

But wait. There's more! Look what else we got:

Slash released a new self-titled album, getting by with a little help from his illustrious friends on the microphone, and Santana released Guitar Heaven, likewise with various guest vocalists, doing covers of some of the great classic guitar songs.

Blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa released a new solo album, Black Rock, and also played his six-string as a member of the new “supergroup,” Black Country Communion, on its self-titled debut. Both albums hearken back to the glory days of classic rock, as do a number of other new groups that have recently surfaced. Taddy Porter, the Gracious Few, Black Water Rising, Stereoside, just to name a few, all had releases in 2010. These are groups that clearly cut their teeth on Zeppelin, Sabbath and AC/DC, who also have the chops and the artistic and creative skills to own that classic sound and run with it.

Ozzy’s guitarist for the past two decades, Zakk Wylde, released a great new album, Order of the Black, with his own band, Black Label Society. Jerry Cantrel and his band, Alice in Chains, returned in 2010 with Black Gives Way to Blue. Guitarist Christ Duarte released his new album, Infinite Energy. And the great Peter Frampton released his latest, Thank You Mr. Churchill.

Mention must be made of Mike Tremonti, guitar guru for both Creed and Alter Bridge. In 2010, he served up the music on Alter Bridge’s new album, ABIII, and their Live in Amsterdam DVD.

Guitarist Lee Ritenour released 6 String Theory, a special project celebrating what it describes as “the world’s most popular instrument.” Joining Ritenour in this tribute to the guitar, the all-star line-up includes George Benson, BB King, Slash, Steve Lukather, John Scofield, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray and Vince Gill, as well as other superstars. Together they blend rock, blues, jazz, acoustic, country and classical into a seamless project that takes the listener on a musical exploration of the guitar. Debuting on 6 String Theory is sixteen-year-old Shon Boublil, the grand prize winner of Ritenour’s “Six String Theory Guitar Competition.”

On the country music scene, three of the most popular artists are especially well-known and notable for their guitar prowess: Brad Paisley, Keith Urban and Zac Brown, each of whom had a new releases in 2010. Those guys could hold their own cutting heads with any one out there. On the whole, both traditional and modern country music tends to be as guitar-oriented as anything happening in rock and roll. One of the best albums of the year was The Guitar Song, a double set by traditional country artist Jamey Johnson.

The “Big 4” of heavy metal — Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax — remarkably went on tour together in the summer of 2010, and a DVD of their show was released in the fall. They’ll be bringing the show to the United States in the new year. Then there's the sweet sounds of Synester Gates and Zacky Vengeance, who unleashed their most recent Nightmare with their band, Avenged Sevenfold. Iron Maiden released Final Frontier, and the Scorpions released Sting in the Tail. Can Judas Priest be far behind? George Lynch (of Dokken and Lynch Mob) released his first instrumental rock guitar album, Orchestral Mayhem, applying his electric guitar and metal techniques to various classic pieces.

Finally, as far as the evidence I’ve gathered, Legacy Learning Systems released a new “Gibson” edition of their magnificent Learn & Master Guitar program. This is what I am using, not only for myself but also with my children, with steady success (hindered only by my busy schedule).

Readers can reckon for themselves,
but I hereby dub 2010 the “Year of the Guitar.”

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