The Baddest of the Bad, Top 5!



So, over on our Facebook Culture Catch page, I asked our fans to list their five favorite living guitarists. For me, they must still be recording, touring, and challenging themselves on the fretboard today, not yesterday. Our managing editor crushed me for not including Jimmy Page, who I hail as an unparalleled innovator once upon a time. Hey, Steve, they must be active and playing out right now. When was the last time Jimmy dropped a cool riff or run of memorable notes in a new song for anyone? He's certainly still capable. Here are my five favorite string benders in no particular ranking:

Nels Cline

NY-based Nels slings some serious git-action with Wilco, having recorded and toured with Tweedy since 2004. He also fronts several jazz duos and trios. I was lucky to see him jam with the Allman Brothers a few years ago at the Beacon Theater. He and Derek Trucks were remarkable together. He's got that angular tone of Tom Verlaine circa Television but the romantic bent of the great jazz guitarists like Jim Hall. His sometimes jazz duo partner, Julian Lage, is undoubtedly a top 10 guitarist in my book, too.

Derek Trucks

If you've been a fan of this website, you'll know my reverential appreciation for Mr. Trucks with his genius slide work with the Allman Brothers Band, his genre-defying solo gigs, and his latest blues-rock juggernaut with his wife Susan, the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Pound for pound, the baddest man roaming the jamband stages of the world!

Ryley Walker

I just heard about him last year, but I became an instant fan. His tone and texture, and his appreciation of John Fahey and Leo Kottke before him, resonate long and clear. With chops like this, this Chicago-based musician will certainly reach a more global audience. Nick Drake meets Richard Thompson? And speaking of...

Richard Thompson

An axe wizard on electric and acoustic guitars, this LA-based Brit continues to write dazzling music—albums and albums of new music—so much so that I'm still about five albums behind his latest output. His prowess was born in Fairport Convention back in the '60s, his duo with his then-wife Linda Thompson cemented his legacy, and his solo work continues to impress.

Gary Lucas

I've never not been in awe when Mr. Lucas picks up an electric or acoustic guitar and shares some of his magic. It was no accident that he got to play and record in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band. And he didn't write and record with Jeff Buckley because he didn't have soul. He might be the best guitarist you need to know a whole lot better—he lives in New York City but gigs all over the world.