I shoulda learned to play the guitar. I shoulda learned to play them drums.

20 May

A list of my top 5 rock guitarists and drummers of all time.

Whittling the lists down to 5 each was an exhausting enough experience, so the artists are not actually ranked within the top 5. Instead, I have listed my choices alphabetically.


— Eric Clapton (The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, solo career)

‘Ole “Slow hand” had us on our knees long before “Layla.” Enjoy this 1968 Cream performance of “Sunshine of Your Love.”

— Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin)

Every single Led Zeppelin song has a fascinating guitar part. Check out a live version of “Dazed and Confused” for a real treat.

— Robbie Robertson (The Band)

Robbie Robertson was never awarded the guitar icon status that he deserved.  Watch him hold his own with Eric Clapton on “Further On Up the Road” in The Last Waltz.

— Carlos Santana (Santana)

Love that piercing, latin guitar sound. “Black Magic Woman” gets me every time.

–Pete Townshend (The Who)

King of the windmill, the scissor kick, and the guitar smash. See him in full antic mode on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from The Kids Are Alright. The knee slide near the 8:00 mark will give you chills.


–Ginger Baker (Graham Bond Quartet, Cream, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Air Force)

The song “Toad” from Cream’s debut album, Fresh Cream, is a five minute Baker drum instrumental. With nothing else. Because nothing else is needed.

–John Bonham (Led Zeppelin)

Keeping right up with Led Zeppelin’s stud of a guitar player was John  Bonham on the beats. Give his solo on “Moby Dick” a try.

–Keith Moon (The Who)

Ah, Moonie. Half the fascination with him comes from just watching his facial expressions while he plays, but his work is incredible too. His style was “explosive,” to say the least… check out his work on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (above). Pay close attention from 7:40 on.

— Michael Shrieve (Santana)

Watch Shrieve’s solo during Santana’s performance of “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock, and you will need no further convincing.

— Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer)

ELP have always been a bit underrated. But they get their due praise for “Karn Evil 9,” with Carl Palmer doing more than his part to earn it.



Note: Entry title lyric, “I shoulda learned to play the guitar, I shoulda learned to play them drums.” From “Money for Nothing,” Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms (1985).


2 Responses to “I shoulda learned to play the guitar. I shoulda learned to play them drums.”

  1. funkylefty May 21, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Nice blog in general! Unfortunately, you didn’t ay respect to a guitarist that absolutely destroyed all those that you put in your top 5– Jimi Hendrix. Clapton feared him, and Townsend couldn’t even carry his amp. Jimi Hendrix had RnB chops, touring with Little Richard, Ike and Tina Turner and the Isely Brothers. While those Englishmen were doing their best to “imitate” these acts, Jimi was TOURING with them. As far as technique, Hendrix far surpassed all that you mention.

    PETE TOWNSHEND: Seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time was a Hell of a lot of pain. That’s what I felt. I still feel it. I think that’s about it really. I hadn’t touched psychedelic drugs for a year when I saw him at some concert in Washington or somewhere in the States, and he was pulling those old psychedelic stunts again. And you have to see him to know what I’m talking about. He did things which were magical. I don’t think he knew he was doing them or that he could do them, but he’d do things with his body that were very, very beautiful to look at, yet accompanied by these incredibly wild noises. It was some kind of strange alchemy. He took the drug culture and made it into something by demonstrating that there was actually such a thing as physical poetry in rock, something that was very close to ballet. I’m not saying he danced ’cause he didret, but he was very beautiful to look at, and you felt pain in his presence and in the presence of that music. You felt small and you realized how far you had to go. What was also painful was to meet him afterwards and realize he didn’t know what he was doing. He had no idea of his greatness. There was also a feeling that he was going to bum out very, very quickly. He was so insecure and shy. Sweet guy. Really nice guy.

    QUESTION: Is it true you guys had a coin toss to decide who was going on first?

    PETE TOWNSHEND: Yeah. The coin toss actually has some kind of meaning after that eulogy to Jimi because that’s the way I feel about him now, and that’s the way I felt about him then. But I couldn’t deal with the idea that at this critical concert we might go on after him. And he said to me from his insecurity, “That’s not what you really mean. What you really mean is you don’t want me to go on first. You want to be first up there with the guitar smashing.” So I said, “Jimi, I swear to you that’s not what it’s about.” Brian Jones was standing with me and Jimi started to play. He stood on a chair in front of me and he started to play this incredible guitar, and it goes down in history as a jam session. I’ve heard Roger talk about it as a jam session. But it wasn’t a jam session. It wasjust Jimi on a chair playing at me. Playing at me like, “Don’t f*** with me, you little shit.” And, and then he snapped out of it and he put the guitar down and said, “Okay. Let’s toss a coin.” So we tossed a coin and we got to go on first. He then went on immediately after us. I don’t think there was anybody in between. So I went out to sit with Mama Cass to watch Jimi and as he started doing this stuff with his guitar, she turned around to me, she said to me, “He’s stealing your act.” And I said, “No, he’s not stealing my act. He’s doing my act.” (LAUGHS) And I think that was the thing. For me it was an act, and for him it was something else. It was an extension of what he was doing.

    Jimi was the man. Pay the proper respect!

  2. quinnie515 May 21, 2010 at 10:29 pm #


    Thanks for your response. I figured that a Hendrix omission might upset some people. Let me first point out that this is simply list of my top artists, and I do not expect or really even wish that everyone agree with my final selections.

    Pretty much everyone who has ever compiled a list of the “greatest guitarists of all time” lists Hendrix at #1. And he has influenced and been influenced by some of the greatest blues and rock guitarists (many of whom are my favorites). So I will not deny that he is a great and legendary performer.

    That being said, I have never much cared for Jimi Hendrix’s music or performances. He was too much a man of excess for my tastes, with all the pyrotechnics and drug use. I realize it would be foolish of me to deny that drugs and rock music are forever linked, especially when I have Led Zeppelin so well represented on this post. But Hendrix’s performances just seem too much of an “Experience.” I have given his music, both in live and studio recorded form, its fair chance. I do enjoy some of his songs, like “Purple Haze” and his cover of “Like a Rolling Stone,” but I find other songs downright irritating (“Voodoo Child” comes to mind). His guitar playing in those songs just sounds like noise to me. Loud but not altogether interesting.

    To recap, I recognize the skill and value that Hendrix brought to the Rock n Roll scene. I especially appreciate that he played with a blues style and has worked with or impressed some of my favorite bands (particularly The Who and Cream). But I do not enjoy his music. And I do not place him with my favorite guitarists, whose guitar playing and songwriting have had such a strong impact on my life.

    Many legendary guitarists are not present in this list. No Les Paul. No Chuck Berry. In a list of 5, some favorites will be left out by necessity. But I stand by my 5 guys. Feel free to attempt to sway me, if you wish. I will gladly check out any songs or performances that you recommend. I’m always seeking continue to my music self-education and am willing to re-evaluate my opinions whenever that’s warranted.

    Thanks again for your comments. Please continue to follow my blog!

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