Hendrix tops the list, followed by Duane Allman and on down. No great shock there.
But nestled in at No. 8, right behind Stevie Ray Vaughan and ahead of Jimmy Page and Keith Richards, sits Ry Cooder.
Well, it was no surprise to his fans.
“In Ry Cooder’s hands, the guitar becomes a time machine,” Rolling Stone wrote. “Ever since he began as a teen prodigy in the Sixties, he has been a virtuoso in a host of guitar styles going back to the most primal bottleneck blues, country, vintage jazz, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, Bahamian folk music and countless other styles.”
Cooder is in fact one of the unsung masters of blues-based rock — and, to his credit, has very much mastered a score of other genres along the way.
Starting his career alongside Taj Mahal, he went on to play with some of the biggest names in the business, from John Lee Hooker and John Hiatt, to Little Feat and Nick Lowe.
Cooder played with the Rolling Stones on a number of their legendary albums, and even tought Keith Richards open-G tuning, which was key for many of the Stones’ most memorable tunes. Cooder himself played on a number of them, including the mandolin on the classic cover “Love in Vain.”
Jammin’ With Edward, his 1968 jam session recording with the Stones’ Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Mick Jagger, and along with piano man Nicky Hopkins, remains one of the greatest unknown blues albums.
He’s also scored a number of Hollywood films, including Paris, Texas and Crossroads, where his slide guitar work highlights the soundtrack.
But part of what has defined Cooder’s career is his passion for music outside the realm of blues-rock.
He’s comfortably delved into everything from Calypso to gospel. His flirtation with traditional Cuban music grew into a love affair in the late 1990s, when his jam session with top musicians in the island nation evolved into the Buena Vista Social Club — a hit documentary and soundtrack.
Not one to sit still, he continues to record and tour.
Personally, I feel he’s still at his best doing acoustic blues.
But say what you will, the man earned his spot atop the greatest guitarists of all time.
Just ask Rolling Stone.
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(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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