The guitar is a magical instrument, especially depending on its user. In the hands of the right person the guitar can sing, cry, laugh, and expound. Those greatest with the guitar are the ones who can control and use its powers wisely. Many such great musical magicians have sadly passed away, but their legends live on through their music.
Jerome Garcia was the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the rock outfit the Grateful Dead. Over three decades with the band, Garcia is likely the most recorded artist of all time with more than 2,000 Grateful Dead concerts and more than 15,000 hours of Garcia’s guitar work preserved. Garcia came from a folk and blue-grass background which appeared in many facets of his guitar work. Garcia battled drug addiction throughout his life, which contributed to his untimely death in 1995 at the age of 53.
Hendrix is undeniably the king of the electric guitar. He was a master with the guitar, making it sing, hum, hiss and explode like no other artist ever could. Hendrix once famously said “I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.” No single song underscores Hendrix’s abilities, but “All Along the Watchtower,” “Hey Joe,” and “Voodoo Child” are just a few of his masterpieces. Hendrix genius was interrupted only by his untimely death at the young age of 27 in 1970, joining the infamous club of perished musicians.
SRV took Hendrix’s abilities with the guitar and applied them to blues rock. As the guitarist for Double Trouble he recorded four studio albums including the epic Texas Flood. Vaughan had an uncanny ability to move furiously across the fret board without distorting any single blues note. “Love Struck Baby,” “Pride and Joy,” and the song “Texas Flood” are all magnificent pieces from that singular musical opus. Sadly, Vaughan’s success was not without difficulty as he fell victim to both drug and alcohol addiction. He overcame those personal struggles, but perished in a freak helicopter crash in 1990.
Duane’s career was short but sweet. As a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane’s usage of slide guitar rocketed the band to the forefront of the jam band circuit. His blues mentality and musical interplay with other guitarist Dickey Betts made the Allman Brothers Band a spectacle to behold in person. In addition to his work with the band, Duane contributed to a number of others artists’ music including the epic Derek and the Dominos album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” Sadly Duane’s career and life was struck tragically short by a motorcycle accident in 1971 at the age of 24.
The first great “modern” guitarist wasn’t well known during his lifetime. It was only after his passing at the age of 27 that Robert Johnson gained the utmost respect for his contributions to music. Johnson was master of the Mississippi Delta Blues, as described by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones “You want to know how good the blues can get? Well, this is it.” Johnson took the blues styling of the era and made them his own, incorporating swing and ragtime where he saw fit. Johnson passed in 1938; the true cause unknown, though foul play is suspected.