When we think of rock and roll, electric guitar legends like Page, Hendrix, and Satriani immediately come to mind. However, there are many other guitar gods who have made significant contributions but remain overshadowed. Rhythm players, often overlooked in favor of lead guitarists or charismatic frontmen, play a vital role in setting the band’s tone. Today, we shed light on the underappreciated guitarists in rock history, such as Bob Weir and Malcolm Young, who have not received the recognition they deserve. Get ready to discover the unsung heroes of rock guitar.
Bob Weir, known for his role as half of the iconic guitar duo in the Grateful Dead, has been active in the music industry since the band’s formation in the mid-1960s. Despite his contributions to the band’s success and his role in crafting beloved songs, Weir has often been overshadowed by his bandmates, particularly Jerry Garcia. Even in the post-Garcia era with Dead and Company, Weir finds himself sharing the spotlight with newcomer John Mayer. However, those who have listened to Weir can attest to his exceptional talent, proving he deserves more recognition.
When people think of Aerosmith, the names Joe Perry and Steven Tyler often come to mind first. However, longtime guitarist Brad Whitford deserves recognition for his significant contributions to the band. Joining Aerosmith in their early days, Whitford co-wrote notable songs like “Last Child” and “Round and Round.” Although he briefly left the band in the early ’80s, Whitford returned in 1984 and has been a core member ever since. His talent extends beyond Aerosmith, having collaborated with renowned musicians and earning composing credits for various bands. Whitford’s lead guitar skills and driving rhythms have been crucial to the classic Aerosmith sound, making him an integral part of the band’s success.
Despite crafting iconic guitar riffs that define an era, Robby Krieger of The Doors is often overlooked among top guitarists. Joining the band in their early years, Krieger’s innovative and groovy riffs filled the absence of a bass player. Unfortunately, his talent was overshadowed by the charisma of frontman Jim Morrison. After Morrison’s death, Krieger’s unique songwriting skills came to the forefront as The Doors continued. Beyond his work with the band, Krieger’s solo career blends rock, reggae, and jazz, earning critical acclaim. Krieger’s musicianship proves he is more than a supporting player and deserves recognition beyond his association with The Doors.
Paul Kantner stands among the finest rhythm guitarists in rock and roll. As a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, he played a vital role in shaping the psychedelic sound of the 1960s. Kantner’s songwriting and steady presence complemented Jorma Kaukonen’s leads, propelling the Airplane’s success. He continued his musical journey with Jefferson Starship, contributing numerous songs and even co-writing hits for other iconic bands. Despite not receiving the same recognition as his bandmates, Kantner’s guitar work and songwriting prowess were undeniable. His legacy lives on as a testament to his unparalleled rhythm playing in rock history.
Andy Summers, renowned as The Police’s guitarist, has been a familiar name in the rock scene for years. His musical journey began with jazz influences, followed by studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Summers played with various acts before joining The Police, earning multiple Grammy Awards with the band.
While The Police’s fame endured, Summers often goes unrecognized compared to Sting and Stewart Copeland. However, his creative prowess didn’t end with the band’s disbandment. Summers has continued to release innovative music, showcasing his versatility and incorporating jazz influences throughout his solo career spanning 15 albums.
In The Police, Summers crafted guitar lines around Sting’s bass, resulting in a distinctive punk-reggae fusion. Yet, his solo work demonstrates his ability to infuse songs with texture, presence, and lead guitar prowess. Summers is a complete musician in his own right, far beyond being solely Sting’s former guitar player.
Despite a career spanning over three decades, Jimmy Herring remains relatively unknown to many outside the jam band scene. His journey began in the late 1980s as a co-guitarist in The Aquarium Rescue Unit alongside Col. Bruce Hampton. Herring’s contributions extend to projects like Jazz Is Dead and his connections to the Grateful Dead universe.
Herring stepped into Jerry Garcia’s shoes during The Other Ones era and collaborated with Phil Lesh in Phil Lesh and Friends. Since the mid-2000s, he has been the co-guitarist for Widespread Panic, showcasing his unique brand of Southern-inspired rock on over 20 albums.
Sharing the stage with notable musicians like Derek Trucks, Bob Weir, Oteil Burbridge, and John McLaughlin speaks volumes about Herring’s exceptional talent. It’s regrettable that he remains underrated and unrecognized as a guitarist in the rock community today.
Mike Campbell, born in 1950, is a highly accomplished yet underappreciated guitarist in the history of rock and roll. Renowned as the rhythm guitarist for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers throughout their entire career, Campbell’s talent often played second fiddle to Petty’s fame. Despite this, Campbell’s mastery of driving rhythms and occasional solos has earned admiration from fellow guitarists.
In addition to his work with Petty and The Heartbreakers, Campbell has collaborated with iconic acts such as Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, and Warren Zevon. He notably composed the music for “The Boys of Summer,” which Eagles drummer Don Henley recorded. Following Petty’s passing, Campbell formed his own band, Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs, where he continues to showcase his songwriting skills and steady rhythm playing. His ability to deliver technical solos further solidifies his musical prowess.
Robert Fripp, born in 1946, redefined rock and roll as the driving force behind King Crimson. His unconventional guitar style blended rock, jazz, and classical elements, establishing him as an innovator of progressive rock. With a solo career and notable collaborations, Fripp’s technical prowess and musical vision have left an enduring impact. From King Crimson to the prestigious G3 tour, Fripp’s talent shines as a true rock legend.
Malcolm Young, co-founder of AC/DC, played an indispensable role in their rock and roll legacy. Alongside his brother Angus, he wrote the band’s hits and provided the thundering rhythms that defined their sound. While Angus stole the spotlight with his guitar solos and antics, Malcolm’s steady presence was the backbone of AC/DC’s success. Recognized as a rock rhythm icon, his contributions continue to resonate even after his passing in 2017.
Susan Tedeschi, an exceptional guitarist and songwriter, has defied the male-dominated landscape of rock and roll. Despite her immense talent, she often goes unrecognized compared to less deserving male counterparts. Tedeschi’s musical journey began at a young age, and her blues band released a debut album in 1998. With seven Grammy nominations and a win with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, she has proven her prowess. Tedeschi’s unique blend of blues, R&B, and soul showcases her as a guitar goddess in the genre.
Kerry Livgren, a member of Kansas, is responsible for iconic 1970s hits like “Carry On Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind.” His songwriting prowess defined the decade. Livgren co-founded Kansas and remained with the band until their initial breakup. He later formed AD, a band with Christian themes, and released solo albums. Despite limited commercial success, Livgren’s innovative songwriting and exceptional lead playing set him apart. While he may be overlooked by mainstream lists, his guitar mastery in Kansas solidifies his place in rock history.
Leslie West, born in 1945, made a lasting impact on rock music. Known for his powerful presence and guitar skills, he gained fame with the band Mountain and their hit “Mississippi Queen.” Their performance at Woodstock solidified their place in history. Although subsequent albums didn’t match the success of their debut, West remained highly respected among fellow guitarists like Eddie Van Halen. Surprisingly, his music has also been sampled by hip-hop artists like Kanye West and Jay-Z. West’s untimely death in 2020 marked the loss of a rock legend, leaving behind a lasting influence across genres.