Jerome John Garcia, known to Deadheads as “Jerry,” is none other than the lead guitarist for the Grateful Dead, which rose to fame during the counterculture era in the swinging 1960s. While he wasn’t one for the spotlight, Garcia was seen as the “spokesman” for the group. Garcia was born in San Francisco in 1942 and enjoyed a 30-year career with Grateful Dead, even playing Woodstock in August 1969! Did you know he was almost electrocuted during their set because of the heavy rain?
Over the course of his career, Garcia experimented with sounds, fusing Spanish guitar with bluegrass, jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll in his guitar playing. His sound is unique and recognizable to many. But it was his influence on the cultural scene in SF at the time throughout the “Summer of Love” which brings him into our top 43. Sadly, Garcia had some health issues and substance addictions, which accumulated and eventually led to a heart attack in 1995. He was just 53 years old.
Born Ellas Otha Bates, this Chicago-born American singer and guitarist wrote and produced all of his own music. More importantly, Diddley helped usher in rock and roll from blues. It’s noted that he influenced artists such as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and The Clash! With a nickname like “The Originator”, it’s fitting that his use of African rhythms and signature beat (five-accent hambone rhythm) is now a cornerstone of hip-hop, rock, and pop music today.
He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame and has received a Grammy! His groovy tunes include titles such as “Bo Diddley,” “Road Runner” and “Who Do You Love?” It’s said that his songs “unleashed a West African groove” because they were catchy and stayed with you. Did you know that his music went on to inspire Keith Richards and Buddy Holly, among others, to pick up the guitar?
Dick Dale was actually a stage name for the man born Richard Monsour. Of Lebanese and Polish-Belarusian descent, he was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1937. The man we know today as the force behind “surf rock” was ironically born on the East Coast. His family, however, did make the move to Southern California, where he learned to surf in his later teenage years. Music was in his blood from a young age – he learned the piano at age nine, was given a trumpet in seventh grade, and later won a ukulele.
His uncle helped him with his musical education, teaching him how to play the tarabaki (a Middle Eastern drum) and the oud. His knowledge of all these instruments influenced the sound he produced. He regularly used Middle Eastern music scales and experimented heavily with reverb. During his career, he even worked with Fender to produce custom amplifiers – including the first 100-watt guitar amplifier! Now go on and listen to “Misirlou,” and you’ll be transported to the beach.
As soon as we read his name, we can just hear the opening notes to “Tears in Heaven.” Born in Surrey, England, in 1945, the next man on our list is the famed rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Eric Patrick Clapton. He’s the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – for being a solo artist, as a member of the Yardbirds, and as a member of Cream. Over the years, he has created stunningly simple melodies out of base notes and chord progressions.
As we’ve researched our list, we’ve found that the very best guitarists have trained in blues or adopted a bluesy style in rock ‘n’ roll. Clapton fuses both styles effortlessly, creating music for the ages. Funnily enough, when Clapton was part of Cream, playing alongside two jazz guitarists, he recognized that he was “just trying to keep up.” Now, that's saying something! Having a lifelong odyssey discovering the guitar, Clapton is a true guitar god.
Anthony Joseph Pereira, or better known by his stage name Joe Perry, was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1950. Who would’ve thought he’d go on to found and play lead guitar for the American rock band Aerosmith? Well, not many, but the “Bad Boys from Boston” sure rocked the charts, not to mention the world! Being part of such an iconic band from the 70s is no mean feat – did you know that Aerosmith has sold over 150 million albums worldwide?
With the iconic pipes of Steven Tyler by his side, it was undoubtedly going to end in success for them both. Rolling Stone magazine once said that Perry’s riffs are like “blues-on-steroids.” His sound has that Jeff Beck familiarity, combined with his own unique spin on playing the guitar. All in all, the guy is rock royalty. As for his hit songs with the band, well- you can’t go past “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” “Dream On,” “Walk This Way,” and “Janie’s Got a Gun.”