Blues guitar virtuoso Derek Trucks turns 40 on Saturday, June 8. His birthday coincides with my college reunion, establishing a great starting place for resurrecting lively midnight dorm discussions of the world’s greatest guitar players. Just because Derek Trucks was the nephew of longtime Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks and was named after Eric Clapton and Duane Allman’s super group, “Derek and the Dominoes did not necessarily guarantee success”. However, his passion for music and respect for the black guitar masters earned Trucks a spot on stage with the Allman Brothers at age 12. Here’s Derek playing Layla at age 13.

He became part of the Allman Brothers’ triumphant revival in 1999 which lasted until 2014 when Trucks decided to devote full-time efforts to the Tedeschi Trucks band with his singer/guitarist spouse, Susan Tedeschi.

Rolling Stone’s most recent guitarist list ranked Trucks 16th best of all-time. Voters included Trey Anastasio (Phish), Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), Rick Derringer (Yes, he’s still alive), Roger McGuinn (so is he) Joe Perry (miraculously) Melissa Etheridge, Lenny Kravitz, Nils Lofgren and Nancy Wilson (Heart).

Trucks major influences were slide master Elmore James, jazz great Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian (for whom Derek named his son), and above all, Albert King. Says Trucks “Guitar players who don’t know the lineage are playing Albert King’s stuff. They think they got it from Stevie Ray Vaughn, or from Hendrix or Eric. But no; that’s Albert King.” Regarding BB King, Trucks observes “You hear the old adage, ‘You don’t want to meet your heroes,’ and it’s usually true, but with BB King, you do want to meet your hero because you felt better about life. He was a total sweetheart.”

Who are the greatest?
Jimi Hendrix topped the Rolling Stone poll as he does every poll. He’s followed by Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Keith Richards.
ScienceX, a leading science research website compiled the top five guitar players from averaging ten different online surveys. The results in order were Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Eddie Van Halen and Robert Johnson.

Observations on assorted greats
Hendrix started with a blues base and explored new dimensions that would provide direction and inspiration for future guitarists. His exploding guitar riffs paralleled the turbulent sixties, but he also created beautiful melodies- most notably “Little Wing.”

Robert Johnson the king of Mississippi Delta Blues became one of the most influential figures in American music. Unfortunately, like Hendrix he died at 27. Johnson was allegedly poisoned by a jealous husband.

Chuck Berry ranks in the top ten of many polls. He defined rock and roll music for an entire generation, taking Chicago Blues and adding a strong country inflection to create his signature sound. His 1955 debut “Maybelline” was followed by numerous hits including “Roll Over Beethoven ” and “Johnny B. Goode”. Interestingly his only number one single was “My Ding-a-Ling”.

George Harrison scores very well on most surveys including #11 on the RS poll. He always stayed true to Carl Perkins’ rockabilly influence while also fueling the Beatles’ creative growth through his studio experimentation.

I was shocked Keith Richards is so highly ranked however Nils Lofgren’s description of Richards playing in “Gimmee Shelter” set me straight: ” I don’t think anyone has ever created a mood so dark and sinister”.

Freddie Mercury is enjoying quite the revival based upon the fabulous film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody”. However, guitar experts note that Brian May’s raging guitar shrieks were just as important to the success of Queen. Guitar rankings put May anywhere from 35th to 2nd.

One Hell of a Band
Duane Allman ranks ninth on the RS ratings and third on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list. His bandmate Dicky Betts came in at a disappointing 58. However, Dicky will forever have the distinction of being the only person ever fired by the Allman Brothers for bad behavior.  Warren Haynes who played with Dicky and then led the band’s 21st century revival with Derek Trucks was 23rd on the RS survey.

I can already here the teeth gnashing over the omission of Townsend, Santana, etc.  

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