If you ask most guitar players, ‘who is the greatest guitarist ever’, most will bring up the names of people like Django, Wes Montgomery, Segovia, Hendrix, Hedges, Atkins, Satriani, Martino, Yepes….the list goes on and on. An argument could go for days on this issue and never be resolved.
Because I’ve played for so long, people often ask me questions like ‘who is the best’ ‘your favorite’ etc. I have a long list of who I like and could go into a long discourse on the intricacies of the different players virtues and strengths.
If anyone was to answer the question saying that they themselves were the best, people would probably think that the person had a severe ego problem. Well I’m going to put forward a very different way of answering that question, and it’s an answer that comes from a player not a listener. Usually when we talk about music we talk from a listeners point of view and yes music is about listening but there is another side to it.
I was talking to a friend of mine a few days back and she said that she got a shock when she first saw me play guitar. My first thought was, oh no, did I have one of those funny guitar faces or something. But after a bit of prompting, she said that she had never ever seen anyone play the guitar the way I do. I said ‘what do you mean?’ she said, ‘it looked like the guitar was an extension of your body, that there was no difference between you and your guitar’. At first I thought, hey nice compliment, but it got me thinking.
From a players perspective playing guitar can be a very powerful experience. For me music is about feelings, it is the foremost thing that counts, and yes there is a need to develop a technique that can be a vehicle to express the feelings, but in the end we are ‘feeling beings’ and that is what we seek most, to expess our emotions. There have been times over the years that I have played in groups and line ups that were not really suitable for me, not because I couldn’t play the music but because I couldn’t feel the emotions that the particular style required. Durng these times I felt very empty and uncomfortable.
Music comes in waves, it’s not constant, it’s not something that is on tap whenever you want it. It’s possible to always play well and emotively but I could honestly say that music is not always there. Sometimes when I play guitar it’s like standing in a gateway between two worlds and talking from one to the other. There is a very weird release of something that creates a feeling of euphoria, at times it’s so strong that I could almost weep and as if my heart was bleeding, not in a bad way but in a manner that my body wants to explode, even in the gaps between the notes. I once saw Carlos Santana play live about 30 years ago, he played Europa, it was the first time I’d heard it, my eyes filled with tears. I have only had that a few times with western music, once with YoYo Ma playing cello and another time when I saw Andreas Bocelli sing for the first time, apart from that, the only other times have been when I play.
So, for the player it is or can be a very profound, more than just music experience. It can be a total experience that cannot really be expressed in words, and somehow as a musician I wish that I could share with you what I actually experience. It’s like vacating your body and hiring it out to some musical experience.
So I’d like to give a response to the question ‘Who is the greatest guitar player?’ And my response is said in all sincerity, I’d have to say that anyone that also experiences that feeling that I experience would no doubt be the greatest guitarist, because at the moment when a player is experiencing what I am talking about they are totally in the heart of music. And music is about feelings, not about anything else.
Anyone that has been to this blog before may know about the song that I recorded for my beautiful son after he moved on to his next life. It was recorded in the dark and there are a few audio glitches but maybe the emotion I am talking of may come through.