Guitar Solo Obsessions

Are there any particular guitar solos you’re obsessed with lately?

Here’s one I can’t stop listening to: Jim Hall’s solo on Sonny Rollins’ 1964 recording of “God Bless the Child.”

This may seem like a weird statement, given how much self-indulgent wanking infests this site, but I have a love/hate relationship with guitar solos. (Or more like a hate relationship leavened by occasional stirrings of love.) That’s especially true with singer/songwriter tracks. A good song drags you into its emotional world, and so often it strikes me as emotionally jarring to suspend the drama for a fretwork display. It can be like an ill-timed intermission in a great movie, as if you were watching Citizen Kane or Grand Illusion, and they paused the film two-thirds of the way through to bring out a juggling monkey.

That’s one reason I love this solo so much. Hall just plays beautifully all the way through. He’s like the Loch Ness Monster, undulating continuously just beneath the surface and gently lifting his head above the waterline when his moment comes.

Another is the sheer bravery with which Hall employs silence. Talk about pregnant pauses! It would be fascinating to transcribe only the rhythms of the solo, not even the pitches. The asymmetrical phrases. The late entries. It’s so suspenseful. So poignant. So unpredictable. So frickin’ brilliant.

He's such a genius, I almost feel guilty Photoshopping in a joke guitar.

He’s such a genius, I almost feel guilty Photoshopping in a joke guitar.

Equally amazing is liquid blend of chords and melodies. For many players, that’s a binary distinction: Either you’re soloing, or you’re comping. This is just…music.

But the thing that amazes me most of all, I think, is Hall’s mastery of register. Baroque music scholars sometimes refer to a technique known as “compound melody,” best exemplified in the music of — who else? — J.S. Bach. Compound melodies are melodic lines that imply multi-voice counterpoint, even when they’re strictly single notes. A tune might center in one register, then leap high or low, establishing a beachhead in another register before returning to the original one. It then bounces back and forth between the regions, almost as if two tunes were being played simultaneously on adjacent channels, with the listener flicking back and forth between them.

I’m not sure I’ve explained that coherently. But Hall does it.

Jim Hall’s students (including Bill Frisell, whose playing this track so vividly anticipates) report that he kept a sign inside his guitar case that read “Make musical sense.” For many of us, soloing is about practice, practice, practice, and then when the moment comes, we turn off part of our analytical mind and hope that our instincts and muscle memory huck up something acceptable. But I get the sense that Hall, in pursuit of “musical sense,” never turns off his analytical mind. That’s not to say his approach is cold or scientific—he wears his heart on his sleeve here! But he’s always intelligent and thoughtful.

It’s said that improvisation is spontaneous composition. Sure, sometimes. But it’s rarely this spontaneous, or this composerly.

Gotta listen one more time—BRB.

Yeah, it’s still amazing. :)

So what are your current guitar solo obsessions? Any style. Any skill level. Anything that makes you feel intense things.

64 comments to Guitar Solo Obsessions

  • This is beautiful! What Hall is doing, and many do not, is listening. Listening to everything, not just himself. He plays a little and it takes him places, and he follows. He’s not playing a bunch of rehearsed licks, even though some may be in his playing. He’s composing as he goes. :)

    Solos I like? I’ve heard you do some very nice mini-compositions as solos too. :) One of my favorite all time solos is the one you did in “Ya No Me Importa Nada” by Erica Garcia. I’ve listened to that one over and over. It makes perfect musical sense.

    • joe

      Oh, shucks. Jim Hall, I ain’t.

      But I love Erica’s Amorama album. Naturally, it came out RIGHT when the whole Argentine economy crashed, and it pretty much sank without a trace. Dang, there was so much talent on that record: Justin, Victor, and Roger from Beck’s band…Gustavo Santaolalla, a couple of years before he won two Best Score Oscars…Beck’s dad wrote the string charts. And Erica is such a total badass, a fine singer, a killer guitarist, and a great writer.

  • NicPic

    Two Guitar solos really haunt Me,..First up…Steve Lukather on Toto’s “I wont hold you back down”. It’s truyly amazing not only the choice of notes but, the tone and emotion he exudes in the small break alotted for the solo. Just am absolutely in love and sucked in by that crying,emotional lead break. Next up…Jeff Beck’s “Where were you” on his album “Guitar Shop”. It’s just pure tone heaven…outside of the rev/delay…theres no tricks…pure emotion. It’s a once in a life statement created by a true genius. Michael Schenkers “Desert Song” deserves honorable mention…sorry I rambled on…but I cant resist saying how much these guitar solo’s have seduced and haunted Me throughout My musical journey…Peace…

    • joe

      Oh man, that Jeff Beck solo! More than 20 years ago, I got to co-write the Guitar Player cover story on the Jeff/Stevie Ray tour, interviewing both guys, right after Guitar Shop came out. I saw the show three or four times, and Jeff’s performances were some of the most electrifying I’ve ever witnessed. That tune in particular. He’s not one of those players who “makes it look easy”—it’s more like he’s summoning every molecule of available energy to achieve those “impossible” high notes. He positively pulsated. It’s like watching a no-net tightrope act. Will he make it this time? (Spoiler alert: He usually does.)

      • NicPic

        I also put Michael Landau in that class…wich leads Me to ask why no one has interviewed him…not much is really known other than the scant information you find on his website…if you or anyone could interview him..I think it would be a great service to the guitar community…this guy has inspired Me for the last 30 years or so…

  • Mat

    I also find most guitar solos obnoxious… rarely do they add value to a song. The sound of self indulgence!

    One of the first that did grab me though was on Wall of Voodoo’s cover of Ring of Fire. A strange mix of jarring and atmospheric, grabbed my attention and demanded to be listened to!

    I also love the solo on Iggy Pop’s I wanna be your dog and the Kinks You Really Got Me (certainly don’t buy into the rumour that Pagey played it. Far too irrational in its execution). Nice and raw, kick you in the face solos. Also like the phasey solo on The Velvet Undergrounds What Goes On (have to steal that idea someday)!

    • joe

      Yeah, but do you buy the rumor that Pagey played the “Sympathy for the Devil” solo? ;)

      This year I got a chance to ask Marianne Faithfull — who was frickin’ there — about it. She sighed and said, “I just knew you were going to ask me something idiotic like that.”

      • Mat

        Ooh that’s a tough question to answer with any certainty! The Keith Richards/Chuck Berry video (where Chuck repeatedly scolds Keith for not pre-bending) makes me think it’s possible he didn’t play the solo on Sympathy. Not sure it sounds like Page either though? The rhythm guitar tone on Stray Cat blues sounds slightly similar(ish) to me so I wouldn’t be shocked either way?

        Has Marianne’s comment changed your mind at all?

        On a side note, I wonder whether Page’s silence is due solely to discretion or because it probably causes him to be accredited with far more than he actually did (although I gather he did play on a vast amount of successful records)?

    • el reclusa

      Marc Moreland was awesome, all the way around- WOV is vastly underrated, IMO.

      I’m glad somebody beat me to “What Goes On”- that triple-tracked, beautiful mess is where it’s at for me.

      I feel like total brown noser WAY too often around here, but the solo on Tom Waits’ “Black Wings” gives me goosebumps, even after a bajillion listens.

  • For some reason Mick Green’s solo on Ecstasy by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates has always stuck with me. Maybe its because at the time most solos on pop records in the UK were real simple single note lines and Mick played all kinds of arpeggiated chords, double stops and bends. Apparently their record is a cover of a Ben E. King song, which I only just found out and have never heard.

    • joe

      Wowee! I have never heard that! I love it! It starts out so normal, that gets more and more…not normal. He sounds like Ribot near the end. Thanks so much for sharing!

      Lookit — the song is by Doc Pomus and Phil Spector. Did anyone hear that NPR interview with the guy who wrote the Doc Pomus book? What a fascinating character Pomus was!

      You’re in the UK, right? Johnny Kidd and the Pirates are criminally unknown in the States, where we tend to think bad-ass British rock-and-roll guitar playing starting with “Satisfaction” and “You’ve Really Got Me.” But man, this is real ultra-violent stuff!

      • Very cool! Mick Green was a major influence on Wilko Johnson of Dr. Feelgood fame, from the raw tele tone to the chordal stabs…compare this to ‘Down by the Jetty’ off the Feelgood’s album of the same name.
        As for my solo obsessions, just about anything off Mickey Baker’s ‘Wildest Guitar’ album will suffice; it’s all instrumental, but the way he transitions from the heads to the solo and back is a master class in arrangement, whilst still rocking with amazing swagger and loony grin. Pretty epic.
        For rock’n’roll guitar my money’s with Ron Asheton on the Stooges ‘Funhouse’ lp; ‘Loose’ indeed! Brilliantly simple, tough and a perfect answer to Iggy’s vocal assault.

        • mwseniff

          Mick Green is amazing. I saw The Pirates in the 70’s when they had their resurrection and put out the LP Out of Their Skulls. I saw them at the Cellar Door in DC I believe, a tiny place. I also have a radio live show of them from good old WHFS radio of that show. Mick Green was out really hot that night it was a real treasure of a show for me they had the whole audience up and dancing (in a very limited space) no mean feat for that place and it’s regulars.

          My all time fave solo is Robert Fripp on Eno’s “Blank Frank” tho’ there is hardly a bad Fripp solo at least before KIng Crimson went to hell in it’s later years.

  • Oinkus

    That is some fantastic amount of control and thought. I guess I fall into the category of ignorant bliss as far as solos go.I have been stuck on the intro to Sweet Jane forever , Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner just as good as a live recording can get.Go back to the mid 70s and you will find Uli Jon Roth starting the whole classical guitar influences into hard rock (beginning of shredding) The Sails Of Charon is one of my favs. I also have this thing for Jimmy Pages solo in Fool in the Rain,think it is fantastic.

    • joe

      We think alike. I listened to about 20 versions of “Sweet Jane” the day Lou died. I considered a post, but I didn’t really have much to add. But I agree that the Hunter/Wagner team was amazing. (I’ve also heard a rumor that they performed a lot of the guitar parts on Aerosmith’s second album.) Did you know that Steve also concocted the brilliant “Solsbury Hill” acoustic guitar part?

      I heard Uli demoing some Pigtronix pedals at NAMM the year before last. He was playing mostly clean, and it was a real interesting glimpse into his style. There are extreme Hendrix influences, and he can play in a very loose, liquid fashion. Very musical.

    • Peter

      This has been for me a week of reflecting on Lou Reed. Rock & Roll Animal with Hunter/Wagner is perhaps my least favorite Lou Reed album. I realize this is probably an unpopular viewpoint and I don’t mean to be insulting in my rant. But those slick and stylishly pumped-up 70s guitar solos had no business stomping over Lou’s song writing. In my opinion they’re just inappropriate and not representational of the aesthetic behind that music.
      On the other hand “I Heard Her Call My Name” (from White Light/White Heat) features guitar solos I worship, and about as far away from Jim Hall as you can get while remaining on the same planet. (“…and then my mind split open”)

      I don’t care if some soloing is condemned as “self-indulgent”; sometimes its great to experience self-indulgence. Two sides of Quicksilver’s Happy Trails – yes please. Thurston and Lee jamming out for 20 minutes on the end of sonic youth’s “The Diamond Sea” – gorgeous.

      • joe

        I never got to meet Lou. He was famous for being…prickly, to put it mildly. Though my pal Robbie Burger played with him for years and loved him. I never interviewed him — I think because he demanded a cover story or nothing. But I did get to interview Sterling Morrison a couple of years before he died. He seemed to have an encyclopedic memory about the various Velvet Underground sessions, and he provided many details about the gear he and Lou used. I couldn’t find the story online anywhere, but here’s a screenshot of the issue. Maybe someone out there has a copy, and can scan/post?

        Guitar Player Sterling Morrison interview

    • NicPic

      I loved Sails of Charon ,Myself…Uli’s great…Im a huge Michael Schenker fan. All of Michael’s guitar solo’s are soulful and Iconic. If you forget for a moment he’s a rock guitarist…listen to his incredible licks…right from blues..His legato style is smooth…His tone was/is always incredible…His melodic style was always amazing too…I always liked him over other guys like Malmsteen. Whose music always seemed to bored Me…

    • Oinkus

      Hunter and Wagner were on some Alice Cooper albums and Hunter played the opening solo on Aerosmiths Train Kept a Rollin’ too. And NicPic I been a mid ranged focused freak since the 70s when I first heard Micheal Schencker got to love the slow break in the middle of Let It Roll , heck got to love any and all songs that start with feedback !

  • I have a hard time thinking about traditional solos I care much about. I am, however, borderline obsessed with Ira Kaplan’s brief, “out”, but effective solo on “From a Motel 6″: http://youtu.be/apTwaiAyyPI at about 1:59 Of longer form stuff, Ira is probably one of my favorite soloists, but it’s probably because the solos advance the songs so well.

  • joe

    Solo planning flowchart:

    1. Does it “advance the song?” A. Yes. B. No.

    If A: Consider a brief solo.
    If B: Move along.

    • Shizmab Abaye

      For giggles, I saw Steve Vai a few weeks ago. Ah, I think he may have a different aesthetic going on. Something like:

      Have I played too many notes in this song yet?

      A) Yes. Play more!
      B) No. To date we have not encountered this situation so there is no plan.

  • mwseniff

    The Jim Hall video has been blocked but I know the tune anyway. I had a room mate that was a Jim Hall fanatic so I learned to appreciate his genius. Beyond that the Hello Kitty Strat works for almost anyone I can think of (except maybe Dick Cheney he deserves a wooden stake photoshopped thru his heart since it can’t happen soon enough in real life). Photoshopping is a wonderful thing that was one of those purely unintended consequences.

  • Freddie Lentzell

    I have that issue of Guitar Player somewhere at home. I purchased it, of all places, in Mexico City Airport. It’s one of a few I can remember, not because of the story you request, but because of an excellent Mike Keneally article on 70’s riffs. I’ll try to find it and scan the pages you need.
    As for a solo, just to be different, I’ve always thought this song has one which fits very well and builds on it. A prog Spanish group from the 70’s called Topo (Mole). Solo starts at 2:12. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXpQVUS46tE

  • w.r.

    A huge one for me is “Big Log” by Robert Plant, with Robbie Blunt on guitar throughout, if I’m not mistaken. This is one I can sing in my sleep and it fits perfectly with the mood. Very restrained through the song and lets out some extremely tasty licks as it fades out. :)

  • el reclusa

    My vote for contender for baddassest solo maybe ever is “Cold Water”, from Tom Waits’ Mule Variations- that, for me, is Ribot at the top of his game. This one is good too:

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vdKSuBi7HZQ

    I really dig Jim Campilongo’s solo on “Cat Under a Car”, too.

    For me, most solos are kinda pointless, but a great solo is a thing of rare beauty.

  • Mat

    Poison Ivy’s solo on New Kind of Kick is pretty crazy!

    • el reclusa

      I’m pretty sure that one is actually Kid Congo Powers!

      • Mat

        So it is! I just found this (I’ve always wondered how it was done)..

        “And the guitar solo in that is one of my greatest moments – its actually a duo between me and Ivy. And its me playing the guitar and Ivy was switching switches like on and off faster and slower so its sounds like its going backwards and slowing down and up – and its one of the wildest sounds. I’ve never been able to recreate it, nor have I heard anyone else recreate it – this kind of magical sound.”

        Such a great sound!

  • Freddie Lentzell

    Hello everybody, here’s a link to my dropbox folder, where a copy of the story requested by Joe about Sterling Morrison and VU resides. It’s a .rar file containing 3 .jpg, one for each page I scanned: https://www.dropbox.com/s/yik4tc1vccko5zc/Sterling%20Morrison.rar
    Hope it works, it’s the first time I use dropbox.

  • Fred

    Robert Fripp on Eno’s Baby’s On Fire

    Robert Fripp on Bowie’s Scary Monsters album.
    It’s No Game, Scary Monsters, Up The Hill Backwards, Teenage Wildlife…

    Andy Summers on Driven To Tears

    Adrian Belew on Talking Heads The Great Curve from Remain In Light

  • Bas

    Well, since nobody has mentioned Neil Young’s solo on “Cinnamon Girl” yet…

  • I’ll mention the great Andy Cohen of Bottomless Pit (and before that, Silkworm, a band close to my heart–the Crazy Horse for 90s indie-rock people, I think). One example, from mid-90s SKWM:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n9lM2uDa9Q

    Pretty much every album Andy’s on has one or two solo extravaganza songs, and they work really well. Among a whole bunch of high-quality songs/solos, this one stands out.

  • Evil

    My all time favorite lead – Jeff beck on Roger Waters “What God Wants pt 3″

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkXuLu4STLI

    Solo starts at about 1:45…

    There’s just something there that I can’t even describe emotionally or rationally…

  • vami

    Neil Young’s “Over and Over” from “Ragged Glory”. This one got stuck in my head more than his other better known songs. I can’t believe it’s been 23 years since it came out.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8QodEGQpCY

  • NotSoFast

    That’s beautiful and transcendent. Thanks so much for turning me on to it – exactly the kind of thing I’ve want to play for quite a while. And for quite a while to come I’ll bet.

    In a different vain, I’m particularly fond of James Honeyman Scott’s solo on the Pretenders song “Kid”.

    My introduction to Robben Ford was during the Live Aid telecast when Miles came on. Who’s that guitar player? Didn’t find out for decades.

    Caught that Stevie Ray and Jeff Beck show in Miami. Been nuts about Beck forever – his cover of Day in the Life is amazing. But had seen SRV in the early 80s (shortly after his turn on Bowie’s album) and he sounded terrible – shrill. But in Miami he was great. Played Third Stone from the Sun I remember. My favorite Hendrix moment is when he covered Johnny B. Goode in Berkley and he gets to the solo break and unleashes that long bending up note that catches some octave feedback like a surfboard on a wave and hangs a measure before he brings it back to earth. Sometimes its just a moment.

  • NotSoFast

    That’s cool. I heard Slash does as well. And me. Only one of us has resisted the trap of having his own Artist guitar. ;-)

  • Roger

    To me the guitar solo (any instrument solo really) is to song what the car chase is to movies…You don’t HAVE to have one in your movie/song…but they are really cool!!!

  • Frank

    Joe,
    You are so totally right; there’s nothing worse than a beautiful melody, vocal etc suddenly interrupted by a dancing monkey appearing on stage strutting to someone else’s melody or no melody at all – I HATE THAT! Unfortunately some of the most popular latter day rock and blues guitarists are just like that.

    I really love this piece, it is beautiful, just below the surface but adding to the music and an integral part of the melody and tune and yet so beautiful on its own. A lot of musicians, especially lead guitarists should take note.

    It probably says a lot about the way guitarists learn their skills today, I remember a guitar teacher saying to me, ” all you need is to know the pentatonic scales and you can play a lead with any rock or blues song”. What about rhythm and melody, I said? You”ll figure it out, he said. Also, many modern day lead guitarists have no idea how to integrate silence in their leads! :ban:

  • mwseniff

    I am very influenced by horn players from the big band to the Euro rock players of the 70’s like Mel Collins and Andy Mackay. There is a lot to be said for single note lead lines making each note count and sing it’s little heart out. Unfortunately horn players get short shrift these days and most guitarists seem to have missed them as an influence to their detriment IMHO.

  • Mel Stanke

    Jim Hall is responsible for one of my all-time favorite solos – on “I Hear a Rhapsody” with the inestimable Bill Evans, on their duo album Undercurrent. On an album full to bursting with great playing, this one stands out to me — the tone, touch, and emotion are PERFECT. I reckon I’ve heard that song a couple of hundred times, and it never fails to amaze me.

  • Robert

    Duane Allman’s solo on Stormy Monday from Live at the Fillmore is approximately perfect. As were many other things he did, but this 24 bars especially. Worth listening to the intro and vocal for the (also perfect) fills but for the time challenged the main event starts at 3.35. Shall I list the things that are perfect? – the tone; the touch; the timing; the tension and release; the dynamics…. (it’s really quite good) (and I know that some of the licks are taken from T-Bone and Bobby Bland, but – what a construction!) This ear-wormed its way into my 16 year old brain in 1972 and has remained embedded there ever since.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gDhR1R3S0s

  • Oinkus

    Just heard a song and remembered something . The solo in Time is just big and powerful got to love David Gilmour and some big echoy reverb. It is also the first solo I ever learned to play back in the land before time!

  • Shayne

    Anything by Richard Thompson, but particularly If Love Whispers Your Name off of Dream Attic for the same reasons Bob Boylan mentions on All Songs Considered. The solo is a wrenching rollercoaster than ends far before you’re ready for it. I believe the recorded version came from one of the 3 nights he played at the Great American Music Hall – saw two of shows, and was blown away.

    http://www.npr.org/2010/08/24/129380869/new-mix-robert-plant-richard-thompson-and-more

  • Peter

    Jim Hall has passed

  • Here's the one I am obsessed with Joe
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUwIDafNTTc
    It's not the speed that I admire, but the fretboard mastery, the dexterity with which George gets into trouble and snaps right out of it in unexpected ways, he's like a beast that feeds on what drives it underneath, and still, you can hear the progression of the composition fluently and majestically. What do you think? Cheers

  • Doug McLean

    Rory Gallagher, In Your Town. Absolutely blistering slide. I got hooked on Rory after hearing Empire State Express and haven’t. Looked back. What a great body of work!

    Goin’ to My Hometown made me go and buy a mandolin and learn it…

  • Doug McLean

    I should apologize for not commenting on Jim Hall. What fluidity. The chord changes are simply beautiful. Another door has opened. Thanks.

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