Guitars and Guitarists: My Playlist

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I assembled this portfolio of guitar performances mainly for me. I can come here any time and see them without searching . . . for as long as they let YouTube post them.

I am always open to suggestions.

Tommy Emmanuel: Classical Gas

He is Australia’s master finger-picking guitarist. He is a lot like his friend, Chet Atkins, though not so subtle. I have seen him perform live on two occasions. I have never seen a more enthusiastic performer. He loves his work. He lets the crowd know it. Here, he plays “Classical Gas,” that masterpiece written and first performed by Mason Williams. I remember the first time I heard it, driving in Southern California. “This will be a smash hit,” I thought. Within weeks, it was. Nobody performs it like Emmanuel. There are many versions of his performance on YouTube. This is the best one, as far as the video and audio combination is concerned.


Leo Kottke: Pamela Brown

Here is the greatest master of the 12-string slide guitar. He was an instant phenomenon from the day his first album was released: the armadillo cover (Tacoma). For a great medley, performed what he was in his 30s and more spectacular than today, click here. Here, he takes an amusing Tom T. Hall song about a man who is trying to convince us that he is better off single and free. I’m not buying it. But it’s the best musical defense of the single life I have heard. How did Kottke do it?

Tony Furtado: Cypress Grove

Furtado twice won the national championship for bluegrass banjo. (Sample) Then he switched to guitar. Here, he plays an electric slide guitar in a performance like nothing I have ever seen. He is backed up by the drummer from Fish, Jon Fishman. They had never played together before. Toward the end of the song, when he walks to the side of the stage, he pulls off a solo that is simply spectacular, within a great performance. In an exchange of emails with me, he said he did not think the performance was all that good. He was wrong. It begins at 1:55.

Jerry Douglas

Jerry Douglas has become the premier Dobro player. He is a sought-after sideman. He has won 13 Grammys. His style is instantly recognizable to bluegrass buffs. He has the power of the original bluegrass Dobro innovator, Burkett “Uncle Josh” Graves, who played for years with Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys. Douglas has gotten ever more creative over the years. He plays in the most profitable of all bluegrass bands, the Union Station, which backs up Alison Krauss.


Kelly Joe Phelps: Piece by Piece

Before he died, my son Caleb gave up his bagpipes and his acoustic guitars in order to play the slide guitar like Phelps. I cannot blame him. I intend to have Phelps’ extraordinary solo of the doxology close my funeral. There are few items on the web. This one shows what he can do on a non-resonator slide guitar. His singing style is unique among white blues singers, now that Dave “Snaker” Ray is dead.


“Uncle Josh” Graves: Fireball Mail

Burkett/Buck Graves was the dobro player for the Foggy Mountain Boys, the band of Flatt and Scruggs. In the late 1940’s, Graves had heard Scruggs’ revolutionary three-finger banko picking style that invented bluegrass as we know it, and he adopted it for the little-known instrument, the dobro. Later, he joined the band. I first heard Flatt and Scruggs in 1959. I was amazed by the dobro. I did not know what it was. Not until late 1960 or early 1961, when the band made it to the West Coast, did I finally see Graves in action. This solo is not as good as he could play, but it’s the best I found on YouTube.

Anonymous Kid: Pachelbel’s Canon

I stumbled upon this video in March 2006. At that time, it had a million hits. Three years later, it had 57 million. The guitar player was anonymous. We cannot see his face. It took eight months for the New York Times totrack him down.


Leo Kottke: Living in the Country

I first heard this gem on a Pete Seeger album around 1962. Pete was just about the only person who played the 12-string guitar on records. (The major exception was Eric Darling, who replaced guitarist Fred Hellerman with the Weavers, whose monster hit, Walk Right In, arrived in 1963. It was the first song turned into a hit by a 12-string.) I was an addict from the day I heard one. I had been introduced to the 12-string in high school through Seeger on The Weavers at Carnegie Hall album. I had no idea what that sound was, but I was hooked. I still am. Sometime in the mid-1970s, I heard Kottke’s version. It was hardly the same song. It blew me away. It still does. The 12-string guitarist Fred Gerlach once described the instrument as the mighty twelve. This song demonstrates the instrument’s power better than anything I have ever heard. If I could play the way he does, I would close every performance with this, just as he did here.

Grand Finale

Mark Kroos: Dueling Banjos

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