Each year, Vintage Guitar asks fans to select Readers’ Choice winners for Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, and Player of the Year in four categories based on artists and recordings featured in the magazine. Included are selections for the VG Hall of Fame, which annually inducts two players, an innovator, and an instrument. Thousands of votes are tallied via the magazine’s traditional written ballot and online at VintageGuitar.com. Here, we proudly present the 2017 winners. See the list of prior inductees.
2017 Hall of Fame Player
2017 Rock Player
Paragon of the modern enterprising guitarist, Joe Bonamassa is one of the preeminent blues-rock players on the scene today. And while some still see him as the “new kid,” it’s been nearly 30 years since he was that 13-year-old jumping onstage to jam with B.B. King and John Lee Hooker.
Today, he’s a driven performer, record-label head, and philanthropist. Addressing his selection for the VG Hall of Fame and Readers’ Choice winner in the Rock Player of the Year category, Bonamassa was characteristically humble.
“I am very honored that VG readers chose me alongside Terry Kath,” he said. “What a crew! He’s the reason I have a ’68 Tele with patent-number pickups. It’s my ‘Terry Kath Tele’.”
Complementing his nearly non-stop recorded output, Bonamassa has earned a reputation for heart-on-his-sleeve live performances, including covers and tributes to his heroes as in 2015 with the Three Kings tour and the Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks show for a 2016 DVD. His most recent recorded work includes a third duet album with Beth Hart, a reunion with Glenn Hughes, Derek Sherinian, and Jason Bonham for a fourth album by Black Country Communion, and another with his jazz-funk cohorts Rock Candy Funk Party. In early 2018, he added “producer” to his resumé, helping keyboardist to the stars Reese Wynans on his first solo album.
“I initially told Reese, ‘You don’t want me in charge of anything.’” Bonamassa laughed. “But, after a couple of days, I thought, ‘You know… I know what kind of record I’d like to hear from Reese.’”
So, he jumped in – but only after recruiting help from fellow musicians/engineers Josh Smith and Jake Blair along with a few members of his touring band. Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton were invited, as well, to re-work a few songs they played while backing Stevie Ray Vaughan as Double Trouble.
“The project is basically a guitar players’ gift to Reese,” Bonamassa said. “He has backed us loud-ass guitarists for 50 years, and we owed him a debt of gratitude for sitting behind the keyboards listening to us wank away.”
Given his work ethic and tendency to share the limelight, it’s not surprising that Bonamassa goes out of his way to share his enthusiasm for like-minded artists.
“The music scene is very healthy at the moment. The farm system – smaller clubs where you could build a following around the country – has sort of died, but people are starting to get around it by using the internet, finding their voice. As a player, writer, singer, and producer, Josh Smith has it all. I think Joanne Shaw Taylor is gonna be a big star. Marcus King is destined for greater things. He’s like Warren Haynes and Terry Kath amalgamated, which is scary. JD Simo, too, is doing great stuff.
“There’s no substitute for hard work, no magic beans to get you there,” he adds. “Success in music is about sweat equity. You have to build your world, and live in something of a bubble. So many artists get fixated on what other people are doing. Why? Think about what Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have created. That’s their thing, you know? My identity is the guy in the suit. And there’s plenty of lanes.”
Guitars and amps are part of Bonamassa’s very existence, as vital as a heartbeat. And since being featured in the August ’14 issue of Vintage Guitar, his collection – and more importantly his attitude toward collecting – have been refined.
“I’ve been concentrating on extraordinary examples like mint custom-color Fender stuff. But I also found a black ’66 Gibson EB-1250, and a blond 1960 ES-330 that was special-ordered with an ebony fingerboard and Kluson tuners.”
Others include two ’58 Gibson Flying Vs with great stories; the first was bought from Norman Harris at Norm’s Rare Guitars, in L.A. After a sequence of fortuitous circumstances, Bonamassa and his guitar tech, Mike Hickey, traced its origins to Arthur’s Music, the Indianapolis music store where it was originally sold (and the “oldest family-owned shop in the country,” Bonamassa said). Bonamassa flew it back for a reunion – and a feature story in The Indianapolis Star (the piece is reprinted on Bonamassa’s official website).
The second guitar, which he has taken to calling the Trashbag V, has an even greater story involving an attic discovery, a pleather gig bag, and one woman’s newfound wealth. We’ll share it and exclusive photos in an upcoming issue of Vintage Guitar.
Meanwhile, Bonamassa’s next album is in the works.
“It’s all-original and I’m taking my time, which I need to do,” he said.
2017 Hall of Fame Player
Chicago Transit Authority – later Chicago – created a mix of rock, jazz, soul, Latin, pop, funk, and psychedelia that was written and performed with such aplomb it at once pleased millions of casual music listeners while also appealing to those who appreciated deeper musical substance.
It the 1960s and ’70s, the band’s songs often included complex arrangements with heavy instrumental interplay. And perhaps more than any other element, it was set apart by the guitar playing of Terry Kath.
Born and raised in Chicago, Kath’s life revolved around music; his older brother played drums, his mother the banjo, and Terry noodled on both before getting a Kay guitar and amp in the ninth grade. Lessons proved uninteresting, but his musical fascination was captured early by The Ventures, Johnny Smith, Dick Dale, and Howard Roberts; later, he absorbed the influence of George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Mike Bloomfield, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix.
After cutting his teeth in two local bands, in ’65, Kath joined a touring act called Jimmy Ford and the Executives, which included Walter Parazaider on woodwinds. They became close friends and, after being simultaneously fired from the group, formed the Missing Links with drummer Danny Seraphine, which became popular playing cover songs in local clubs. Looking to expand their horizons, Parazaider suggested they add Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, and James Pankow, change the name to The Big Thing, and focus on playing originals that spotlighted horns and each member’s considerable musical ability. The band’s first gig was in a suburban Chicago bar in March of ’67. For a year, they concentrated on rehearsing while playing the occasional gig. In June of ’68 they moved to L.A. and soon scored a record deal with Columbia under their new name, Chicago Transit Authority. After releasing one album, a cease-and-desist letter from Chicago’s actual Transit Authority forced a change.
In its adventurous early years, Kath was the rock-and-roll heart of Chicago and primary musical force on 11 consecutive platinum-selling albums; his skills were prominently displayed on a Tele, Strat, or Les Paul Recording on some of the band’s best-known tunes including “25 or 6 to 4,” “Make Me Smile,” “Free,” “Questions 67 and 68,” “Dialogue (Part II),” “I’ve Been Searchin’ So Long,” and “Old Days.”
Beyond his ability on guitar, Kath’s singing voice drew comparisons to Ray Charles; the best evidence may be “Hope For Love,” one of two songs he penned for Chicago X (which was nominated for the Album of Year Grammy in 1976). But it’s better known for the band’s first big hit, “Make Me Smile,” along with others like “Beginnings,” “Dialogue (Part II),” “Colour My World,” and “Wishing You Were Here.”
Walt Parazaider first crossed paths with Kath in 1963, when they were members of a band that backed an Elvis look-alike act. They initially butted heads, but quickly learned they shared a deep appreciation for music.
“We’d get together, and I would learn the sax solos off of Red Holloway and Brother Jack McDuff records while he was learning the George Benson solos,” he said. “We were young and trying to figure out what our musical personalities were going to be.”
Forming an ever-tightening bond, together they moved on to play in a band that backed The Shirelles, Drifters, and other acts in a Dick Clark package tour, with Kath on bass because the guitar slot had been occupied prior to their arrival. One of Parazaider’s most-recalled Kath-centric experiences happened when Chicago was an emerging act in the L.A. club scene.
“We’d finished playing a Sunday night at the Whisky A Go Go – it was June of ’68 – and I was putting my saxophone away in the dressing room when somebody tapped me on the back,” he said. “I turned around and it was Jimi Hendrix. At that time he had ‘Purple Haze’ and was rolling like a freight train with his career. He was the guitar God, and Terry was very into what he was doing. Anyway, Jimi shook my hand, introduced himself, and said ‘I have to tell you, your horn section is like one set of lungs, and the guitar player is better than me.’
“I know Brian May also enjoyed Terry’s playing, and so did Carlos Santana, who would stop by our shows to hear him.”
Kath was just 31 when he died in early 1978 from a gunshot wound that was both self-inflicted and accidental. His passing forced Chicago into a new musical direction – less eclectic, less driven by the horn/guitar/keyboards interaction, and more mainstream pop.
Since 1995, Keith Howland has been the guy responsible for filling the guitar slot in Chicago. He has been aware of Kath’s playing since his older brother, a drummer taking lessons at the time, brought Chicago II to their childhood home so he could learn parts.
“Terry was heavily featured on that album, vocally and on guitar,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener; I remember listening on my brother’s quadraphonic stereo. The solo on ‘25 or 6 to 4’ is iconic; it’s just so over the top for its time.”
Intrigued by II, Howland dug into Chicago’s back-catalog and was particularly struck by “Freeform Guitar” from the debut disc by Chicago Transit Authority.
While Howland’s style and flavor are more influenced by Beck, Lukather, and Van Halen, he is certainly a fan of Kath’s work, and in performance honors Chicago’s music by re-creating much of what Kath did. The 2013 album, Chicago XXXV: The Nashville Sessions, which had the current band cut new versions of classic hits in the studio, forced him to go note-for-note on famous Kath solos, and the experience deepened his appreciation.
“I had to really get Terry’s style into my hands,” he said. “He was heavily influenced by R&B, Motown, and because he was a bass player, initially, he focused on the pocket and groove. That gave his playing such great feel. Plus, early on, the band did a lot of covers of soul, R&B, and Motown songs, so that informed his rhythm playing. He was a big George Benson fan, too, so there were elements of jazz, as well. And obviously, Hendrix was a big influence. So, his DNA was an amazing mix of R&B, jazz, and rock.”
In 2017, Chicago marked 50 consecutive year of touring and still includes four original members – Lamm on keyboards and vocals, Loughnane on trumpet and vocals, Pankow on trombone, and Parazaider on woodwinds. And while it has enjoyed success at many stages and while creating various styles of music, the Kath era best represents the intent of its founders.
“Terry made such a big statement, and I think he would have gotten more credit if he wasn’t in a band where everyone was given their moment to solo and do their thing, then step back and be part of the accompaniment,” Parazaider said. “It was a musical democracy, and he made the most of it. I know he wanted to do a solo album, and it certainly would have been real interesting to see what he would’ve done.”
“Terry was ahead of his time, and somewhat overlooked,” added Howland. “A guitar player in a band with keyboards, three horns, and multiple lead vocalists has to pick their spots and play well with others. But if Terry had been in a three-piece, he would be mentioned today in the same breath as Hendrix, Page, and Clapton.”
2017 Hall of Fame Innovator
As founder and guiding force behind Collings Guitars, Bill Collings was responsible for developing some of the most revered modern instruments.
Born in Michigan, he grew up in Ohio and moved to Houston in the mid ’70s, where he worked in a machine shop and began building guitars using basic hand tools.
In 1980, he moved to Austin and became a full-time luthier, at first focused on flat-top and archtop acoustics and building a client list that eventually included Keith Richards, Lyle Lovett, Emmylou Harris, Joni Mitchell, Pete Townshend, and others. By ’89, business had grown enough that he hired help; one key order came from Nashville dealer (and VG contributor) George Gruhn, who ordered 24 custom flat-tops.
In the spring of ’92, the company moved to a larger work space just outside of Austin and in ’99 started building mandolins, followed later by electric guitars and ukuleles. And while Collings Guitars employed CNC technology and other modern processes, Bill was renowned for the personal effort he dedicated to quality control – often going to work in various departments whenever issues arose, so he could personally help solve problems.
“Bill will be greatly missed, but his legacy is extremely secure and he will be remembered for many generations to come,” said Gruhn. “Although the Collings guitar company is a tiny entity in comparison to corporations… it achieved recognition for extraordinarily precise workmanship [and] raised the bar. The quality of guitars produced by major manufacturers in the U.S. today is part of Bill’s legacy.”
Collings was 68 when he passed away July 14, 2017, after battling cancer in the final year of his life.
2017 Hall of Fame Instrument
Viewed through the decades as the quintessential electric hollowbody for jazz players, when it debuted in 1949, Gibson’s ES-175 was the electrified sibling of the L-4C, but made with wood laminate instead of the latter’s solid spruce top and solid-wood back and sides.
Built for those who didn’t need (or couldn’t/didn’t want to spring for) the fancy L-5 or Super 400 but had perhaps moved beyond the ES-125 or 150, the 175 stood apart in the catalog thanks to its dressy split-parallelogram inlays and sharp “Florentine” cutaway, siren call to the mass of players who instantly pictured themselves making ready use of its upper frets.
Launched with a P-90 pickup in the bridge position, augmented with a second (creating the 175D model) in ’53, then given humbuckers when they were introduced in ’57, the guitar hit the mark straight away thanks in large part to its appeal among heavy-hitters like Howard Roberts, Jim Hall, Herb Ellis, and Kenny Burrell; when an era’s superstars are seen playing a specific guitar, popularity and strong sales are virtually guaranteed.
In this case, though, the status was very earned, as proven by its continued adoration among latter-day stars like jazz legend Pat Metheny, and even non-jazzers like prog-rocker Steve Howe, in Yes.
While the 175 was initially spared the infamous cost-conscious spec changes of Gibson’s “Norlin era” beginning in 1969, by ’76 it was no longer offered in a single-pickup version and had been dressed down with a laminate neck and Tune-O-Matic bridge to replace the original’s rosewood.
Still a favorite 65 years on, it remains in production including as a reissue, signature model, and with the Epiphone brand, which has an arched back and two Alnico-magnet humbuckers.
2017 Featured Artist
2017 Jazz Player
Allan Holdsworth wasn’t the first guitarist to use legato technique or cascading hammer-ons and pull-offs – yet they are forever associated with his name. In contrast to the muscular alternate picking of John McLaughlin or Steve Howe, Allan dazzled with a violin-like fluidity on the fretboard, weaving complex phrases and stretching the digits on his left hand seven, eight, or nine frets, as if a demented musical spider.
He further mixed the modal harmony of Miles Davis and John Coltrane with the warm overdrive tone of an Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck; it was spectacular and like nothing heard before.
Holdsworth’s liquid style was first noticed in Tempest and then a succession of ’70s fusion-oriented bands like Gong, Soft Machine, Tony Williams New Lifetime, and Jean-Luc Ponty.
Whispers of his genius exploded at the end of the decade, when he joined two hugely influential bands – U.K. and Bruford. Quick enough, the secret was out and young players everywhere spoke of this uncanny Yorkshire musician, considered more wizard than guitar hero. There had been brilliant jazz-rock players before, but none with this kind of freakish dexterity, subtlety, and brazen speed.
In short order, Eddie Van Halen, Frank Zappa, and Rush’s Alex Lifeson began raving about the axeman; around the same time, Allan bolted from his sideman role and launched a solo career that lasted more than 35 years. Early-’80s recordings such as I.O.U., Metal Fatigue, and Road Games became the stuff of fusion legend. The man had created his own improvisational language and almost effortlessly reinvented the electric guitar.
That’s not to say his career was easy. Holdsworth was an artist to a fault, working within his own creative universe, but without much consideration to commercial success. He was known to be sensitive and savagely critical of his own talents, even when there were adoring fans in the audience. When he died suddenly on April 15, 2017, family revealed that he had financial difficulties. His fans rallied and, through a GoFundMe campaign, raised enough money to pay his funeral expenses and then some. For many, it was a way to thank the virtuoso for his gift of music.
Looking back on this first year without him, guitarists can now stand back and applaud a breathtaking career – Holdsworth truly changed everything, more than he ever knew. Like the title of that famed Bruford album, Holdsworth was simply one of a kind. – Pete Prown
2017 Country Player
The lion’s share of great guitarists, like Glen Campbell, emerged from modest backgrounds.
Born to Arkansas sharecroppers, Campbell learned to play using a Sears guitar and help from an uncle who showed him basic chords. At 18, he left home bound for Albuquerque, where he joined Dick Bills’ Sandia Mountain Boys and cut his teeth playing dance halls, radio, and local TV. In 1960, he moved to Hollywood and earned a spot playing sessions on L.A.’s studio scene as one of the famed Wrecking Crew alongside fellow legends Tommy Tedesco, Bill Pitman, Barney Kessel, Carol Kaye, and Hal Blaine.
“It didn’t matter that he didn’t read music,” said VG contributor Rich Kienzle in his November ’17 remembrance of Campbell. “He played on many classics of that era, from Jan & Dean’s ‘Surf City’ and Wayne Newton’s ‘Danke Schoen,’ to ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ by the Righteous Brothers, and ‘Strangers in the Night’ by Frank Sinatra. He also played on notable hits by Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra, the Monkees, and Merle Haggard.”
Kienzle further cited Campbell’s 1964-’65, stint replacing Brian Wilson on bass with the Beach Boys, which led to him playing on five tracks for Pet Sounds.
In ’62, Campbell signed a solo contract with Capitol Records and initially focused on bluegrass and instrumental music, followed later by country-pop; his rendition of John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” and Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” earned him a Grammy in 1967. The ensuing few years saw him score a further handful of hit singles and a second Grammy for his cover of Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman.” His biggest hits were “Rhinestone Cowboy” in ’75, and “Southern Nights” in ’77.
Campbell embraced Ovation instruments, which launched nearly simultaneous to the 1969 start of his ABC variety program, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” and he stood as arguably the brand’s greatest proponent. Later, he often relied on guitars by Epiphone, G&L, and Hamer. The show also presented country-music stars to a huge mainstream audience; on it, Campbell backed a variety of acts and jammed with Jerry Reed and Roy Clark.
He remained active into the ’80s and ’90s, and in 2005 was inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. In ’08, he released Meet Glen Campbell, on which he covered songs by U2, Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, Lou Reed, and John Lennon in his style.
After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011, Campbell recorded two albums while his facilities remained complete – Ghost On The Canvas and Adios. He also staged a tour with a band with included several of his children. In 2012, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammy organization. In ’14, he entered a care facility where he died on August 9 at age 81.
2017 Blues Player
George “Buddy” Guy was born the son of a sharecropper in Lettsworth, Louisiana, and learned to play on a “guitar” he made at age seven using wires he’d pulled from a screen door and attached to a can. So, the Harmony acoustic he got afterward – a beginner instrument for most – was a big step up.
Inauspicious beginnings to be sure, but they didn’t thwart his talent, and by his late teens, Guy was jamming in Baton Rouge clubs while working day jobs pumping gas or doing maintenance at Louisiana State University. One night, he caught a set by Eddie “Guitar Slim” Jones, whose playing and stage presence had acute impact. Soon after, Guy moved to Chicago to pursue music in earnest, and there connected with Otis Rush and Muddy Waters, then quickly earned regular appearances at the 708 Club. Willie Dixon helped him land a contract with Chess Records, where he backed Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Hooker, and B.B. King on record. He also cut a few singles of his own, and his first album, A Man and the Blues, was released in ’68 on Vanguard Records.
While he’s a six-time Grammy winner for his recorded work (including 1991’s Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, which helped him re-emerge as one of the prominent performers in the blues resurgence of the time), Guy built a career on the road, where he earned a reputation for flair-filled shows during which he’d solo with the guitar behind his back (or head), use a 100-foot cable to wander many rows into an audience or stride atop a bar, or even hang by his hand from a ceiling rafter while soloing with his fret hand.
It’s little wonder he’s been cited as an influence by everyone from Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix to Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood.
In 1989, he opened Buddy Guy’s Legends blues club in Chicago, where he still performs several shows each January with different guest headliners each night. In 2005, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
|26.4%||Gary Clark, Jr.|
Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome
Much was made about how the Rolling Stones required just three days in the studio to make their latest album, Blue & Lonesome.
Intent on recording its first new material in 11 years, the band gathered at Mark Knopfler’s British Grove Studios to record original songs. But, just before the sessions, Keith Richards asked Ron Wood to learn Little Walter’s “Blue And Lonesome” so they could use it to warm up. The resultant jam grooved enough to spur the band to stay the course, and in short order they had an album of blues covers culled from the catalogs of Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Magic Sam, and others.
The effort recalled some of the band’s most-enduring work; their self-titled debut album included Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love To You,” Let It Bleed had Robert Johnson’s “Love In Vain” and the Jaggar-/Richards-penned “Midnight Rambler,” Beggar’s Banquet had “No Expectations” (complete with fantastic work by Brian Jones on acoustic slide), Sticky Fingers had “You Gotta Move,” and Exile on Main Street included a stellar cover of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips.” There were also stand-alone singles like “Little Red Rooster.”
It’s easy to believe the group had a good time making Blue & Lonesome, and in his March ’17 review, VG “Hit List” editor Michael Dregni cited the obvious exuberance.
“Richards and Wood play with authority while Jagger’s vocals – and especially his harp – are pure, unadulterated power,” he said. “The sound is grand – lowdown, overdriven guitar, a heavy gutbucket backbeat, and that wailing harmonica.”
Adding to the throwback spirit was Eric Clapton, who happened to be working in the same studio and stepped in one day to join on two tunes using one of Richards’ semi-hollow Gibsons; Dregni cited his turn on Willie Dixon/Otis Rush’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” for evoking the famed “woman tone” of his Bluesbreakers days.
Rolling Stones fans, along with anyone who digs a healthy dose of urban/barroom blues, surely appreciated the intent. And while yes, three days is an impressively short time to crank out an album, more striking is that the Stones were well past their 50th anniversary before they made an album like this.
|29.0%||Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome|
|26.1%||Gov’t Mule, Revolution Come… Revolution Go|
|25.4%||Gary Clark, Jr., Live/North America 2016|
|19.5%||Sonny Landreth, Recorded Live in Lafayette|