Mark Knopfler Emerging in a late-’70s scene dominated by music very unlike what he was making, his superb, fluid fingerpicked lines relayed to the masses (via songs like “Water of Love,” “Sultans of Swing,” “Skateaway,” and others) that Dire Straits stood apart from other bands in its ability to span genres. His amazing technique has earned not only adoration, but work with a mass of musical heavyweights ranging from Steely Dan to Van Morrison to Bob Dylan and released a string of successful solo albums.
Michael Bloomfield A silver-spoon kid from Chicago, as a teen learning to play, he’d sneak into the city’s South Side blues joints, often asking to sit in. By his late teens, he’d recorded with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and was just 22 when he played on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. His fluid, informed style drew praise from the likes of B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, and Buddy Guy. Though he favored a Telecaster early on, he later took to a ’50s Les Paul Standard and today is one of a handful credited with making the model supremely collectible.
Roy Buchanan A kid from the Ozarks, he possessed a prodigious ability and flare for copping the style of superpicker Roy Nichols. He discovered the blues and, as a teen, began to develop a unique, unbounded style that touched on virtually every pop-music genre. With his renowned ’53 Tele, Buchanan employed an arsenal of technique with an emotive force that sang, soared, screamed, whispered, and wailed.
Vince Gill The Oklahoma native grew up playing bluegrass (including a brief stint in Ricky Skaggs’ Bone Creek) and absorbing the sounds of his heroes including Buck Owens. He recorded three albums with ’70s country-rockers Pure Prairie League, then moved to Nashville to work sessions, write songs, and back Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris. His name ranks among the world’s best guitarists (in any genre) and his credits include 26 million albums sold, 18 CMA awards, membership in the Grand Ole Opry, and 20 Grammys.
Peter Frampton A member of the British blues-rock band Humble Pie, he went solo in 1971 and, after recording four studio albums, released Frampton Comes Alive in the first week of 1976. Three months later, it was the best-selling album in the world on its way to achieving mythical status and inspiring generations (plural!) of others. Through decades of personal and professional ups and downs, he continues to make new music (including Album of the Year nominee All Blues) even while battling Inclusion-Body Myositis, which is slowly robbing him of dexterity.
Dick Dale Taught to play piano and traditional Lebanese instruments before his family moved from Boston to California, he dove headlong into beach culture and the El Segundo music scene. Larry Collins showed him how to play a rock lead on an $8 guitar and by 1961 he was packing the 3,000-seat Rendezvous Ballroom every weekend night, using a Strat to ram rock instrumentals through Leo Fender’s new Showman model, created just for him! His legacy includes the Middle Eastern influenced “Misirlou” along with decades of notoriety and acclaim.
Ritchie Blackmore A contemporary of Hendrix, Beck, Page, Clapton, et al, he stands apart as the neoclassical-heavy-metal harbinger of Strat-through-a-Marshall tone. A virtuoso and true “guitar hero,” his varied influences informed the blues-based licks on definitive classics like Deep Purple’s Machine Head album and its signature track, “Smoke On the Water.” Now in his mid 70s, he remains active, focusing on renaissance-style acoustic music.
Dickey Betts Through his teens and early 20s, he played in several Florida bands including The Second Coming. When brothers Duane and Gregg Allman jumped aboard, they became a pioneering Southern-rock unit in which Betts’ more-traditional playing style countered Duane’s slide in a dual-guitar format that helped launch a genre known for harmony leads. Betts wrote and sang the group’s biggest hit, “Ramblin’ Man,” and after its dissolution formed his own group, followed by Great Southern and others. His non-ABB catalog includes a dozen solo releases including this year’s Ramblin Man: The Dickey Betts Band Live at the St. George Theater.
Mick Taylor Just 17 when he was recruited by John Mayall for the guitar slot in his renowned Bluesbreakers (following Eric Clapton and Peter Green), he was key to sparking the British Blues Invasion. Appearing on four albums, he was part of a 1967 tour that helped break the band in the U.S. His place in history was cemented by a five-year stint in the Rolling Stones, during which the band peaked artistically; “Honky Tonk Women,” “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses,” “Happy,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker),” “Angie,” and “It’s Only Rock ’n Roll” all bear his stamp.
Mark Knopfler: Sebastien Gross/Wikimedia Commons. Michael Bloomfield: Elliot Landy/Wikimedia Commons. Roy Buchanan: Carl Lender/Wikimedia Commons. Peter Frampton: John Lill. Dick Dale courtesy of the Dale estate. Ritchie Blackmore: Joan Sorolla/Wikimedia Commons. Dickey Betts: Simone Berna/Wikimedia Commons. Mick Taylor: Larry Rogers/Wikimedia Commons.