Each year, Vintage Guitar asks fans to select Readers’ Choice winners for Player of the Year in four categories, along with Album of the Year. Included are selections for the VG Hall of Fame, which inducts three players, an innovator, and an instrument. More than 5,400 votes were tallied online at VintageGuitar.com. Here are this year’s winners and inductees. See prior inductees…
2021 Hall of Fame Player
Two-time Rock Hall of Fame inductee Ron Wood is best known as the co-guitarist of the Rolling Stones, but he had a long and prolific career before his tenure with the band and a solo career that continues today.
It started for Wood in 1964, when he joined the British R&B group the Birds as a guitarist. Later, he joined the Creation, which led to becoming the bassist for The Jeff Beck Group in ’67. This collaboration produced the iconic albums Truth and Beck-Ola, featuring Rod Stewart on vocals. In ’69, Wood and Stewart left the band to join Faces. Wood returned to the guitar, co-wrote the classic “Stay With Me” with Stewart and contributed to Stewart’s first five solo records including the albums Every Picture Tells a Story and Never a Dull Moment.
By ’74, Wood began his solo recording career with the albums I’ve Got My Own Album To Do and Now Look, which variously featured George Harrison, Bobby Womack, Keith Richards, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, and Mick Jagger. The 1975 departure of Mick Taylor from the Rolling Stones presented the perfect opening for Wood to fill the slot. His blues-based R&B guitar stylings weaved perfectly with Keith Richards’ catchy riffs and Chuck Berry-influenced solos. Wood’s chameleon-like ability to switch from guitar, bass, slide, steel, pedal steel, sitar, and harmonica to B-bender Telecaster, made him an invaluable asset. Highlights of his contributions include “Cherry Oh Baby,” “Hey Negrita,” and “Crazy Mama” from Black and Blue, “Beast of Burden,” “When the Whip Comes Down,” “Far Away Eyes,” and “Shattered” from Some Girls, and “She’s So Cold,” “Dance (Pt 1),” and the title track from Emotional Rescue.
Wood continued to record solo albums and performed with New Barbarians, a supergroup that included Richards, bassist Stanley Clarke, Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan, Meters drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, and saxophonist Bobby Keys. Other collaborations included Ringo Starr, Bo Diddley, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Prince. Aside from his craft as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Wood is an author and artist who has exhibited paintings, sculptures, and etchings. Though the work has received mixed reviews from art critics, it remains favored among music fans.
To date, Wood has recorded seven diverse solo albums which include a who’s who of rock-and-roll royalty. His 2010 release, I Feel Like Playing featured Slash, Stones bassist Darryl Jones, Flea, and Billy Gibbons. In ’19, Wood released Mad Lad: A Live Tribute to Chuck Berry, followed in ’20 by Mr. Luck: A Tribute to Jimmy Reed, Live at the Royal Albert Hall. In ’89, Wood was inducted to the Rock Hall of Fame as a member of the Rolling Stones and again in 2012 as a member of Faces. Presently, he continues to tour with the Stones, showcase his artwork, collaborate on musical projects, and perform as the host of “The Ronnie Wood Show.” – Oscar Jordan
2021 Hall of Fame Player
Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, Mike Campbell was 16 when he acquired his first guitar – a Harmony pawnshop prize that led to superstar musical explorations heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roger McGuinn, Keith Richards, and Neil Young.
After helping form a local band called Dead or Alive, Campbell was introduced to Tom Petty through drummer Randall Marsh, who was jamming with Petty in a band called Mudcrutch, which was set for a move west, seeking fame and fortune. Campbell jumped in for the ride.
While Mudcrutch lasted barely long enough to record one album, its dissolution led to the first incarnation of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with Petty and Campbell on guitar, bassist Ron Blair, drummer Stan Lynch, and Benmont Tench on keys.
In the group, Campbell played guitar like the ultimate rock and roll expressionist, avoiding cliched guitar poserdom and blues athletics in favor of artful lines, fat-free melodies, and creative harmonic augmentation. If any guitarist is the living embodiment of “playing for the song,” it’s Mike Campbell.
Credited as co-producer of the Heartbreakers’ albums Southern Accents, Pack Up the Plantation: Live!, Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), Into the Great Wide Open, Songs and Music from She’s the One, Echo, The Last DJ, The Live Anthology, and Mojo, and the Tom Petty solo albums Full Moon Fever, Wildflowers, and Highway Companion, Campbell also co-wrote many hit songs with Petty, including “Refugee,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “You Got Lucky,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” He was also a busy session cat and songwriter with highly successful collaborations with artists such as Don Henley (“The Boys of Summer”), Stevie Nicks (“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”), and Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers (“6th Avenue Heartache”). In 2018, he and Neil Finn joined Fleetwood Mac to replace Lindsey Buckingham on their world tour.
Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and since Petty’s passing in ’17, Campbell (VG, March ’21) has kept busy with a multitude of collaborations and projects, including his tenure as bandleader for The Dirty Knobs, which consists of Jason Sinay on second guitar, Lance Morrison on bass, and Matt Laug on drums. It’s a band with close ancestry to The Heartbreakers with jubilant blasts of raucous ’60s and ’70s rock and roll. Wreckless Abandon was released in 2020, followed in 2022 by External Combustion, featuring Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople.
“It’s rougher-edged than my work with Tom,” Campbell said. “It’s slightly over-driven, less polished, with lots of ’60s influences like The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, and The Animals. It’s something I should have done a long time ago.”
External Combustion shows Campbell in rare form as he pushes the boundaries of swampy L.A. rock. It’s a backbeat musical journey with finely dimed guitar textures and his tastiest slide playing to date. – Oscar Jordan
2021 Hall of Fame Player
The son of a Federal judge and amateur picker, Vince Gill started out playing his dad’s instruments, absorbing bluegrass, country, and rock spanning Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, the Beatles and the Eagles. Among his guitar heroes were Chet Atkins, Roy Nichols, James Burton, Maybelle Carter, Eric Clapton, Don Rich, Doc Watson, and Joe Walsh.
A high school junior when he recorded his first bluegrass album, after graduating in 1975, Gill moved from Oklahoma to join Ricky Skaggs in the Kentucky-based bluegrass band Boone Creek, then moved to fiddler Byron Berline’s West Coast band, Sundance, before his formidable vocal skills took him to the renowned country-rock band Pure Prairie League in ’78.
After his 1981 move to Nashville, Gill (VG, November ’19) focused on writing songs. He played guitar in singer Rodney Crowell’s band, The Cherry Bombs. An RCA recording contract in the mid ’80s brought him his earliest hits, followed by a powerful string of Top 10 singles at MCA Records in the ’90s, including the Grammy-winning originals “When I Call Your Name” and “One More Last Chance.” The guitar solos were his own.
“Go Rest High on That Mountain,” an original ballad honoring his late brother, became an oft-heard song of eulogy and remembrance, one he’d sing at the funerals of friends George Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, and golf legend Arnold Palmer.
Gill showcased his musical range on his four-disc 2006 album These Days, revealing his command of rock, ballads, jazz, traditional country, and bluegrass.
Like Willie Nelson, he became a ubiquitous guest singer on others’ albums, among them 1993’s Common Thread: The Songs of the Eagles, featuring country stars performing songs by the iconic band. His picking appeared on Grammy-winning albums by Asleep at the Wheel, Brad Paisley, and others.
Widely respected and beloved by his contemporaries, Gill became close to many of the country legends he’d long admired, and honored them with projects like his 2013 album, Bakersfield, with pedal-steel great Paul Franklin, an homage to the music of Owens and Haggard. From 2010 to ’20, he played onstage with the Time Jumpers, a Nashville Western swing band made up of some of the city’s top session players.
His passion for guitars led him to amass a sizable trove of vintage electrics and acoustics, among them his signature white ’53 Tele and the 1950 Broadcaster that once belonged to Jabo Arrington (VG, January ’22). Some of his rarities often join him on tour, where he’s at home twanging or picking acoustic bluegrass on an ancient Martin.
Gill’s Eagles connections deepened after he met Joe Walsh at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, and later played and harmonized on Don Henley’s solo album, Cass County. A year after he performed at their 2016 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington, he accepted an invitation to join the band.
Gill’s solo career continues, and along with touring, he records for the same label (MCA) he’s been with for more than 30 years. A member of the Grand Ole Opry since ’91, in ’05 was inducted to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in ’07 became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. – Rich Kienzle
2021 Hall of Fame Innovator
If you think an inexpensive guitar is, by definition, inferior, you’d be wrong – at least when it comes to Danelectros. In his teens, Jimi Hendrix played a Dan-o, with other notable players being Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and brother Jimmie.
After more than a decade building amplifiers of his own design, Nathan “Nat” Daniel (1912-’94) founded the New Jersey-based Danelectro company in 1947, making amplifiers for Epiphone, Sears Roebuck, and Montgomery Ward. In ’54, he began making guitars.
Some of Danelectro’s innovations included the first six-string bass guitar (’56) and an electric 12-string (’61). The Bellzouki, designed for the company by studio guitarist Vinnie Bell, preceded Rickenbacker’s 360 by three years.
Under the Sears Silvertone brand, Nat’s short-scale model 1448 guitar came with a case that had a built-in amp and sold for under $50 – the first electric guitar/amp combo for countless beginners. It was followed by the full-scale, two-pickup 1449, whose amp/case had tremolo.
Danelectro guitars were built with a Masonite top and back over a wooden frame, and instead of a truss rod, their necks had two steel I-beams, so they simply do not warp; the guitars were completely shielded to eliminate hum. The Guitarlin had 31 frets and deep cutaways to cover the range of a guitar and mandolin. Daniel’s “lipstick tube” pickups created a unique sound that’s highly coveted to this day.
Another Vinnie Bell design was the Electric Sitar, heard on Steely Dan’s “Do It Again,” the Box Tops’ “Cry Like A Baby,” and other hits.
Other Danelectro users include Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, David Lindley, John Entwistle, Beck, Syd Barrett, Link Wray, J.J. Cale, Garry Tallent, Joey Spampinato, Tom Petty, Duane Eddy, Earl Hooker, Tom Verlaine, Dave Edmunds, Tommy Tedesco, Bill Pitman, and Harold Bradley.
Daniel’s company closed in 1969, but the brand was resurrected in the ’90s, with reissues of many original models. – Dan Forte
For more Edward Van Halen’s life, music, and gear, see our comprehensive memorial, “A Legend Has Left Us,” along with Wolf Marshall’s “Fretprints” column and “Virtuoso Version: The Peavey Wolfgang,” all in the December ’20 issue.
2021 Hall of Fame Instrument
Launched as a budget-friendlier alternative to its sibling ES-335/345/355, Gibson’s ES-330 was part of a significant wave of new instruments from the company.
Still feeling the crush of competition (especially from Fender), in 1957, president Ted McCarty spurred his team to create bold new designs. Writing in that November’s issue of its dealer newsletter, the Gibson Gazette, L.A. sales rep Clarence Havenga said, “[Gibson] assigned a task force of engineers and craftsmen to look over the entire field of electronics and fretted instruments… They investigated every conceivable idea – and inconceivable ones, too – used some, abandoned others, tried a few over again, and finally incorporated the best of these into the line of fine products.”
Some of those “conceivable” ideas – the Flying V, Futura, and Moderne, for example – crashed and burned, while others blossomed, the double-cut ES semi-hollows being the shining stars.
Introduced in ’58, the new ES line played on Gibson’s status as “king of the archtops,” but was more importantly touted for its ergonomic fine points – a large body with space to rest the arm, “wonder thin” silhouette thanks to its 1.75″ depth, easy access all the way up its 22-fret rosewood board, a thin, fast-playing mahogany neck, and tone courtesy of the still-new PAF humbuckers – the 335 and its upscale brethren offered sustain similar to a solidbody without the weight that steered some players away from the Les Paul. Their look was intended to appeal to players of all ilks, with softly rounded, flowing cutaways compared to the sharp Florentine style of Gibson’s previous semi-hollows.
The 335’s tone also derived much from its construction, employing a solid piece of sustain-aiding maple as a body-long center block that attached to its hollow laminated-maple “wings.” Designers eliminated feedback by gluing pieces of spruce to connect the block to the top and back. The end result was an instrument with acoustic properties unlike any other guitar.
By ’59, the 335 was popular enough that Gibson – superficially in the interest of better utilizing its supply of wood – stopped making the single-cutaway ES-225 and supplanted it with the 330 – a lower-priced version of the 335.
On the surface, the 330 looked like a 335 but with one or two P-90 pickups instead of PAFs, a trapeze tail compared to the 335’s stud, and plastic buttons on its tuning keys versus chrome-covered metal. But the 330 is set apart far more for the cost-cutting move of eliminating the center block, which in turn forced designers to set its neck deeper into the body, making it join at the 16th fret (compared to the 335’s 19-fret join). The end result was a guitar that, while lighter, also played, felt, and sounded quite different – and was prone to feeding back.
Initially, the 330 proved popular, and in 1960 its production far outpaced the 335, 345, and 355 combined (2,408 units to 1,352). But, in ’61, orders for the single-pickup version fell precipitously, likely, historians argue, due to players not digging its placement midway between the neck and bridge; sales dwindled again the next year, and after ’63, a single-pickup version was no longer offered.
While the 330 isn’t remembered as the #1 guitar for any superstar, several grabbed them on occasion, including blues god B.B. King, swamp-blues legend Slim Harpo, jazz great Grant Green, pioneering Texas psychedelic singer/songwriter Roky Erickson, and the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and Keith Richards. – Ward Meeker with special thanks to Walter Carter.
|26%||Marshall JCM 800 2203|
Tedeschi Trucks Band, Layla Revisited
2021 Album of the Year
There’s no way to overstate the level of bravado involved when any guitarist – regardless of age, background, or style – opts to stage a tribute to an upper-echelon recording like Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
Every guitarist understands the depth of influence of Layla and how it’s widely viewed as Eric Clapton’s best guitar work, pushed hard in the studio by the presence of Duane Allman. And, it couldn’t be more fitting for a project like Layla Revisited to be tackled by Derek Trucks (who is named after the band and whose uncle is Butch Trucks, co-founder/drummer with The Allman Brothers Band) with his co-guitarist/wife Susan Tedeschi, bolstered by heavyweight help from Doyle Bramhall, II and Trey Anastasio.
Taped at the 2019 Lockn’ Festival, VG music editor Pete Prown reviewed the album in the September ’21 issue, saying, “Channeling Duane Allman’s spirit, Derek tears up a ’57 Les Paul goldtop on ‘Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad,’ sharing explosive solos with the Phish frontman. Anastasio sings lead on a nuanced ‘Bell Bottom Blues,’ while Doyle offers a powerful break in ‘Little Wing.’ Trucks unleashes serious non-slide chops on ‘Layla,’ while Tedeschi jams on an LP flametop… Layla Revisted delivers their soul-quaking debut with fresh conviction.” – Ward Meeker
|30%||Tedeschi Trucks Band, Layla Revisited (Live at Lockn’)|
|23%||Black Keys, Delta Kream|
|18%||Samantha Fish, Faster|
|17%||Billy Strings, Renewal|
|12%||Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, 662|
2021 Rock Player of the Year
Billy Gibbons is a living testament to the enduring power of the electric guitar. At the age of 72, Gibbons continues to make music that would weaken younger mortals.
As the pride of Houston, Gibbons was weaned on Little Richard, Elvis Presley, and Jimmy Reed. On Christmas 1963, he received a Gibson Melody Maker and a Fender Champ; his musical course was charted. Early bands included The Saints, The Coachmen, and the 13th Floor Elevators, renamed The Moving Sidewalks. The latter had a hit with “99th Floor,” and its popularity spawned a tour with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, where Gibbons formed a friendship with the guitar icon
Moving from the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s to gritty, Texas blues-based boogie, ZZ Top was formed in 1969 with Frank Beard on drums and Dusty Hill (1949-2021) on bass. Their first record, ZZ Top’s First Album, was released in ’71, after which the band built a hyper-loyal following and became a major touring act while producing a slew of legendary albums. Rio Grande Mud, Tres Hombres, and Fandango! along with the hit singles “La Grange” and “Tush” made them a highly successful touring act.
The ’80s saw Gibbons push the band to new sonic territory, adding synthesizers to the group’s sound. The gamble paid off. Just in time for MTV, ZZ Top’s unique sound and tongue-in-cheek image were perfect for a new musical era. Video-bolstered hits like “Legs,” “Gimmie All Your Lovin’,” and “Sharp Dressed Man” made the group a household name. The 2019 documentary That Little Ol’ Band From Texas became a must-see for fans (and the uninitiated).
Gibbons’ chunky, tasteful, blues phrasing and gruff vocal style remain a constant. His solo records Perfectamundo, Big Bad Blues, Hardware, and Whiskey Raw show he has not lost the magic.– Oscar Jordan
|10%||Kenny Wayne Shepherd|
2021 Blues Player of the Year
It’s almost impossible to pin down Derek Trucks’ guitar style – his blistering bottleneck fuses blues, psychedelia, gospel, jazz scatting, swamp rock, and microtonal notes from India, all in one formidable stew. This year, VG readers voted him Blues Player of the Year, much of it on the strength of Layla Revisited, a powerhouse live album by the Tedeschi-Trucks Band featuring Trey Anastasio of Phish (no surprise, it’s also Album of the Year).
In the September ’21 issue, we wrote “Channeling Duane Allman’s spirit, Derek tears up a ’57 Les Paul goldtop on ‘Why Does Love Have to Be So Sad,’ sharing explosive solos with the Phish frontman. Anastasio sings lead on a nuanced ‘Bell Bottom Blues,’ while Doyle [Bramlett] offers a powerful break in ‘Little Wing.’ Trucks unleashes serious non-slide chops on ‘Layla,’ while [Susan] Tedeschi jams on an LP flametop.”
Armed with a red Gibson SG, glass slide, Fender and Alessandro tube amps, and picking with his freakishly long thumb, Derek builds his bottleneck lines in a magnificent “Anyway,” delivering 13-minutes of rockin’ guitar bliss.
As Trucks told Dean Budnick at Relix magazine, “The tunes that we hadn’t really played were the ones that I saw as a challenge. ‘I Looked Away’ is deceptively simple but there’s a lot of intricate guitar stuff on that tune. That was the first one where I wondered, ‘Are we going to able to make this thing feel right?’ I also felt that way about ‘I Am Yours’ and ‘Layla,’ really. ‘Layla’ is one you don’t really tackle too much just because it’s such a seminal tune. But I was also like, ‘It’s good to challenge yourself and the band.’ And, between me and Trey and Sue – and then after I reached out to Doyle – that’s when I felt we were going to be okay.” – Pete Prown
|19%||Christone “Kingfish” Ingram|
2021 Country Player of the Year
Renowned for his passionate original songs and soulful vocals, a guitar virtuoso who transcends genre, Vince Gill has amassed a substantial resume over nearly five decades. A Grand Ole Opry member and Country Music Hall of Famer, his credits include 26 million albums sold, 18 CMA awards, eight ACM Awards and 22 Grammys.
Gill’s picking skills have been part of the mix from the beginning. While Merle Haggard was his earliest hero as vocalist and songwriter, his guitar heroes spanned country, bluegrass, rock, and folk, all leaving their marks on his fluent picking style.
Having played bluegrass as an Oklahoma high-school junior, Gill worked with gifted players from the start. His early bluegrass collaborators included Ricky Skaggs and fiddler Byron Berline before he joined country-rockers Pure Prairie League.
Gill moved to Nashville to focus on his solo career, and while his earliest country hits came in the ’80s, he kicked into a higher gear with a string of #1 and Top 10 singles in the ’90s, among them “When I Call Your Name” and “One More Last Chance,” also featuring his playing.
Guitars of all types remain a vital part of Gill’s oeuvre; he’s nearly as famous for his sizable trove of vintage electrics, acoustics, and amps. Refusing to hide them in storage, he uses many onstage, most notably “Excalibur,” the ’53 Tele he bought for $450 in Oklahoma.
Beyond his own recordings, Gill remains a popular guest singer and guitarist on others’ recordings, be they old friends or young Nashville singer/guitarist Alex Hall. Some of his Grammys came for his picking on others’ recordings.
Joining the Eagles (one of his favorite bands) in 2017 didn’t dampen his solo career. 2021 brought Grammy number 22 for “While My Amy Prays,” honoring his wife, Christian singer Amy Grant. – Rich Kienzle
2021 Jazz Player of the Year
In acting, it’s called range – being able to convincingly play disparate characters. Well, having played with Miles Davis and Kiss, George Harrison and Barry Manilow – as well as Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Larry Carlton, and Jimmy Witherspoon along the way – Robben Ford might be the electric guitar’s equivalent of Dustin Hoffman.
Even ardent fans can’t agree whether he’s a blues player or a rocker, and VG readers have voted him best in the jazz category two of the last three years. Truth is, he’s all those things.
Getting his start in Northern California at age 19 with Charlie Musselwhite, he left the harmonica legend to form the Charles Ford Band with brothers Patrick on drums and Mark on harp. Bridging stone Chicago blues and modern jazz with an already indelible style of his own, he exerted a profound influence on guitarists that continues to this day.
In the May ’14 VG cover story on Mike Bloomfield, he said, “I was in junior high when that first album (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band) was released, and it was the most fantastic thing I’d ever heard. After hearing that album, I basically wanted to be Mike Bloomfield. I kind of found my direction as a guitar player with his playing on that record, and by the time I was 15, I’m not going to say that I could play like him, but I sounded like him.”
Almost like his ability to change styles, Ford’s favorite guitars through the years have included an ES-335, a Strat, Epiphone Riviera, Gibson Super 400, and Fender’s Robben Ford signature model. But the past couple of years have seen him favor a Les Paul, SG, and Telecaster.
In addition to many sessions and collaborations, he has released more than two dozen solo albums. Though he’s a fine singer, his latest release, Pure, is all instrumental. – Dan Forte
This article originally appeared in VG June 2022 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.