Greatest Les Paul Guitarists 7-1
Written By Patrick Ortiz
Last week we discussed some of the best Gibson Les Paul guitarists by looking at numbers 14-8. This week, I will ease your nerves and answer your questions of “what about this guy?” with part two of the 14 greatest Les Paul players.
Again, this is not a complete list of all of the great players out there. Please feel free to hit us with your favorite players and share experiences of seeing them live!
Let’s look at numbers 7-1!
There aren’t many musicians who are known for being a part of two major rock bands, let alone for being both the lead singer and guitarist. Steve Marriott grew up in London, England, where he formed his first band by age twelve, influenced by his heroes Buddy Holly, Muddy Waters, and others. After a few short-lived projects, Marriott met some talented musicians and formed The Small Faces who officially began in 1965 when Marriott was 18. Although the original lineup did not last long, the band was considered “one of the most influential” groups in the UK during that time. After leaving the Small Faces in 1969, Marriott formed another pivotal late-60’s British rock band, Humble Pie along with Peter Frampton. Both bands saw success, but never got the full recognition they deserved, and the same can be said for Marriott himself; he had such a knack for performing and commanded every stage he set foot on. His voice rivaled many of the greatest rock vocalists – Robert Plant is rumored to have “imitated” Marriott’s raw blues vocals after seeing Small Faces in concert a few times – and his guitar work, which was at virtuosic levels, was never truly appreciated. Fun fact, Steve was actually supposed to replace Mick Taylor in the Rolling Stones, but he got a little too into the music and tried to outshine Mick Jagger, which apparently is a huge no no. Even though Keith Richards wanted Steve in, it didn’t happen. Marriott sadly and tragically passed away at the age of 44 and although he is wildly underrated, he is still raved about by avid guitarists, including Joe Bonamassa who said Marriott was “One of the greatest if not the greatest ever. If you don’t know of Steve Marriott I suggest strongly that you do.”
Instead of having to migrate to the holy land of blues like the majority of the legendary bluesmen, Mike Bloomfield grew up right in the heart of the action in Chicago, Illinois. During his formative musical years, he was fortunate enough to play gigs alongside Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and other blues musicians. Although he didn’t look like someone who would understand the meaning of the blues, as Bloomfield’s fellow musician Al Kooper put it, “this was someone who truly understood what the blues were all about.” In 1965 Bloomfield joined the now highly revered blues group, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with the expert harmonica player and singer at the helm and fellow guitarist, Elvin Bishop. He began getting overwhelmed with the grueling tour schedule due to the growing success of the band and decided to set out on his own. He joined forces with Al Kooper who compiled an amazing blues album featuring Bloomfield on the first half and Steven Stills on the second. Mike Bloomfield was a truly gifted guitarist and was recognized as “one of the first popular music superstars of the 60’s to earn his reputation almost entirely on his instrumental prowess.” He is a much-talked about musician among blues enthusiasts and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 as a member of Paul Butterfield’s band.
Peter Green is another one of those guitarists that is crucially important to many guitar players and some avid music fans, but unfortunately isn’t as admired as he should be. After being in a few smaller bands around the London area, Green received a spectacular opportunity to replace Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, one of the most revered blues bands that had multiple rotations of the some pivotal musicians. After a brief time in that band, along with fellow Bluesbreaker Mick Fleetwood, Green formed the beginning form of Fleetwood Mac.The band was a straight British blues powerhouse with Green leading the charge with expert guitar shredding and strong vocals, prompting critics to say, “Green was a major figure in the second great epoch of the British blues movement.” When musicians like Clapton and Page praise your playing and B.B. King says, “He has the sweetest tone I’ve ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats,” you must be pretty good. After only three years with Fleetwood Mac, Green’s mental health began to deteriorate at an alarming rate. After 10 years out of the professional music scene, Green began to reemerge and has played in various bands, toured, and released music in different capacities ever since. Fun fact, many people think “Black Magic Woman” was written by the Latin-rock superstar Carlos Santana since it’s one of his most famous songs, but, Peter Green actually wrote it during his time with Fleetwood Mac and it became an instant hit.
You all can breathe now; of course I had to add the namesake of the instrument we are talking about! Lester Polsfuss wore many hats in his long life and career: guitarist, songwriter, luthier, and inventor. Beyond inventing and popularizing one of the most iconic and purchased guitars in history, Paul also was among the first musicians to bring effects like delay, phasing, and overdubbing “widespread attention.” Together with his wife Mary Ford, the two had a successful and brilliant musical relationship playing old style rock and roll and country tunes. Les Paul will always be a main figure in music history and is “one of a handful of artists with a permanent, stand-alone exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”
It always blows my mind that so many groundbreaking musicians were able to accomplish the things they did even in a short life span. One prime example is the slide guitar mastermind, Duane Allman who is still considered one of the greatest players of all time and he passed away at 24 years old! In his short time with us, he played with stars like Aretha Franklin, Herbie Mann, and Eric Clapton, was a staple of the Muscle Shoals session band for countless recordings, and helped to start the most notable blues, southern jam bands around. His slide playing is instantly recognizable and set the bar for all guitarists to come.
Speaking of once in a lifetime guitarists who died way too young, we’re up to Paul Kossoff. For those of you who have puzzled looks at this name, I direct you to the late-60’s and the rockin’ blues band, Free, Paul Rodgers’ band before Bad Company. Free was a just a non-stop trailblazing blues bands with all music virtuosos. The driving force behind their sound was the young-gun Les Paul-wielding Paul Kossoff on guitar. His bold tone, insane string bends, and impeccable soloing has inspired many guitarists over the years, including our own Joe Bonamassa who admits to Paul Kossoff being a huge influence on his playing and for “stealing many of his licks.” Although he was just 25 when he died, he is featured on several “greatest guitarist” lists and is celebrated among all guitar enthusiasts.
Jimmy Page is the number one Les Paul player in my opinion, not only because he convinced me to pick up a guitar, but because he performs with such a raw intensity and purpose and demanded to be heard with every deliberate note. Even from his early days playing in skiffle bands in England, you could tell Page would be destined for greatness. Not only a gifted guitarist, Page was involved in every aspect of the industry you can think of; he was a session guitarist on multiple genres worth of albums, a producer, prolific songwriter, and the guitarist in the best rock band in history, Led Zeppelin. You will be hard-pressed to find a rock guitarist who doesn’t have Page to thank for at least one aspect of their playing. Over his many years in the business, Page has become synonymous with the Les Paul, arguably the most out of anyone on our list.
There you have it, the 14 best Gibson Les Paul players. Again, I know there are other amazing players I left out, so let us know who your favorites are.
Also, as an honorable mention, I would like to acknowledge our own Joe Bonamassa as a pivotal modern blues guitarist and expert Les Paul shredder. This list was actually compiled with many of his opinions and favorites in mind and with the players who helped to influence him to start playing over 30 years ago!