Who is the band member who is also the most affecting, authoritative lead guitarist of all time? Who has the most memorable opening guitar riffs that cause an instantaneous recognition of a song? Who can mesmerize a crowd with his playing and stage presence (perhaps together with an off-stage persona to match)?
In short, who is the best, most recognizable, most powerful “guitar engine” that propelled his band and helped drive it to greatness?
In an informal poll of family and friends, there were a number of strong candidates advanced. Eddie Van Halen, Dave Matthews, Lindsay Buckingham, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Duane Allman, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton, and Carlos Santana were all band guitarists of great skill and notoriety. All would certainly fulfill the “engine” criterion. And without a doubt all could bring a swooning concert crowd to its feet.
As good as they all are, they’re not the best. Not by a long shot, folks.
The best all-time band guitarist is none other than Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Yep, the ole English pirate himself.
But wasn’t Keith on the Ark with Noah, you ask?
No, but part of my reasoning behind Keith’s selection is that he has been a major part of a long and distinguished body of work (along, of course, with Mick and the others). They’ve lasted so long because they’ve continued to connect with listeners and audiences after all these fifty years. And there are all the great songs that have become so ingrained in our culture. That’s the point. You wouldn’t expect the greatest band guitarist to come from, say, Whitesnake, would you? (Sorry, that was a diss, I know. My bad. Throw ‘em a bone, er rat . . . sorry again.)
Think of Keith’s opening licks from Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women, Midnight Rambler, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and the immortal Satisfaction, which in 2004 Rolling Stones magazine placed second on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. While Keith isn’t the greatest guitarist ever, he is the musician who powered one of the greatest bands ever. Still does, as a matter of fact. Throw him a bone.
All-time band, all-time songs, all-time guitarist. That’s Keith Richards.
There, you have my choice.
Who is yours?