Rhythm guitarists don't get enough play. You know they're there, maybe singing lead or back-up but how many of us leave a concert, exclaiming excitedly to our friends, "Did you note the rhythm guitar? Incredible!"
I've always followed the rhythm section more than the lead in any band. I'm just built that way. While Diana Ross crooned away, I was singing along with the Supremes in the background, completely ignoring her emotional pain. The Supremes just sound more complex, interesting and rhythmic to me. Same thing happens with nearly every critically acclaimed guitar solo I've ever heard. I start spacing out after a few moments and instead groove to the bass and rhythm guitars, chugging along underneath all the soaring wank. Wow, I always end up thinking, they're so steady--ROCK steady.
Some people have the unique talent to provide us with melody as a form of percussion, keeping everything going and setting the tone for the flashier musicians to do their thing. Here's a few that I hold in great esteem. Feel free to comment on your favorites to add to the list.
Nile Rodgers has done great production work with Diana Ross, David Bowie, Deborah Harry and Duran Duran, among others. But when he and bassist Bernard Edwards first teamed up in Chic, rhythmic magic occurred. Edwards was a genius, but check out Rodgers' guitar here--like a metronome with a heart--bright, happy, perfect.
Chic - Le Freak, 1978
Rodgers plays the Le Freak riff on French television. The French revere artistic talent. Look how thrilled they are, thinking to themselves, "Le Freak, C'est Chic!"
Roger McGuinn was the only band member who lasted the lifetime of The Byrds. From 1964 to 1973, he anchored one of the most influential American rock bands with his trademark 12-string Rickenbacker. It's hard to pick a single Byrds video from YouTube. The Byrds have so many amazing songs, performances, styles and line-ups. Some of their harmonies and melodies bring tears to my eyes; they're so good. I'm going to go with this one for the excitement factor. I'm really becoming an old fart.
McGuinn plays a really beautiful solo version of Eight Miles High on a 7-string acoustic guitar here. The original with David Crosby adding the crazy is here. Let us celebrate the birth of "country rock" here.
The late Curtis Mayfield sang so soulfully over his understated guitar. Even when covering the dark themes of poverty, addiction and drug dealing, there's a persistent, soothing, hopeful quality to his voice. Little Child Runnin' Wild, live from the Superfly soundtrack:
Here's a Byrds fan. If you've never seen Peter Buck play live, you really should. He has his own thing going on, which I'm not musically educated enough to describe. Words like "bell-like tone," "jangling," and "hyper-melodic" don't really cover it. You don't have to go see R.E.M. either, because he plays around with other bands on a somewhat regular basis. Sometimes he wears cleats and a casual blazer. I'm not sure why. Cleats are pretty uncomfortable unless you're standing on a grassy field, but that's just one aspect of his "uniqueness."
More fabulous rhythm guitar links:
Even if he had retired in 1966, Pete Townshend would still be known as a rhythm guitar master for Can't Explain.
Wanda Jackson, the queen of rockabilly, toured with (and dated) Elvis. She still tours and Hard Headed Woman is still a swinging good time.
Wild card: does anyone remember Mitch Easter in Let's Active? My friends and I were in awe of Faye Hunter and Sara Romweber who could sing while playing bass and drums, respectively (we were still figuring out how to do that). Easter produced R.E.M. and a bunch of other jangly 80s pop, but he could really play too; Every Word Means No.