About Guitar Gods and other lists

Is Kaki King a guitar god or not? The really interesting thing about music and other art is that we as viewers get to spin off in a multitude of directions and the real answer is that all of those opinions are correct and valid. There is no right answer to the musical question – there are only opinions about who we like better at the time.

I wrote this post as a comment after watching the video below.

“Kaki King, the first female on Rolling Stone’s “guitar god” list, rocks out to a full live set at TED2008, including her breakout single, “Playing with Pink Noise.” Jaw-dropping virtuosity meets a guitar technique that truly stands out.”

I once watched Leo Kottke in concert and while he is technically brilliant for me it was kind of sterile and neither the music nor the songs connected with me. Kaki is clearly one to watch as she is youngish and by the sound of it has some new music since this performance.

I have seen other virtuoso players before and so maybe this is not so surprising as it is to those for whom this style is a new thing.

Technical excellence is a great starting point for a musical conversation. Last year I watched Rufus Wainwright in concert and

I wanted him to hit some wrong notes so I knew I wasn’t watching a hologram.

He did make some connections but sometimes he was just playing the piano (fantastically well.) I was there for the songs – & not the tricks. That video eye thing in the first half was a bit much and the Elizabethan dress was OTT but we never got a good look at it really.

Regarding Rufus – his concert was gobsmacking nonetheless and his new album Out of the Game is his best yet – but I digress.

When we listen to music the brain makes instant associations and connections with our prior experiences so we all come to new musical experiences with our own filters & comparisons. That is how we are wired. Daniel Kahneman and Daniel Levitin have great research into this type of thinking.

Kakis mentor Preston Reed would say he is influenced by John Fahy & others who are largely forgotten by the music business. It seems surprising that no one has mentioned Bruce Cockburn who has been playing for 50 years now and is famous not because of his guitar style which is impressive but because he has written songs that make meaningful connections with many. ( Below is Bruce with Ali Farka Toure)

I’m personally more of a blues fan and that is a great clip. BTW Ali Farka Toure made 76 on the list. Bruce didn’t make any of these lists but is a personal favourite of mine – I actually got to have dinner with him a long time ago so that was a bonus.

There are other RS lists and Bonnie Raitt ( “Hello I’m the 89th best guitarist in the world” sounds more like a line from a future episode of Flight of the Conchords.

Musicianship is not really a competition and those lists by magazines are just easy ways to write a story that the magazine can sell ads around. I did have a look at a list of the “100 greatest guitarists of all time” on Rolling Stone and was amused to see that Joni Mitchell came in at 72 and Joan Jett was at # 87 (the only women in the list) – all of which tells us more about Rolling Stone than it does about music.

Joe Sullivan thought so to. Robert Johnson at 71 is just plain wrong.

Obviously the guy making the list never saw Jennifer Precious Finch play in L7 and there are many other female guitarists who should be on these lists but they are mostly only good for Bill & Ted style pub quizzes.

In my book Joni Mitchell’s work with open tunings and with Jaco Pastorius in particular marked her as a standout on any list. I had the very great pleasure of hearing Jaco play live but according to her wikipedia entry Joni is now

“A blunt critic of the music industry, Mitchell quit touring and released her 17th, and reportedly last, album of original songs in 2007. Now based in British Columbia, she describes herself as a “painter derailed by circumstance.”[6]

Is Kaki anywhere on that scale? Not in my view but she is one to watch as the video above dates from 2008. Enjoy.

There are not many ( if any) lists of “painters derailed by circumstance” but there are a lot of other lists. Here is a top 15 acoustic guitar  players list (video.) More context for Kaki whose tapping is really not that unusual when seen in this group – she is #11 on this list.

(On this acoustic guitar list: Petteri Sariola 15. Kotaro Oshio 14. Justin King 13. Erik Mongrain 12. Kaki King 11. Peppino D’Agostino 10. Antoine Dufour 9. Andy Mckee 8. Stephen Bennett 7. Steven King 6. Don Ross 5. Chet Atkins 4. Lenny Breau 3. Tommy Emmanuel 2. Michael Hedges 1.)