Few guitarists have sustained as rewarding
a career as Detroit native Dick Wagner, lead
guitarist with the Frost, a hard-rock band that
recorded three LPs for Vanguard Records.
Wagner is probably best known as Alice
Cooper’s collaborator, writing partner, and
bandleader, but most guitarists will remember
him as one half of the incredible guitar team on
Lou Reed’s live Rock n Roll Animal LP. Wagner’s
six-string partner was Steve Hunter, and their
playing on that record is a guitar junkie’s dream
come true. If you’ve never heard their twinguitar
work, be sure to check it out.
Photo from the collection of Dick Wagner
Wagner co-wrote more than 50 songs and
recorded some 19 albums with Cooper,
and their association yielded numerous hits.
Wagner has earned a stack of platinum and
gold album awards, and he has songwriter or
guitarist credits on more than 150 albums. In
the ’90s, Wagner started a record label and
talent agency. He continues to play—usually a
sunburst 1959 Les Paul reissue—and he’s still
a prolific songwriter.
Erik Braunn (sometimes known as Erik Brann)
was only 16 when he joined Iron Butterfly
just in time to record the band’s second
album, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. The album sold an astounding
20 million copies
and earned the
riff that powered
the album’s title
as many derisive
comments. His extended solo on the tune practically defined the
term “psychedelic guitar” at the time.
Braunn was always closely associated with Mosrite Ventures model
guitars, and he favored Vox Super Beatle amps for live work. At the
end of his life, he endorsed Taylor acoustics. He suffered cardiac
arrest and died in July 2003.
Grape hailed from
their lead guitarist,
Jerry Miller, was a
native of Tacoma,
worked the local
blues and rock
circuit and played
with Bobby Fuller
before the late
a national hit with
“I Fought the Law.”
Miller formed Moby Grape in ’67 with fellow guitarists Skip Spence
and Peter Lewis, bassist Bob Mosley, and drummer Don Stevenson.
The band’s debut album, 1967’s Moby Grape, was hailed by many
fans and critics as the best guitar record to come out of San Francisco
during that heady era. But the Grape quickly fell apart as a result of
bad business decisions, managerial problems, record-company blunders,
drug busts, ego clashes, and even chemically induced madness.
Through all the craziness, Miller’s lead guitar shone like a beacon in
the night. A funky blues player, he nonetheless had an affinity for
rock, country, and folk—and it shows in the band’s diverse music.
There have been numerous Moby Grape reunions and sessions over
the years, and Miller has been present for all of them. At age 67,
he continues to work in the Tacoma area with his own band, and he
still plays vintage Gibson L-5 archtops.
Jimmy Page did not invent the violin-bow guitar technique.
It was London-born Eddie Phillips—a progressive, criminally underrated guitarist—who used the bow
extensively on his cherry red Gibson ES-335.
With his band the Creation, Phillips produced
some of the coolest British freakbeat
(a British musical style that paralleled
American psychedelic music circa 1967) and
art-rock records of the day. Aggressive yet
catchy, the Creation’s music appealed to the
Who’s mod fans. The band is remembered
for “Making Time,” “Painter Man,” and
“Biff Bang Pow,” among other songs.
Phillips, who was quoted as saying “Our
music is red—with purple flashes,” was also
a pioneer of feedback and distortion, and
his playing coincidentally mirrored that of
Although they became stars in Germany,
the Creation only scored two minor hits in
England and never cracked the US charts.
The band splintered after a short time, and
Phillips eventually left the music business to
take a job driving a bus. However, he couldn’t
entirely resist music’s allure, and over the years, Phillips reformed the Creation for live
gigs and recording sessions. The band is
still at it today, though Phillips is the only
Finally, Roy Wood—lead guitarist with the
Move and co-founder of Electric Light
Orchestra—should be recognized for his
guitar skills. Known more as a songwriter
and ensemble player, Wood nonetheless
was an adept guitarist with an R&B and
roots-rock background. Playing a white
pre-CBS Fender Strat and a Fender Electric
XII on such Move cuts as “Fire Brigade,”
“Flowers in the Rain,” “Night of Fear,” “I
Can Hear the Grass Grow,” “Brontosaurus,”
and “Kilroy Was Here,” Wood epitomized
the jangly British power pop of the mid
to late ’60s.
The Move eventually morphed into Electric
Light Orchestra with guitarist Jeff Lynne
aboard, but Wood’s time with ELO was
short—he left after their first album.
Following his stint with ELO, Wood enjoyed
chart success with his own band, Wizzard.
Though Wood is now semi-retired, he ventures
out occasionally for live gigs.
Honoring Rock’s Forebears
The obvious guitar gods were not the only
ones making waves in ’60s rock music. The
gods were often simply those guitarists who
got the most press. All the lesser-known
players in this story have one thing in common:
They went about their business without
much fanfare and contributed positively to
the music, art, and culture of that tumultuous
time. In doing so, they made their mark in
their own special ways.
When you get a chance, dig into those dusty
vinyl LPs in your basement or go through
your dad’s record collection. You may discover
a special guitarist who will inspire you
to explore new musical directions.