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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 band repeated platinum awards. Braunn’s nowlegendary guitar riff that powered the album’s title song inspired thousands of young guitarists, and perhaps generated almost 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.
Although Moby Grape hailed from San Francisco, their lead guitarist, Jerry Miller, was a native of Tacoma, Washington. He worked the local blues and rock circuit and played with Bobby Fuller before the late songwriter scored 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 Pete Townshend.
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 original member.
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.