Why you shouldn''t forget about Vinny Martell, Zal Yanovsky, Gene Cornish, John Cipollina, Michael Monarch, Randy California, Dick Wagner, Erik Braunn, Jerry Miller, Eddie Philips, and Roy Wood.
Before the British Invasion of early 1964, it was rare to find skilled rock guitarists
who were stars in their own right. There were a few—Duane Eddy, Chuck Berry,
and Carl Perkins led the pack, with Link Wray and Lonnie Mack close behind—
but as a general rule, singers were the stars and guitarists were sidemen.
In 1966 and ’67—when rock and roll came of age and became rock—the “guitarist
as hero” was born. Some say this began with Eric Clapton, who was suddenly
thrust into the spotlight with his incendiary work on John Mayall’s Blues
Breakers with Eric Clapton (aka “the Beano album”). This LP introduced the
world to overdriven Les Paul-through-Marshall tone and blew a lot of young
guitarists’ minds, including a very impressionable Eddie Van Halen, who reputedly
learned Clapton’s solos note-for-note.
It was a dynamic time for rock guitar, as players began emerging from the
lead singer’s shadow. After Clapton left the Yardbirds to join Mayall, Jeff Beck
stepped into the band and began recording some of the most imaginative,
futuristic, and exploratory guitar the world had yet heard. Eventually, his friend
Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds and continued to push the guitar’s sonic
boundaries before moving on to launch Led Zeppelin.
And then there was Jimi Hendrix—perhaps the ultimate rock guitar god—as
well as Chicagoan Mike Bloomfield (who first made waves in the Paul Butterfield
Blues Band), Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, and Peter Green and Mick Taylor
(both of whom launched their careers in Mayall’s Bluesbreakers). Dave Davies
of the Kinks, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry
Garcia, and Mountain’s Leslie West were also among the first generation of ’60s
guitar heroes. Most of them are still with us and musically active today.
But there are other guitarists who, for whatever reason, never received the recognition
or glory they deserved. As we examine some of these unsung heroes,
remember this is by no means a complete list. It would take an entire issue of
PG to pay homage to all the pioneering players of this era.
As the lead guitarist in Vanilla Fudge, Vinny
Martell electrified rock fans in the summer
of 1967 with a dramatic, slowed-down version
of the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’
On”—a track many feel bridged the gap
between psychedelia and heavy metal.
Vinny Martell onstage in April 2010 with his ’82 Les Paul
Black Beauty. Photo by Bob Cianci
Martell, who was born in the Bronx, New
York, joined the US Navy as a young man,
and after his stint there he went on to play
in bands in Florida before returning to New
York. There, he formed a band called the
Pigeons with Hammond B-3 organist and
singer Mark Stein, bassist Tim Bogert, and
drummer Joey Brennan. When the hard-rocking
Carmine Appice replaced Brennan on
drums, Vanilla Fudge was born. The quartet
recorded five albums that consisted mostly
of highly rearranged cover material. Their
daring mix of soul, rock, and classical music
influenced such bands as Deep Purple, Yes,
and Led Zeppelin.
Initially, Vanilla Fudge’s music was dominated
by Stein’s B-3. It wasn’t until the band’s
fourth album, 1969’s Near the Beginning,
that Martell came into his own as a guitarist.
His playing on Beginning was punctuated by
slashing chord work and impassioned blues-based
solos that included the occasional
Middle Eastern twist. Stein, Bogert, and
Appice were powerful players and singers,
so at first Martell’s role was to provide a
musical foundation for the group. His bandmates
also relied on him for moral support.
“I was the spiritual guy in the group that
held it all together,” says Martell. “I was the
calm one who kept things cool. I think we
would have splintered any number of times
without my influence.”
Over time, Martell stepped into the limelight
and also contributed to the band’s sophisticated
arrangements. During the Fudge’s
’60s heyday, Martell played Gibson guitars—
ES-335s, SGs, a big archtop L-5, and several
Les Pauls, including a TV yellow Junior. For
amps, Martell gigged with Magnatone,
Fender, Standel, Kustom, Traynor, and Sunn
models before settling on Marshall stacks.
The Fudge split up in 1970, but since the
’90s they’ve regrouped many times for short
tours, occasionally with all the original members.
Martell also works local gigs with his
own band. He currently plays an ’82 Les Paul
Black Beauty, a Floyd Rose-equipped Kramer
with a custom flame paint job, and several
ESP guitars through Mesa/Boogie amplification.
“ESP has been great to me,” says
Martell. “When I go out on tour, I only bring
two guitars—a red ESP that looks like a Les
Paul and my Kramer.”
Vanilla Fudge’s progressive vision is documented
in a four-disc box set from Rhino
Records called Box of Fudge.
One of the great characters of ’60s rock,
Zal Yanovsky held the lead-guitar spot with
the Lovin’ Spoonful for most of the group’s
existence and played on all their hits, including
“Do You Believe in Magic,” “You Didn’t
Have to Be So Nice,” “Summer in the City,”
“Younger Girl,” and “Rain on the Roof.” An
ex-folkie, Canadian-born Yanovsky teamed
with Greenwich Village singer, songwriter,
and guitarist John Sebastian to form the
Spoonful in 1965.
The band’s good-time sound—a mixture
of rock, blues, country, folk, and jug-band
music—brought them immediate success
and challenged the stranglehold that British
groups had on the charts at the time.
Yanovsky was an accomplished guitarist who
could handle straight blues, raucous rock,
sensitive chord work, country licks, and much
more. He played for the song and delivered
exactly what was necessary to make each
one work. Yanovsky was also one of the very
few guitarists who played the Gumby-shaped
Guild S-200 Thunderbird solidbody. He had
two—one with a sunburst finish and another
with custom purple paint—which he played
through Standel amplifiers.
After a drug bust in 1967, Yanovsky left the
Spoonful and recorded his only solo album, the
now collectible Alive and Well in Argentina,
on which he sang and played most of the
instruments. He returned home to Kingston,
Ontario, where he opened a restaurant, Chez
Piggy, followed by the Pan Chancho bakery.
Both ventures were highly successful.
When the Lovin’ Spoonful were inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, it was
the last time all four original members would
be reunited. During the end-of-festivities jam,
Yanovsky took a solo on his battered S-200
that proved he had lost none of his youthful
fire and drew smiles from Eric Clapton, an
admitted fan, who was sharing the stage.
Yanovsky died of congestive heart failure in
2002, but thanks to the superb music he left
behind, his legacy lives on.
Gene Cornish achieved incredible success as
guitarist for the Rascals. A Canadian by birth,
Cornish was a seasoned music-business veteran
by the time he joined the band in 1965, following a stint with Joey Dee & the Starliters,
where he met future Rascals Felix Cavaliere and
Eddie Brigati. With the addition of powerhouse
drummer Dino Danelli, the Rascals scored
numerous hits before disbanding in 1972.
Gene Cornish of the Rascals poses with his Rickenbacker
semi-hollowbody in this 1989 publicity photo.
Never known as a flashy lead player, Cornish
excelled at rhythm guitar and tried to move
with the times as the music dictated. His
use of fuzz on the single, “Come on Up,”
was gnarly and effective, his chord work on
“Groovin’” was tasty, and his funky licks on
“In the Midnight Hour” would have made
Steve Cropper proud. Cornish still works with
drummer Danelli in the New Rascals, and all
four original members performed a reunion
show in early 2010.
In the ’60s, Cornish favored Gibson Barney
Kessel archtops. Today, he plays Stratocaster-style
guitars. In 1997, the Rascals were
inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
John Cipollina of San Francisco’s Quicksilver
Messenger Service was one of the most
original and talented guitarists of the psychedelic
era. Cipollina made extensive use
of the Bigsby tremolo on his two highly customized
“bat wing” Gibson SGs—a result,
legend has it, of his inability to master
John Cipollina with a Kahler-equipped Carvin double-cutaway just north of San Francisco circa 1987. Photo by Alan Blaustein
Using a thumbpick and fingerpicks, Cipollina
achieved his trademark tones through an
unusual rig consisting of solid-state Standel
and Fender tube amps, coupled with large
Wurlitzer horns, echo units, and effects pedals.
His background in classical guitar and
piano gave him a different perspective than
other rock guitarists of the era who relied
heavily on the pentatonic blues scale for
their solos and riffs.
Cipollina continued to work in various San
Francisco-area bands until his death in 1989
due to chronic emphysema. His family donated
his favorite SG, along with his amp and effects
rig, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where it
is on prominent display in the museum.
Quicksilver’s other guitarist, Gary Duncan,
also bears mention. His early work in the
garage band the Brogues paid homage to
Yardbirds-era Jeff Beck, but in Quicksilver
he expanded his palette to include jazz
licks and sitar-like phrasing that blended
effectively with Cipollina’s quivering sounds.
With their divergent approaches, Duncan
and Cipollina managed to stay out of each
other’s way and form an extremely simpatico
Duncan still lives in the Bay area and occasionally
tours with an updated version of
Quicksilver Messenger Service. In the late
’60s, he played a Gibson L-5, an ES-335, and
a ’56 Les Paul Custom, but he eventually
shifted to Fender Stratocasters and Norlin-era
Gibson Firebirds and Les Pauls.
When 17-year-old Michael Monarch joined
Steppenwolf in 1967, he’d only been playing
guitar for a few years. Nonetheless, he helped
the band score their first big hit with the biker
anthem, “Born to Be Wild.” Armed with a candy-
apple-red Fender Esquire blowing through
a fuzz box and Fender Concert or Bandmaster amps, he tracked three albums with Steppenwolf
before getting his walking papers in 1969, just
before the release of At Your Birthday Party.
Michael Monarch with his customized Fender Strat.
Photo by DJ Moore
In the ’70s, Monarch put together a moderately
successful band called Detective with singer
Michael Des Barres, and he has worked for
years with a group called World Classic Rockers,
which includes Denny Laine of the Moody Blues,
Spencer Davis, Randy Meisner of Poco and the
Eagles, and other music-biz veterans.
Monarch, who now favors Stratocasters, has
also released several diverse solo instrumental
albums, and he’s done extensive scoring
work for television and movies.
Randy “California” Wolfe will forever be remembered
as the guitarist with the progressive band
Spirit, which scored medium-sized hits with “I
Got a Line on You” and “Nature’s Way” in the
late ’60s. The group’s eclectic sound incorporated
rock, blues, jazz, folk, and Latin influences.
Sparked by California’s thoughtful, forward-thinking
guitar work, Spirit was known for their
lively gigs. California was given his moniker by
none other than Jimi Hendrix, who he played
with in 1966 in New York City.
Spirit split up in 1971, while still riding the
success of their album Twelve Dreams of
Dr. Sardonicus. Later, California gigged and
recorded with his stepfather, Spirit drummer
Ed Cassidy, along with numerous bass players.
He also released several solo records that
were snatched up by a rabid cult following.
California played inexpensive Silvertone-branded
Danelectro guitars in the early
days of Spirit, but he later switched to
Stratocasters, the occasional Les Paul, and
finally Charvel guitars.
In January 1997, California and his son Quinn
were swimming in the ocean off the coast of
Molokai, Hawaii, when they were caught in a
riptide. California managed to push Quinn to
safety, but he drowned in the process and his
body was never recovered.
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.