forgotten heroes

Droves of guitarists can be traced back to Clarence White, from acoustic flatpicker Tony Rice to steel-inspired Tele players like Brad Paisley and Marty Stuart. Stuart now owns White’s famed Tele with the first StringBender, while Rice owns White’s Martin D-28 Herringbone.
Photo by Frank Chino

From his family bluegrass band to joining the Byrds and driving the invention of the StringBender, White’s hybrid style and repertoire has inspired generations of pickers since he came on the scene as an in-demand session player in the ’60s.

In the mid 1960s, the Byrds were one of a handful of bands that defined the era. Built around tight vocal harmonies and Roger McGuinn's jangly Rickenbacker 12-string, their chart-topping music incorporated elements of folk, early rock, country, and psych. But by 1968 the original lineup had disbanded and version two—featuring multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Gram Parsons—was also ending. By mid-year, McGuinn was the only remaining original member. But he had an ace up his sleeve: In July of that year, he reunited with founding bassist Chris Hillman and they recruited guitarist Clarence White into the band.

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A smoke-shrouded Walley wields a Strat at a recent performance.

While playing with Zappa and Beefheart, this blues guitarist pushed the limits of traditional form within avant-garde rock.

Denny Walley isn’t a household name—but he should be. His exquisite slide work and powerful vocals are integral to classic Frank Zappa albums like Bongo Fury, Joe’s Garage, You Are What You Is, and others. He had a similar role in Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. (His Beefheart alias was “Feelers Rebo.”) He toured extensively with Beefheart, and his guitar appears on the often-bootlegged 1978 classic Bat Chain Puller. But Walley’s work isn’t limited to the esoteric or avant-garde. He spent years as a sideman immersed in soul, funk, R&B, and blues, and nearly hit the big time with the hard-rocking Geronimo Black.

But Walley’s most important accomplishment may be his ability to straddle those dissimilar worlds. Regardless of context—be it far-out, contemporary, traditional, or mutant hybrid—Walley speaks in a unique voice. And that voice, whether quoting one of his heroes or interpreting the visions of a mad musical genius, helped redefine what the guitar can do.

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Pops Staples at the Chicago Blues Fest on June 8, 1986.
Photo by Kirk West / Archive Photos / Getty Images

The gospel guitarist who took his tremolo-shaken country blues from Sunday mass to the masses.

Whenever you hear country blues-inflected guitar played through an amp with tremolo, you’re hearing a sound descended from singer/composer/guitarist Pops Staples. Best known as the leader of a family gospel group, the Staple Singers, his guitar style influenced and inspired John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, and countless others. The dark mystery of his instrument’s wavy sound has become part of the fabric of American music.

Roebuck Staples, known as “Pops,” was born to Warren and Florence Staples on December 28, 1914, on a cotton plantation near Winona, Mississippi. Roebuck and his older brother Sears were named after the Chicago mail-order company that supplied millions of rural Americans with everything from washing machines to musical instruments.

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