In the highest portion of top guitarist rankings, the names Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton consistently show up in various combinations. Without intending to denigrate these incredibly talented performers, the term “guitar hero” is disproportionately applied to guitarists who achieved international success in 20th-century pop-rock.
In general, the underappreciated skills of nameless session guitarists and jazz virtuosos have frequently missed the essential component of creative awareness and showmanship necessary for promotion. Because they surfed on a well-known wave right before it broke, guitarists like Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix are regarded as two of the greatest of all time. They reached the virtuoso apex of electric blues shortly before the obtrusive emergence of punk music.
The thriving London rock scene brought together many of the aforementioned electric guitar luminaries of the late 1960s, and their friendly competition and mutual inspiration fueled advancement. Beck remembered in 2021 with Louder Sound, “When I saw Jimi, we knew he was going to be trouble, And by ‘we’, I mean me and Eric [Clapton] because Jimmy [Page] wasn’t in the frame at that point.”
He added, “I saw him at one of his earliest performances in Britain, and it was quite devastating, He did all the dirty tricks – setting fire to his guitar, doing swoops up and down his neck, all the great showmanship to put the final nail in our coffin. I had the same temperament as Hendrix in terms of ‘I’ll kill you’, but he did in such a good package with beautiful songs.”
“I don’t want to say that I knew him well, I don’t think anybody did, but there was a period in London when I went to visit him quite a few times. He invited me down to Olympic studios, and I gave him a bottleneck. That’s what he plays on Axis: Bold As Love. We hooked up in New York and played at Steve Paul’s club, The Scene.”
Page singled up Stevie Ray Vaughan as the only guitarist who came close to matching Hendrix’s mastery of the blues later in his interview with Louder Sound. Beck said, “I met him [Vaughan] at a CBS convention in Hawaii in 1981. He was a little worse for wear. He was eating KFC out of a box and then ate the box as well. We went on the road together in ’89. He’d got a beautiful new girlfriend, and he was as straight as a die.”
“We were on the road for about three months. And then the tragic story was when he went in that helicopter he didn’t want to get on it. The people around him talked him into it by saying: ‘Look, Eric [Clapton] has just got on one.’ So off he went and never came back.”
He added, “I think Stevie Ray was the closest thing to Hendrix when it came to playing the blues.”
Watch a 1989 performance by Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughan below.