When I was a kid and started to surrender to my love of music I remember getting lost in amazing solos. They would just take me away and I would listen to them over and over until I could sing along with them note for note. Although the human voice is completely capable of soloing as well, most solos are played on instruments and not tied to lyrics. This facet of music is what makes it the universal language to me. Early on for whatever reason I started to gravitate away from listening to guitar solos. The best guitar solos also seemed to be played by guitarist that didn’t listen to other guitarist very much. Here is a list I put together today of my top 10.
1. Sonny Rollins saxophone solo on the Rolling Stones hit single “Waiting on a Friend” I used to get tears in my eyes even as a young child when I heard this track. The middle solo and the outgoing solo are just beautiful. It sounds like he just improvised the entire thing extemporaneously which I know he is capable of but Damn! I still love his playing on this track more than anything I have ever heard on any instrument.
What’s funny is jazz musicians can be a little “snobby” and “clicky” sometimes. Since I love this track as much as I do I am always talking about it it. Especially when I am talking to saxophone players. You wouldn’t believe how many Jazz musicians have said to me “Nuh Uh!, that’s not Sonny Rollins, he wouldn’t play with The Stones”
Can you believe some folks are so close minded? I always tell them “read the liner notes knucklehead and by the way Charlie Watts is a fine Jazz drummer as well”
2. “Devil Takes the Hindmost” by Allan Holdsworth. Allan’s chordal work on here is so beautiful you get blindsided when he starts this solo and just goes off. As a kid I had a red Toyota mini pickup that was tough as nails. It had this Sony fancy CD player I put in there and I would drive all over Houston (The largest city in Texas) listening to this track. I would just get lost in it. My friend Alex Jiminez was often with me and I will never forget the 1st time I played it for him. Alex said; “It sounds like mercury in a thermometer” That may sound a little weird to some folks but if you know Alex he is sharp as they come. Years later a writer in Guitar Player magazine described Allan’s playing as mercurial and I thought of Alex
It was a tight race between “Devil Takes The Hindmost” and Allan’s solo on “How Deep is the Ocean” that Clint Strong showed me a few months ago. If you haven’t heard that one yet, give it a listen as well.
What’s funny is as a kid I would go over and over that solo in my head. To this day I can sing it and it is the craziest amalgamation of tones I have ever heard. I never could even imagine what the hell he was thinking when he made it up. God has a sense of humor and I ended up meeting and becoming friends with Allan years later. I asked him one time what he was thinking when he did that and the answer ended up being the greatest guitar lesson I ever had. He said “The only think I know when I start a solo is the first note I choose, after that I have no idea what the hell I am doing” How’s that for radical honesty?
3. “Push Comes To Shove” by Eddie Van Halen This song wasn’t one of Van Halen’s big hits so it’s brilliance got a little buried I always thought. I could hear Allan’s influence on Eddie here as well. Something Eddie and Allan and Eddie’s brother Alex have in common is impeccable time. The phrasing and groove he plays here is hypnotic and unforgettable once you have heard it
4. Michael Brecker’s solo on Quartet #1 from Chick Corea’s 3 Quartets. This one is sick it is so burning. I can sing this one note for note as well. I remember being at a party in college at this guy Steve Wilson’s house. I was talking up this solo and he went into his room, got out his trumpet and played it note for note. I high fived him to the moon. This solo is played over a G Vamp in 3/4 time. As life is weird I ended up meeting Michael Brecker years later and he described to me that his favorite thing to solo over is just one chord, a vamp. I concur, you can really let loose in a situation like that musically and it’s more challenging to keep it interesting in many ways when doing so. Check this solo out, Michael is simply killing on this one and it is the most burning solo I have ever heard.
5. Ronnie Ross saxophone solo on Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” This one is short and sweet but sticks to your ribs. I always loved the tune as well. The New Bohemians used to do a great cover of this tune. Check it out and see how expressive it is and just complements the tune perfectly. It also does something that good solos often do. It leaves you wanting more.
6. Pat Martino’s solo on “Impressions” from the album “Consciousness” Pat is a virtuoso who needs no introduction here. However his solo here on this tune is so happening. Great 8th note feel and it just hits in the gut. Impressions is a John Coltrane tune and basically 2 chords like “So What” by Miles Davis. As I stated I think these tunes since they are more static in nature lead to more creative expression as they are not as busy. It does not make them any easier to play over though. Especially this well. I could sing this one in my sleep I have heard it so many times.
7. Kenny Burrell “La Petite Mambo” my friend Clint Strong related to me that Kenny learned to play like this in strip clubs. The drum track on here just snaps and has that “spangalang” to quote the great Marchel Ivery. Ever since I heard this one I have been able to sing along and it never get’s old.
8.”Vigil” from the album “Kulu Se Mama” by John Coltrane.
This solo is intense and what is possible when someone spends so much time with their instrument that they transcend it and become one with it. It’s just Elvin Jones and John doing their thing. I listen to this a lot and have for years. Every time I hear it there is another layer to it. It is a spiritual experience to listen to this and I love it.
9. “Over The Mountain” by Randy Rhoads. This could easily have been “Goodbye to Romance”, “Mr. Crowley” or any other of Randy’s amazing melodic masterpieces. He was a big influence on me as a kid. He was a rock player that could read music. Loved classical music like I did and taught guitar like me. I found him to be a great person to aspire to. The first thing he did when he had to learn all those Black Sabbath songs was why are all of these songs in the key of E and A? It baffled him because he knew all 12 keys and the wonderful spectrum of sound that was available. That’s exactly what I found so musically repulsive about the “grunge era” 80 % percent of those god awful songs all in the key of Drop D. He left the earth too young at 25 but was a great soloist and a huge influence on me.
10. “Miss Anne’s Tempo” by Grant Green. Grant Green is a great guitar player that is not as well known as some of these other musicians. Somehow he didn’t even get on my radar until Clint brought the track over years ago. I can sing this one now as well. Always remember that; If you can sing it, you can play it. No truer words have ever been spoken. It’s an awesome tune and it just has an incredibly melodic horn like approach in the lines of the solo and it builds magically.
Tags: Allan Holdsworth, Devil Takes the Hindmost, Eddie Van Halen, Grant Green, Impressions, Kenny Burrell, Kulu Se Mama, La Petite Mambo, Michael Brecker, Miss Anne's Tempo, Over The Mountain, Pat Martino, Push Comes To Shove, Quartet #1, Randy Rhoads, Ronnie Ross, Sonny Rollins, Take a Walk on the Wild Side, Vigil, Waiting on a Friend