Thursday, June 16, 2016

Great Guitar Solos, #10: Prince attacks "Whole Lotta Love"

For years, I didn't know that Prince was a bad-ass guitarist. I listened to him primarily during the height of his commercial popularity ("1999" and "Purple Rain"), before concert videos were readily available, and rarely heard stand alone solos that demanded attention; his leads on vinyl tended to be short lines that added color to the compositions. I was under the impression that he used the guitar mainly for songwriting, or as a prop to hide behind onstage, like Bruce Springsteen. 

Boy was I wrong.

The epiphany came when I first saw the video below, from the 2004 Rock Hall of Fame ceremony. Watch as Prince comes in at 3:38 with mad shred:



I viewed the clip several times, eyes (and ears) wide, and then filed it away in the mental recesses where treasured YouTube performance videos go to die. 

Flash forward to last April. I wasn't a huge Prince fan, but his passing hit me harder than the
deaths of other musical eminences this year. George Martin was 90; I was grateful he had lived as long as he did. David Bowie was 69 and had had drug problems early in his life, so I wasn't that surprised when he died. Paul Kantner had lived a full life and his best work was forty years in the rear view mirror. Ditto for Keith Emerson and Maurice White.

Prince, by contrast, was relatively young and appeared to be still vibrant. Every time I saw him in media appearances, he was dressed to the nines and looked healthy. I had never read
anything about him using drugs or alcohol; I suspected he was a straight edge like most Jehovah's Witnesses. Just six weeks before his death he played the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Walking past the theater on my way to work, I saw his name on the marquee and assumed he would kill it, as he always did. 

As the shock set in in the days after his death, I came across a concert video I had never seen, Prince's rendition of "Whole Lotta Love." I'm generally skeptical of Led Zeppelin coversbecause so few musical acts are capable of doing justice to the original songsbut this performance is an exception. 



The above video captures much of what made Prince unique. The wicked falsetto vocal. The dandy threads. The beautiful, slinky women in Prince's backing band. The throwback psychedelic light show. And the sick lead guitar. Launching with the words "no format tonight," at 1:01, Prince puts on a guitar clinic of Hendrixian proportions, bringing a big, bold sound with soaring bends, tight vibratos, tasteful hammer-on pull-offs, and electrifying stagecraft. 

Considering the decline of the original batch of '60s six-string gods, and the dearth of new ones, Prince's passing may have robbed us of one of the last true guitar heroes. 

Other Truth and Beauty guitar essays:

         Click here for "The Second Coming:  Stevie Ray Vaughan," 
a first-hand account of Vaughan's final concert

here for "The heaviest New Year's Eve guitar jam ever: Hendrix
does 'Machine Gun'"

here for "The underappreciated ingenuity of Robbie Krieger"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #8: Freddie King's 'San-Ho-Zay'"
                       
  here for "Link Wray's 'Rumble'"
                  
here for "Great Guitar Solos, #1:  Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic)"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa"

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock" 

here for "Great Guitar Solos, #5:  Alvin Lee"

 here for "Great Guitar Solos, #6: Neil Young's 'Hey Hey, My My'"

and here for "Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar - The Six-String Wizardry of Frank Zappa, Part II"

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