Sunday, August 12, 2012

Great Guitar Solos, #1: Eddie Hazel

I always wanted to be a lead guitarist. 

The seed was planted in high school, when I listened to Jimmy Page's searing leads on "Led Zeppelin II," above all the "Heartbreaker" solos, both the stand-alone, epic beast which starts at 2:03, and the lesser-known but equally brutal second solo that comes in at 3:08 over the magnum force of Zeppelin's rhythm section. 

Page stoked my interest, but the extent of my actions at the time were air guitar solos in between bench press sets.  I didn't sit down and do the grunt work of learning the guitar until college.  

At the time, my prime inspiration was Kirk Hammett. I walked around campus blasting "Garage Days Re-Revisited" in my Walkman, awestruck by the perfectly-sculpted solos, which were both chaotic and controlled, reliably building to explosive crescendos. Twenty five years on, many of these solos are still hard-wired into my memory note-for-note, as I frequently rewound them at the time, thinking "I want to do that."

Not long into my guitar apprenticeship, my tastes changed. One day a good friend and I sat in my dorm room drinking cheap beer and listening to "Live at Winterland," arguably the best live Hendrix album. At some point, probably after one of Jimi's cosmic solos, my friend (who up to that point had listened mostly to heavy metal) turned to me and said, "You know, Jimi's got something that Kirk just doesn't have." 

This was a permanent paradigm shift for both of us. I still appreciated Kirk Hammett, Eddie Van Halen, and a handful of other hard rock/metal guitarists, but the conversion to Hendrix was a turn away from the fast, highly technical playing that predominated during the plastic '80s toward a more blues-based style rooted in note purity/economy and feeling.       

The two-plus decades since have brought me into contact with a long list of great guitarists:  BB King, (early) Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa, Buddy Guy, Mike Bloomfield, Albert Collins.  I owe a debt of gratitude to all of them as I try to channel their spirit in my own playing. 

In this series, I will pay homage to my forebears, the broad shoulders on which I stand every time I plug in.  


One amazing guitarist who is too rarely mentioned in the same breath as the above is Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic. Hazel co-wrote and wailed furiously on "Red Hot Mama" (and "Vital Juices," an extension of "Mama" that's pure, unalloyed jam), but he's best known for "Maggot Brain," one of the best instrumentals of all-time - and one of the only electric guitar moments in history that approaches the sonic heavy-osity of Jimi Hendrix. 

When I first heard "Maggot Brain," I thought who is this guitarist, and why have I never heard of him? Unfortunately, this is a common reaction to the discovery of Eddie Hazel, whose catalog is limited due to substance abuse and an abbreviated life span.

Naturally, I went to You Tube to crack the mystery of Eddie Hazel, and found this excerpt from "Standing on the Verge of Getting it On":

Backed by the mighty Funkadelic groove army, this is a musician at the height of his powers.

Check out the '70s duds, the big, full Strat tone, and George Clinton's introduction, "I want you to talk to 'em, brother," as Hazel's bandmates clear the way for him to stand and deliver.

**Click here for Great Guitar Solos, #2:  Frank Zappa

here for Great Guitar Solos, #3:  Hiram Bullock 

here for Great Guitar Solos, #4: Dweezil Zappa Nails "Eruption"

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


  1. Have I ever mentioned to you my love of Steve Vai? Not only is he an accomplished guitarist, but he's also an amazing showman. I recall reading an interview with Vivian Campbell and another guy in which both stated that "the music is the bottom line," a mantra I have held for decades. However, I must admit that I am interested in concert footage, and I do appreciate the showmanship. It does augment.

    Anyway, enough of Steve Vai.

    I don't recall saying, "Jimi's got something that Kirk just doesn't have," but I probably did. I was a cocky kid back then. Arguably, there is some truth to it. Live At Winterland is still one of my favorite CDs. In this day of MP3s, it is one CD that I have kept, and probably will all my life.

    I think you introduced me to Maggot Brain, which I liked immediately. I find it interesting that I still come across accomplished guitarists of whom I have never heard even though I chased down guitarists for years. I found out about Mike Oldfield from a random source, as did I find out about Manuel Göttsching. I learned of Francisco Mondragon Rio from a Jaco Pastorious album. There are some truly accomplished guitarists out there who don't get the notoriety they deserve.

  2. Dazzling choice, Dan, and your solid prose backs it up: signed, sealed and delivered. Great job!

  3. What was the feeling you had when you were in your dorm room and someone came up to you and said “dude, you gotta listen to this”? Was it Slayer? Hendrix? Coltrane? Santana? It was all four, and more. Over and over again. In different ways. Not all had guitar solos, but there was still feeling and substance behind it all. The words had staying power… and Jimi STILL has got something more than Kirk.
    I digress. I was pleased to see a very fond piece of my pseudo-musical past prominently displayed in a blog… And I remember Eddie Hazel’s guitar solo broadcasting some gut-wrenching emotion in a fearless way. So I listened to it again. Late at night. Alone. It was as if the purpose of it all had bitch-slapped me in the face.
    Jaco Pseudo Konkel