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| March 31, 2008

The 20 All-Time Greatest Chicago Guitarists


20. Son Seals

Shootings, fires, amputations, W.C. Handy Awards: Son Seals seemed something out of an Andrew Vachss novel, which, in fact he also was. Frank Seals also knew a raw solo or two, we’re told.


19. Terry Kath

Darwin Award recipient Terry Kath hung with the jazzbos in Chicago yet couldn’t read a lick of staff paper. Still, that lead in “25 Or 6 To 4” goes on for 24/7.


18. Trouble

Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell didn’t alter any courses as much as preserve them. With heavy metal addicted to speed in the ’80s, Trouble kept their focus on Black Sabbath’s legacy, giving rise to doom.
Trouble appears Saturday, April 5th at Nite Cap in Chicago.


17. Michael Angelo Batio

Guitarists would do anything to be outrageous in the ’80s; Michael Angelo Batio brought ambidexterity in general to heights unseen. But his double-neck (one for each fret hand) legato madness wasn’t all: Someone had to teach Tom Morello.


16. James Young

Though for a time it seemed Styx wanted to be known for anything but guitar, James “J.Y.” Young was the rawk over which the DeYoung/Shaw dramas fluttered.


15. Luther Allison

Born in Arkansas and spending a good chunk of change in France, Luther Allison barely meets our residency requirements. But for catching the eye of Muddy Waters, playing behind James Cotton and Howlin’ Wolf, and being the rare bluesman to entice Motown Records, we’ll make an exception.


14. Nels Cline

The sole force keeping Jeff Tweedy and Wilco from dad rockin’ into middle age is the boundless Nels Cline. Plucked from the jazz boroughs, Cline can make you cry or shutter your ears.


13. Hubert Sumlin

The greatest tribute to our lucky 13’s craft is he shared a stage with Howlin’ Wolf and people still remembered the sound of Hubert Sumlin.


12. Steve Albini

Steve Albini simply pioneered being pissed off (frequently at us). His presentation wasn’t one-dimensional, however; he retrofitted whatever bile couldn’t spew from his mouth (there’s only 24 hours in a day, mind) to lash from his guitars. Roland did the rest.


11. Billy Corgan

Neither the most innovative nor happiest guitarist on this list – on second thought, you could probably argue Billy Corgan pioneered pissed-off glory guitar. Whatever the cause, the effect was to firmly implant classic leads and solos into the alt-rock repertoire.

— Steve Forstneger

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  1. J.J. Tindall says:

    Props and respect,

    I think Terry Kath needs to be higher on the list, maybe just a little. He’s extra-under-rated, I think, because of the turn for the MOR that his band took after his death. Jimi Hendrix was a big fan, too.

    Peace ‘n love,

  2. Yosarrian says:

    I can’t put much faith in a list that has Steve Albini ahead of Hubert Sumlin.

  3. West Davis says:

    Excuse me… anyone think about Tommy Shaw or Don Griffon and Tommy Gawenda. SHEESH… and Rick N. should be in your Top 5. and Bo D. ? PAL-LEEESE

  4. bob boyer says:

    Terry Kath should be top 10. Hendrix told James Pankow “your guitarist is better than me”. Speaking of under rated… I nominate REO’s Gary Richrath. Anyone who has ever seen him live would agree. Rick N. should be top 5. Sorry Tommy, JY is enough from that band…

  5. Larry Launstein Jr says:

    How could Terry Kath not be near the top, if not number 1? He is one of the reasons Chicago became arguably the greatest rock band America has ever produced. In fact, I won’t say arguably. The original Chicago lineup is definitely the greatest rock band America has ever produced. We’re talking about an American musical institution here.

    And I fully agree with the person who suggested Gary Richrath from REO Speedwagon.

  6. Mark says:

    Billy Corgan above Terry Kath??? Obviously you really aren’t all that familiar with Kath’s playing or a musician yourself …

  7. decent human being says:

    you mention the so-called ‘darwin awards’ in the Terry Kath’s section?

    WTF is wrong with you?

    Is this supposed to be recognition?

    Next time, just leave him off your list. This is hurtful crap and my guess is that you are a complete —hole.


  9. Kurt Quickel says:

    I agree, Kath should be in top 5. And why is Steve Albini even on the list? Is Jann Wenner working for IE now?

    At least Nielsen is in the top 10! Richrath should be on the list too.

  10. J. C. Hill says:

    Bo Diddley? You’re kidding right? Jody Williams played every hot lick Bo’s recordings had, and you couldn’t find a place for him on your list. Wanna know how good he is? Ask Otis Rush.

  11. Luis de León says:

    Terry Kath, es el mejor guitarrista de todos los tiempos. Mejor que Hendrix. El mismo Hendrix lo admiraba, tanto como tocaba la guitarra y también como cantaba. El Grupo Chicago, no fué el mismo desde la desaparición de Terry. Desde Buenos Aires, un saludo a todos los fans de Terry. Luis de León (bajista de MANAL JAVI)

  12. Luis de León says:

    Terry Kath y Jaco Pastorius, fueron los 2 más grandes exponentes del siglo 20, ojalá que estén tocando juntos en el cielo. Un abrazo a los fans de Chicago y de Terry.

  13. Johnny Lee says:

    Yea I appreciate Billy Corgan’s music, but this is an “ALL TIME” greatest list. Not too sure he’s in the same league as the rest of these guys.

  14. Janice P says:

    Loved your point about Son Seals! If you want other *great* Chicago guitarists who’ve also appeared in Vachss novels, you could try MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD or DAVE SPECTER … either of whom are on a higher plane (of artistry) than many you *did* mention.