Written by WL Woodward

Last Christmas I was up late with my boys drinking Scotch and talking about music. Before things got too sloppy the subject came up on the ridiculous nature of best of lists, like the Top 100 Vocalists, Guitar Players, etc. We’ve seen these before and scoffed at the fact that somebody like John McLaughlin was below Ann Wilson from Heart. Honestly.

Nathan is a classic kibbitzer and pot-stirrer. He knew that getting Dean to read a list of any kind from Number 100 to Number 1 would be hilarious, if only to see the look on Dean’s face.

Dean is a very serious young musician. If you ask him how to rate a vocalist he will spend the next 2 hours explaining the 6 tools a vocalist must have to be considered a great. By the way they are, as follows:

  • Range
    • For instance, Elvis Presley had a 5-octave range. Pretty remarkable
  • Tone
  • Pitch
  • Vibrato
  • Aerobics
    • Like executing runs
  • Grit or Growl
    • This is not rasp, but the ability to sing a note and then add the grit. Johnny Winter and Tom Waits were/are particularly good at this.

Dean mentioned we don’t have to include Grit and maybe there were only 5 tools. But I pointed out that without Grit, Winter and Waits would be down to two tools. Not fair. Gotta get those guys in somehow.

So we started with the list of 100 best vocalists. Immediately we were in trouble. Joe Cocker was listed at 97 and BB King at 96. We should have stopped there and turned on a Spiderman movie. Dean was already getting sick to his stomach just imagining how many dildoes were going to be above BB King. Sure enough, Annie Lennox at 93 and Willie Nelson at 88. This was going to be a long haul as each vocalist we came to he’s yelling ‘He’s above BB?  Really?!” Could have been uncomfortable with Dean in so much pain. But we’re family. We enjoy watching each other’s pain. It’s why you drink Scotch at Christmas.

[See for yourself right hereEd.]

There are some real clunkers in the middle numbers, especially Mariah Carey at 79 and Iggy Pop at 75 (“Iggy fucking Pop above BB!!! I’m going to kill somebody!”) Hilarious.

Gregg Allman at 70. 70. Should be in top 30. Thom Yorke (Who!!?) at 66 and Axl ‘Dick Brain’ Rose at 64, above Gregg. Muddy Waters  at 53. Hahaha! Neil Young at 37. Guy has a voice like a masturbating cat and he’s 16 spots in front of Muddy. Bono at 32. Fuck THAT asshole. Janis Joplin at 28. At that point the entire room exploded!

I love Janis and her ability to belt it out, but my boys can’t see it at all. I can’t even discuss Janis in front of them for fear of getting my bed short-sheeted. Or even worse the hand in the pan of warm water trick.

Dean considers Michael Jackson at the top of any vocal list, and that’s hard to argue with. Definitely top 5. He was #25. I do not give a shit saddle horn blast about all the swirling crap around this guy. Dude could SANG, and influenced a generation. But he’s behind Van Morrison, Hank Williams (!!!) and Johnny Cash! I’m having some kind of fun at this point.

Then you come to the top 10. Here we go.

At 10, 9,and 8 James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding. It’s hard to argue putting those three in the top ten.

At #7 Dean puts his head back into the chair and stops talking. What? What? Who?! He looks me straight in the eye.

“This is your generation’s fault! I can’t fucking believe this idiot is the #7 vocalist of all time!”


“Bob Dylan.”

“Wow. That is fucked up. Wait, how is that my fault?”

“I don’t know, it just is.”

When done with the list, Nathan and I had such a ball we wanted more. Dean being so passionate was exhausted, but there was a half bottle of Scotch left and we’re all guitar players so Scotch prevailed. We’ll do the Best 100 Guitarists. That’s when the real trouble started.

[Look here for yourself, and howl at the moon —-Ed.]

We only recognized a few in the 91 to 100 category…Robby Krieger from the Doors was 91. That just got a scoff from the group. You may love their music but no one can say they were master instrumentalists.

The 80’s went OK until David Gilmour at 82 and Derek Trucks at 81. Trucks just happens to be one of Dean’s gods and the same with Gilmour for Nathan. This stalled the list for a bit while the two of them ranted about the injustice of Life and somehow dragged in that you can’t trust women either no how. It was a weird moment.

The 70’s got me going with Johnny Winter at 74 and Joni Mitchell at 72. If asked I will tell you Johnny Winter is in my top 5, might even put him over Hendrix just because he was so blasted fun and at his height could blow the doors off anyone even Hendrix. Yeah I said it. But 2 spots behind Joni Mitchell? A beautiful songwriter and arranger but guitar? OK.

In the 60’s Steve Howe from Yes and Eddie Van Halen were 8 spots behind Ike ‘wife-beater’ Turner.

In the 50’s Lou Reed went higher than Ritchie Blackmore and Jorma Kaukonen.

In the 40’s John McLaughlin and Frank Zappa were beat out by John Fogerty. Remember now, this says John Fogerty was a better guitar player than Eddie Van Halen, Johnny Winter, David Gilmour, Derek Trucks, John McLaughlin and Frank Zappa.

They did manage to slip in Scotty Moore, Elvis’ guitarist and a really influential guy. Nice.

The 30’s did get in Brian May, Bo Diddley, Steve Cropper, Dick Dale and Buddy Guy.

But In the 20’s we got George Harrison at #21. Think of the people that Harrison was considered better than. Luckily the Scotch had started to get to us so this just caused general hilarity.

The rest of the way was paved with good folks, like Jerry Garcia, Ry Cooder and SRV.

But at #3 BB King.

Now these inebriated walruses that put these lists together got BB and his skills completely backwards. BB was a great vocalist and blues interpreter but he was a not a great guitar player. Iconic and unmistakable, but he wasn’t the best guitar player in his own band. Crazy.

The point of this rant I’m doing is the number of folks that are listless. Jim Heath from Reverend Horton Heat is not on the list but Joni Mitchell is. Blind Willie Johnson is not on the list but Neil Young is. Yngwie Malmsteen is not on the list but George Harrison is. David Bromberg isn’t on the list but Stephen Stills is. Elvin Bishop isn’t on the list but Robby Krieger is. Joe Bonamassa isn’t on the list but BB King is #3.

More importantly, no jazz guys. I won’t get into the classical and flamenco people. That’s a different category and discipline. But if you have rock and blues guys you have to include swing and jazz. Those are related idioms and need to be referenced together.

They didn’t call their list Best Rock and Blues Guitarists. It’s labeled Best Guitarists. You cannot CANNOT put together a list of Best or Most Important Guitarists without Django Reinhardt. For those of you who don’t know who that is you are in for a treat. My next two columns will be devoted to Django. All the great guitar players on the original ‘inebriated walrus’ list point to Django as a major influence.

Next. The caravan.

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