To clarify a point, by “the most influential” I mean, of course, the most influential to me. These are the players I consider as having influenced me the most, that are not expressly blues musicians. Why draw the distinction? Because if I didn’t, this post would be overrun with the usual suspects. So, given that I am by nature primarily a guitar player, let’s begin there, with the guitarists:
What Keith Richards is to rhythm guitar riffs, Mike Campbell is to “lead” guitar. Everything he plays, even when he’s just rippin’ it up, is still so incredibly, riffily melodic. Think of the guitar lines on “Breakdown” and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” as examples. Even the guitar on “The Boys of Summer.” I hate that song, but the guitar playing on it is incredible.
Think of every great U2 song. Now, think of what is REALLY the hook. Exactly. It’s ALWAYS the guitar part. He’s capable of being a riffer, certainly, but mainly, he’s a textualist supreme. The Joshua Tree is essentially just an Edge record, as far as I’m concerned.
The coolest, most angular, most inventive guitarist who can still sound rough and raw and weird and funky. Listen to his playing on Jockey Full of Bourbon or Telephone Call From Istanbul.
His REAL nylon-string work, on display on records like Teatro, was, for me, my point of entry into playing my Martin 0018g. He showed me how that guitar was supposed to be played.
When I play electric guitar, if I’m to actually “solo,” this is who I try to sound like. His solos are like Hans Christian Andersen stories. On fire.
When he just let loose and played, and didn’t overthink it, he was just an incredible tone monster, and a picking dictionary of American music. Go dig Green River.
The best, most soulful rhythm guitar player ever to hold a Tele. The reason why I have a Tele.
THE greatest jazz guitarist. Say no more …
If you’re willing to consider “Sultans of Swing” a rock n’ roll song, then the solos on that song are possibly the greatest rock n’ roll guitar solos ever.
Jim Prescott (Jimi Jazz)
Because upright bass CAN be funky. And Jimi Jazz makes it so. Listen to G. Love’s first album. If you want to play funky upright bass, that’s how you do it.
The funkiest, coolest, phattest alt-rock bassist ever. Soul Coughing was the greatest, most innovative, most unusual, most cool band, and their art-poetry-funk-hip-hop-Americana-beatnik-trashcan-altrock sound simply couldn’t have been possible without the impossibly fat bass tracks of Mr. Steinberg.
The greatest bassist ever. Period.
Because no one EVER rocked the bass harder.
Donald “Duck” Dunn
The soulfulest bassist on the soulfulest songs. I Thank You. Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay. Knock On Wood. Duh.
Because The Clash is the only band that matters, and EVERY bass line he played was perfect.
The greatest bassist-composer ever. And the weirdest. Listen to his playing on Money Jungle. Incredible. So painfully assertive and weird and florid and inescapably compelling.
Because he played drums on those early 16 Horsepower records, and those are the best Gothic Americana records ever, and his drums make the sound come alive. Incredible snare work, every time. He just percolates.
The greatest rock drummer of them all, who could do more with straight 8s on the hat than … anyone. Go listen to All Of My Love. Ignore Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Just listen to John Paul Jones and Bonham together. It’s incredible.
The Rhythm Section! Say no more. My favorite jazz drummer, with the best jazz bassist.
Ditto re: Paul Simonon and The Clash above, but on drums.
Listen to Ministry’s live album “In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up.” DEVASTATING drums.
Because the drum intro to “Superstition” is the drum beat I’ve been trying to play my whole life.
Al Jackson Jr.
Born Under A Bad Sign. That fill. Perfection.
My favorite piano player. Period.
His records with Grant Green are the best guitar/organ duos in jazz, for my money. Which puts them above Wes and Jimmy. Which is pretty incredible.
You can’t really talk about organ without him.
So textural, so swingin’, so cerebral, so painterly, so moody, so impressionistic, SUCH touch, such grace. A philosopher, a zen pianist, a master.
The alpha and omega of all that is great in funky American music, as represented by what the keys are capable of.
Because Beastie Boys records have AMAZING organ/keys parts on them, and they’re usually Money Mark’s parts. So What’cha Want? More Money Mark.
And that, folks, is my list. Add all these players up, and you have the ne plus ultra of my (non-blues) musical influences.