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50 Essential Guitar DVDs

January 9, 2008
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LISTENING IS, OF COURSE, paramount to playing the guitar. Phrasing, vibrato, dynamics, chord changes, riffs—all are crucial elements of style which can be gleaned from hearing an mp3 of Zakk Wylde or a 78 of Charlie Christian on a Victrola. But getting the chance to see how a player does their thing can provide inroads to a guitarist’s approach that listening simply can’t provide. Everything from fingerings to how a player holds their pick to where they stand onstage in relation to their speaker cabs are clues that can supply you with tips, tricks, and even good old-fashioned entertainment that will keep making deposits into your bank of musical inspiration.

As the GP staff went about choosing these 50 essential guitar DVDs, we decided that instructional videos wouldn’t be included, simply because of the amount available—there are a lot. And, we wanted to highlight as many musical genres as we could that brought the serious guitar goods—whether that’s a hillbilly renegade, an alpha bluesman, or a metal shredder.

Another hoop to jump through was the fact that, although there is a plethora of guitar-centric DVDs available, there are a lot of legendary players who are not on the DVD radar with high-quality material: Jeff Beck, Roth-era Van Halen, and Duane Allman, to name a few. And, yes, current legal realities prevented us from entering the world of bootlegs.

Searching the DVD landscape, it was also clear that if not for a few European promoters, filmmakers, and record labels—as well as various PBS affiliates and small U.S. labels such as Vestapol and Arhoolie—a huge chunk of 6-string history may have never been chronicled and released. Kind of scary. Still, there is a lot of magical stuff out there that will assuredly get your eyes feasting and fingers moving. We know these lists run the risk of infuriating readers who feel we’ve spurned their favorite player, but if you feel we overlooked an essential DVD, let us know at guitarplayer.com.
—DF

AC/DC
Plug Me In

For years, hell, decades, AC/DC fans have been waiting for the definitive video chronicle of the band. Whether Plug Me In is the definitive document is open to some debate, but it’s the best non-bootleg alternative for sure. Spread over two DVDs (or three if you want to splurge for the deluxe edition), disc one covers the Bon Scott years from 1975-79 with various TV and concert performances, while disc two chronicles 1981-2003, the Brian Johnson era, with a slew of concert footage. Both eras are essential study for anyone who has aspirations of strapping on a 6-string, stepping on a stage, and grabbing hold of an audience like a pit bull on a filet mignon. When AC/DC hit the stage, it was all business. Always.

What is left to say about guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young? Often overshadowed by the schoolboy duds and dervish stage act, Angus’ singular guitar style morphs Chuck Berry’s rhythmic propulsion with the sweet and sour pentatonic lyricism of Paul Kossoff and Johnny Winter—with every note, lick, and first position chord delivered with the maximum intensity possible. Malcolm, on the other hand, defies the laws of probability—becoming a guitar hero by doing one simple thing stupefyingly well, with a musicality that has never been duplicated. One of disc two’s bonus features illustrates this wonderfully, as you see the band rehearsing “Gone Shootin’” for a 1996 VHI special. Here, AC/DC proves that they have the steadiest, swingenest, most powerful eight note feel in rock history. It’s also a treat to hear Angus play while standing still. What a great vibrato! Sony. —DF

The Allman  Brothers
Live at the Beacon Theatre

The Allman Brothers experience is first and foremost a live one, and the two disc Live at the Beacon Theatre DVD is an excellent chronicle of the band’s Derek Trucks/Warren Haynes lineup. Recorded over two nights in 2003, the Beacon’s track list is extensive, with 22 songs. There are also interviews with the band, and a “dressing room rehearsal” that features Haynes and Trucks playing “Old Friend” on acoustics. Pretty cool. Some fans may be bummed at the lack of such classic Allman’s cuts such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Jessica,” but Trucks and Haynes make up for any perceived set list slights by playing at a ridiculously high level throughout. With a Gibson SG through a Randall half stack, Trucks is incredible as usual, always making you think of you-know-who as he tears up a stomping blues, a gospel number (“Soulshine” is superb and will church-up any heathen), or a rolling, static jam. Haynes plugs a Gibson Les Paul and ES-335 into Marshall and Diaz heads, and plays with a gruff melodic authority and reedy, singing tone. And even with all of the soloing—and there’s a lot—one never gets a sense of one-upmanship. Trucks and Haynes are in it together, conspiring to find the big note. Sanctuary. —DF

Arch Enemy
Live Apocalypse

During its 11-year run, Swedish death-metal icon Arch Enemy has logged a fair share of personnel changes, but its focus on melody and speed has never wavered. Released in 2006, Live Apocalypse presents concert footage from two U.K. venues: London’s The Forum (December 17, 2004) and Manchester’s Academy 2 (December 13, 2005). Michael and Christopher Amott are the guitarists for the London show, and Fredrik Åkesson replaces Christopher for the Manchester gig. While Angela Gossow’s guttural yowls won’t thrill you if your choice of vocalists runs more to Ronnie James Dio than a chorus of angry frogs, the relentless barrage of guitars is astounding. Whether it’s the Amott-Amott or the Amott-Åkesson tag team, speed-of-light scale runs, gorgeous and aggro melodies, and soaring harmony lines explode almost non-stop—and, sometimes, everything seems to happen all at once in the same song. If you think metal stopped evolving after Van Halen—or if you dismiss death metal because you can’t abide the vocals—these Arch Enemy performances prove that manic 21st-century aggression can co-exist beautifully with melody, phrasing, and excellent technique. Century Media/Caroline. —MM 

Chet Atkins
Rare Performances 1955-1975

“Mr. Guitar” is represented pretty well on DVD, but this compilation of early performances is a great place to start if you’re looking to witness the ease and beauty of Atkins’ fingerstyle approach. The earliest footage is three tunes from the Purina Show which show Atkins to be a frighteningly beautiful player. His accompaniment behind singer Anita Carter on “Makin’ Believe” is a highlight, as Atkins prowls around the fingerboard, deftly connecting the tune’s simple chord progression with gorgeous arpeggiated extensions and lots of supple, heartbreaking whammy bar wriggling. The 1963 selections from Norway are excellent as well. “Levee Walking,” is a jaw-dropping cascade of fingerpicked flurries and harmonics, with the typical Atkins-approved neatness. Also highly recommended is Vestapol’s Chet Atkins, Rare Performances 1976-1995. Vestapol. —DF

Bob Brozman
Live in Germany

Surrounded by an array of mostly metal-bodied instruments, the intrepid ethnomusicologist, global sojourner, and master of all things slide goes to town on 13 originals and covers of Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain” and Luiguy’s “La Vie en Rose” during this late-2005 solo performance. From the first few seconds of the opening piece, “Down the Road,” Brozman’s near complete symbiosis with his instrument becomes obvious, and for the next two hours he passionately traverses scores of styles, rhythms, playing techniques, and tonalities with uncanny virtuosity and intelligence. Ruf. —BC

Larry Carlton & Steve  Lukather
The Paris Concert

Many players have helped define the so-called “West Coast” guitar sound of the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond, and this DVD—featuring a concert by the genre’s chief architects, Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather—makes a wonderfully gluttonous, all-you-can-eat binge on the tasty style. It’s also educational, as bonus interviews with both guitarists serve as oral histories of how the style evolved out of the L.A. studios and into mainstream music culture—and of how two great players injected jazz vocabulary and stylistic versatility into rock guitar, and the equally successful yet remarkably different ways in which they did it. Carlton did it with Wes Montgomery and B.B. King in his musical DNA, Luke with Jeff Beck and, well, Carlton in his. On stage, Carlton works the silences as intensely as he does the crescendos, Luke the whammy bar as expertly as he does the crowd. They come from disparate galaxies, but when their yin and yang worlds collide in this small Parisian club, fireworks result.

The best part of this video is its casual, candid vibe. These guys remind us that it’s not illegal to have fun on stage and leave things loose. It’s great to see Carlton, the grand master of slow 12/8 blues, apparently miss the end of Luke’s fiery “Red House” solo and get caught comping loudly over the ensuing breakdown. (To Mr. 335’s credit, it does seem like Luke has one more chorus left in him.) The expert “I meant to do that” chord sequence Carlton goes into to save face is brilliant—an object lesson in landing on your feet, which is something both these cats have been doing for decades. Inacoustic/New Morning. —JG

Danny Gatton and Tom Principato
Blazing Telecasters 

“Stepping on stage with Danny Gatton could be an intimidating experience,” says Tom Principato, one half of the Blazing Telecasters. “Danny was the King and there was no disputing that—it was a given. The most I hoped for was just to hang with him!” A Gatton fan himself, Principato lured the guitarist out of one of his self-imposed retirements in 1984 for a string of live dates billed as Blazing Telecasters. An album of the same name followed, but it wasn’t until 2003 that an in-studio performance of the Blazing Telecasters was released on DVD. Filmed for Maryland Public Television’s show Critic’s Place, Gatton, Principato, and crew can be seen burning through the Benny Goodman/Charlie Christian classic “7 Come 11,” Jimmy Smith’s “Back at the Chicken Shack,” as well as a few Principato originals, including “Tom’s Samba” of which there are two takes on the DVD.

Gatton used his bare-knuckles rig of a ’53 Fender Telecaster through a Fender Vibrolux, but Principato’s setup was a bit more complex. “My amp was a ’53 tweed Fender Pro chassis with 6SC7 preamp tubes in a Gibson cabinet with an Electro-Voice EVM12L speaker instead of the 15" that the cabinet originally housed. I was also running through an early ’60s Fender Reverb unit and a solid-state Echoplex. My Tele was an old, heavy, ash body of undetermined origin, with an old Fender neck that also did not have any date. I put a Gibson PAF in the neck and two Joe Barden prototype single-coil pickups in the bridge and middle position. The Gibson I used on the DVD was a ’65 ES-335.”

The playing throughout the DVD is amazing. Gatton is intense, pedal to the metal all the time—even when he busts out the beer-bottle slide trick! Principato more than ably hangs, and his slinkier, more burnished tone creates a nice complement to Gatton’s exposed-nerve, filling-rattling Tele gyrations.

The camera work is excellent, with tons of close-ups of both players’ technique. However, on the first run of DVDs that were released in 2003, the audio and video are slightly out of sync.

“I found out that my VHS copy of the performance was actually the only copy in existence,” explains Principato, who is soon releasing his new solo album, Raising the Roof. “When I first got permission to release the show as a DVD, the guy who authored it told me that there was nothing he could do to improve the sync, so rather than not release it at all, we decided to go ahead with it. I had also consulted some friends of mine who were in broadcasting and they advised me that although the synch was not perfect, it was within ‘broadcast specs.’ Nonetheless, I still had complaints—mostly from frustrated guitarists who were having trouble stealing licks!

“But on the second run of DVDs, because of advances in digital technology, we were able to correct the sync and it’s much better. I have always offered a free replacement to any one that wants to trade the older version for a newer corrected one. I’m happy to do it.” Powerhouse. —DF

Deep Purple
Live in Concert 1972-73

Featuring the classic “Mark II” lineup of Ritchie Blackmore, vocalist Ian Gillan, bassist Roger Glover, keyboardist Jon Lord, and drummer Ian Paice, this DVD presents eight songs from a 1972 show in Denmark and three from a New York show the following year—mostly drawn from Deep Purple in Rock and the newly released Machine Head. Although there are many great shots of Blackmore soloing, all too often you see Gillan shaking his mane or Paice pounding a tom as the Black Knight is playing his heart out, and audio-video synchronization is also funky at times. That said, there is still plenty here to love. The band rocks hard, and Blackmore’s playing is outstanding throughout, with all of the dramatic dynamic shifts, baroque-blues riffs, cool ornamentation, and rapid-fire vibrato work you would expect (as well as hurling his guitar into the air as smoke engulfs his Marshall stacks). Eagle Vision. —BC

Al Di Meola
Live at Montreux 1986/1993

In September of 2007, Al Di Meola publicly called the editors of Guitar Player a “bunch of idiots” for putting him in the Readers’ Poll Gallery of the Greats after his five consecutive victories in the jazz guitar category, thus rendering him ineligible for further awards. [Ed. Note: What’s it been Al, 25 years? You need to move on.] One glance at this DVD and it is instantly clear why he dominated those polls in the ’80s: When he’s playing like this, the guy kicks every available ass. The 1986 performance has him blazing solo on a reverb-soaked Ovation, showcasing his jaw-dropping cross-picking chops on “Vertigo Shadow” and “Passion, Grace, and Fire,” among others. Di Meola’s technical facility is awesome, but his ability to coax so many different timbres from his instrument by how hard he picks, where he picks along the string, and how he employs his modestly named “Mutola” technique are just as impressive. The 1993 set features Di Meola in an ensemble setting sporting a Roland GK-2 pickup on his Ovation, which unfortunately gives rise to some ill-considered synth tones on “Indigo.” Still, when he brings back the burning with “No Mystery” and “Tango Suite,” all is forgiven. The camera angles are guitariffic, making his trip all the more breathtaking. We’d have to be a bunch of idiots not to dig this DVD. Eagle Rock. —MB

Tommy Emmanuel
Live at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ballarat, Australia

When it comes to furthering the American guitar traditions of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, it’s hard to think of anyone doing a more inspiring job than Aussie solo guitar phenom (and Atkins protégé) Tommy Emmanuel. Born into a musical family, Emmanuel has been making rent with a guitar in his hands since age six, and it shows. As this DVD proves, Emmanuel is most comfortable with a big stage beneath his feet, a steel-string on his hip (typically a Maton), and a great song beneath his fingers. Standout tracks include originals such as the lyrical “Antonella’s Birthday” and “(The Man with the) Green Thumb”—which is dedicated to Atkins—and cover tunes such as Emmanuel’s transcendent harp harmonics tour de force “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The only slight lull in the action for guitar fanatics may be the handful of vocal tunes on this disc—because, after all, Emmanuel’s best voice is his guitar.

“I don’t think like a guitarist, I think like a singer,” Emmanuel told GP in his January 2007 Master Class. “I’m always looking for that ‘vocal’ sound. I play like a singer in a vocal group, letting the harmony notes act as backing voices singing along with the lead voice. That involves finding ways to make a melody ring as fully as possible.... It’s about striving to get the most amount of sustain possible out of your fingers so that fretted notes ring organically; so that the melody doesn’t sound like you’re jumping from one position to another, but instead just flows.” Favored Nations Acoustic. —JG

John Fahey
In Concert and Interviews 1969 & 1996

In the 1960s, San Francisco’s PBS affiliate KQED produced various guitar-centric programs hosted by local guitarist/teacher Laura Weber. One of these programs was Guitar, Guitar, and that’s where John Fahey’s In Concert and Interviews begins. Armed with his Bacon and Day acoustic as well as a Hawaiian lap steel acoustic—which also doubles as Fahey’s ashtray—much to Weber’s chagrin—Fahey plays five tunes and shows precisely why he was an inspiration to a whole generation of acoustic players, from Leo Kottke to Paul Simon. Dubbed the father of “American Primitive” guitar, Fahey’s technique was grounded in the folk/blues tradition, but his compositions and improvisations took him into Eastern modalities and the dense harmonic clusters of modern composers such as Bartok and Charles Ives. “Everyone was trying to copy folk musicians, but I was using them as ‘teachers’ for technique,”  says Fahey during a backstage interview included on the DVD. “Besides, how could I be folk? I was from the suburbs.”

The second half of In Concert and Interviews features a 1996 show at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage, where Fahey gives extended workouts to many of his best known tunes. At first, his piezo acoustic tone is a bit jarring after hearing him gloriously miked up in Guitar, Guitar, but it doesn’t diminish the power of his performance one iota. Vestapol. —DF

G3
Live in Denver

It doesn’t get much more guitar-y than this: Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and the Viking himself, Yngwie Malmsteen on the same damn bill. Satriani gets things rolling and burns through crowd pleasers such as “Satch Boogie” and “The Extremist.” He plays tasteful pop-inflected lines in “Starry Night” but really pulls out all the stops on “The Mystical Potato Head Groove Thing.” For that tune he busts out a flame-covered Ibanez (which also gives him his meatiest tone of the night) and does his wild technique where he grabs the neck with his right hand to mute the strings and then does a series of multi-string hammer-ons with his left. You kind of have to see it, but it’s cool. Next up is Vai, and he opens his set with a truly impressive “solo” intro to “I Know You’re Here” on his triple-neck (6-string, open-tuned 12-string, and open-tuned fretless with Sustainer), accompanying himself beautifully by creating loops, strumming one of the open-tuned necks, and chording and soloing over the top of it all. Watching him do his thing with such great camera angles is a real treat. When the band, which includes both Tony MacAlpine and Billy Sheehan, joins him, billion-note hijinks ensue. Vai’s tone gets a little synth-y at times, but his playing is flawless. This is the loose, funky, funny Vai that we all loved from Flex-Able and he rocks. Just when you think the chops can’t get any more intense, Mr. Yngwie hits the stage. I don’t want to shock anyone, but the dude is burning. The precision, articulation, and economy of motion in this guy’s playing are positively unparalleled. The only low-point is Malmsteen’s acoustic solo, which sports a very plastic, piezo-y tone. Aside from that he kills and, through thousands upon thousands of notes, he doesn’t make a single mistake. Yow! Consider the fury unleashed. The three do the obligatory jam at the end of the gig, and Vai does a sweet and delicate “Little Wing” intro before they each take awesome solos. Great playing, great show. Epic. —MB

Rory Gallagher
Live At Rockpalast

Irish blues rocker Rory Gallagher was one of those transcendent artists who never stepped onstage without superhuman reserves of charisma, fire, and passion. His shows were always near-orgasmic celebrations of the raw power of the guitar—a fact that is all the more amazing, considering that, by the ’80s, alcohol consumption had become a sad factor in his life (Gallagher died of complications from a liver transplant in 1995). These 80-plus performances—culled from Germany’s “Rock Palace” television show between 1976 and 1990—are no exception, and every player should seek to absorb bits of this often-overlooked guitar hero into their DNA.

There are tons of wow moments on this three-DVD set, but what typifies the Gallagher glory for me is the encore jam on Cream’s “Politician” with bassist Jack Bruce. Backstage, Gallagher clearly doesn’t know the tune—Bruce has to hum the signature line to him—and as he tunes up his famous brutalized Stratocaster, he stumbles through a few tentative riffs. He’s still searching as Bruce starts singing, but then he nails some greasy rhythm licks and stinging single-notes. By the time his solo starts, Gallagher is just burning, until, near the crescendo, he and Bruce are trading lines, and Bruce is beaming like a Maui sunrise. That’s old-school magic, man. No computer-scripted production values, off-stage digital enhancements, or click tracks—just two musicians really listening to each other and conjuring beauty out of thin air. Eagle Vision. —MM

Paul Gilbert
Space Ship Live

No one can out-Yngwie Yngwie, but if any mortal could, it would be Paul Gilbert. This guy’s chops are off the freaking hook and there’s no better place to check them out than on this DVD. Gilbert shot it live in the studio and he runs through a bunch of cool tunes that are excellent showcases for his almost cartoonish abilities. “I wanted to shoot in the studio,” recalls Gilbert, “because we could get perfect sound and have the cameras get close to us without competing with an audience.” He also does funny little introductions to the songs that prove he doesn’t take himself too seriously. That’s when the shredding starts. There are instrumental shred tunes in which Mr. Gilbert shreds shredderiffically, like “Scarified,” and there are vocal tunes like “Spaceship One,” where you have to wait a little longer for him to shred his butt off. The sheer technique of it all becomes even more mind-boggling when you consider that almost all of these performances are first takes (and they nailed them while wearing space suits)! Gilbert is one of the most musical and tuneful of all the monster technicians and if you like that sort of thing, Space Ship Live just rules. MSI. —MB

Guns N’ Roses
Use Your Illusion I & 2 Live in Tokyo

Although this is definitely the beginning of the end for G N’R as we knew it, the band turns in a righteous performance on these two DVDs from 1992. But for guitarists, it’s all about the Les Paul-wearing, future Volkswagen pitchman, Slash. The concert is chock full of extended solos, and for such a “big rock” production (you’ve got to love the ramps), you get some intimate and revealing hand shots as well. The intro to “Double Talkin’ Jive” is just wicked, and Slash’s solo, while not perfect, slays, with soulful bends and some rather nimble legato lines. His intro to “Civil War” riffs on “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, where he lays down some sultry wah and octave licks, while his riffs (which were some of the most punishing of the ’90s), are delivered with mucho gusto. Co-guitarist Gilby Clarke fills out the roar nicely, but this is the Slash show for sure. You may want to put the kids to bed before they see Axl in his shorts, however. Trust me, it’s way worse than any profanity he spews. Geffen. —DF

George Harrison
Concert for Bangladesh 

From a chops standpoint, it’s not as gonzo as Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock or as jaw-dropping as a Paul Gilbert shred-fest, but George Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh manages to transcend guitar craft by being the first charity-driven rock show on a grand scale. But from a guitar perspective, Bangladesh is fascinating on quite a few levels. For one, Harrison had only appeared onstage a couple of times since the Beatles’ final show in August of ’66 (once backing Delaney & Bonnie, and another with the Plastic Ono band). Secondly, he’s performing tunes off of what is arguably the best Beatle solo record, All Things Must Pass, as well as his signature Beatles’ numbers “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The film begins with Harrison ambling towards the stage with the white Stratocaster he plays for much of the show. Another high point for guitar nerds is the “wall of sound” guitar armada which features Eric Clapton and Jesse Ed Davis on electric, and three members of Badfinger (Pete Ham, Joey Molland, and Tom Evans) on acoustic guitars.

Highlights include Davis and Clapton doubling the gorgeously lilting slide line on “My Sweet Lord,” as well as Ham and Harrison performing a wonderful “Here Comes the Sun.” A shout out must go to Gibson Explorer-wielding Don Preston, who delivers some honking lead lines during Leon Russell’s performance. Clapton, for the most part, stays in the shadows during the film. However, he takes one extended solo on “My Guitar Gently Weeps”—and struggles mightily (as he alluded to in disc two’s documentary on the film) for various reasons including personal demons and trying to wrestle with an ill-chosen Gibson Byrdland through a plinky clean Fender Dual Showman. The sheepish look on Slowhand’s face says it all—especially after Harrison comes over and helps him out with some rather authoritative soloing. Disc two also offers some unused performance footage, a rehearsal of “Come on in My Kitchen” where it appears that Harrison is plugged into four Fender Princetons! Concert for Bangladesh is an amazing document of rock and 6-string history that shows music can serve a higher purpose as well. Rhino. —DF

Jonas Hellborg with Shawn Lane and the  Vinayakrams
Paris

This DVD contains the only commercially available video footage of the late, great Shawn Lane—a 2001 live performance in Paris, France, with his longtime collaborator bassist Jonas Hellborg, accompanied by the Vinayakrams: V. Selvaganesh (kanjeera, vocals), V. Umashankar (ghatam, vocals), and V. Umamahesh (vocals). The concept is a sort of mashup of Lane and Hellborg’s natural rock and jazz proclivities, with the Carnatic, or Southern Indian classical form—and the compositions are structured largely in the Indian manner, with Lane playing the introductory alapana sections using looping to create the equivalent of a fundamental drone, before the group launches into lengthy, structured improvisations. Although the results are not as organic-sounding as, say, the Indian-jazz fusion of Shakti and Remember Shakti, Lane and Hellborg have obviously assimilated some essential Carnatic forms, phrases, and ornaments, and Lane’s playing is sophisticated, highly inventive, and often breathtaking. Lots of close-ups of the guitarist’s hands add to the excitement, as his fingers frequently move so fleetly that the camera can barely track them. Bardo. —BC

Jimi Hendrix
Woodstock

Jimi Hendrix’s performance at Woodstock— accompanied by a quintet introduced both as “Gypsy Sun & Rainbows” and “a Band of Gypsys”—stands as one of the most iconic moments of the ’60s. And while Jerry Velez and Juma Sultan’s manic percussion and Larry Lee’s relatively pedestrian guitar work lend little to the set other than clutter, most of the time they are mercifully low or even undetectable in the mix, and Hendrix’s high-voltage, acid-charged onslaught more than compensates for any shortcomings. Armed with a Vox wah, a Fuzz Face, and a Uni-Vibe (all presumably modified by Roger Mayer), Hendrix played more than a dozen songs spanning his brief but prolific career, including his celebrated interpretation of “The Star Spangled Banner” (on which he invented vibrato-arm “dive bombing”), and the impassioned extended solo improvisation following “Purple Haze,” wherein he references “Classical Gas” and other personal favorites before launching into a blazing climax of chromatic octave craziness. This may not be the most consistently great Hendrix performance ever captured on film, but the generous amount of on-hand camera time makes it perhaps the most significant to guitarists, and having an entire second disc of mostly alternative film shot by an audience member also provides a sense of what it was like to be onstage as a member of the band. Experience Hendrix. —BC

Allan Holdsworth and Alan Pasqua
Allan Holdsworth and Alan Pasqua featuring Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Haslip

Holdsworth and Pasqua played together in the late Tony Williams’ New Lifetime band back in the mid’70s, and their paths have crossed at various points since that time. In 2006, they teamed with bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Chad Wackerman to commemorate Williams’ music in a series of concerts, one of which is presented here. Holdsworth’s playing on New Lifetime compositions such as “Proto-Cosmos,” “Red Alert,” and “Fred,” along with the amazing “Pud Wud” and five other pieces, demonstrates that far from having lost his touch, Holdsworth is still one of the most original and accomplished guitarists alive. Wielding his signature model Carvin before a wall of Hughes & Kettner zenTera amps, the inimitable Englishman fires off one totally mind-blowing solo after another, seemingly without effort, with the camera capturing nearly every move. Actually being able to see Holdsworth playing up close is a revelation—but if you are hoping that it will help you nick his licks, I wouldn’t count on it. Altitude Digital. —BC

Eric Johnson
Live from Austin City Limits

Recorded in 1988, this gig showcases Johnson’s phenomenal technique and gargantuan tones at a time when he was still primarily a cult figure in guitar circles. Johnson’s use of multiple amps and heavy doses of delay and reverb to create his enormously dimensional sounds was also rather novel at the time. His prismatic clean tones and buttery smooth lead textures raised the tone bar to unprecedented heights, and this DVD shows the Texas guitarist at the pinnacle of his inspiration, playing with a mix of fluidity and ferocity that is still extremely impressive. The funny thing is how relaxed Johnson seems in what must have been a pretty intense setting for a guy so used to spending huge amounts of studio time obsessing over every aspect of his sound. Sporting a marching band jacket and Flock of Seagulls-approved hair (this was the ’80s, after all), Johnson nails all the signature sounds you’d later hear on songs like “Cliffs of Dover,” “Desert Rose,” and “East Wes,” from his breakthrough album Ah Via Musicom (which was still two years away at the time). Johnson delivers it all with a mix of surgical precision and stoney looseness, whether he’s burning up his Stratocaster’s fretboard on “Zap” or channeling Hendrix on a mesmerizing rendition of “Are You Experienced.” In front of an audience with the TV cameras rolling, Johnson makes it all seem like the most natural thing in the world. The sound quality is excellent and there’s not a note out of place, so it all kind of begs the question—why the heck did he need to spend all that time in the studio anyway? New West. —AT

Freddie King
The !!! Beat 1966

Sexy go-go dancers and a funky big band led by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown backing Freddie King at the peak of his formidable blues powers—that’s what The !!! Beat 1966  brings. Recorded in Dallas, The !!! Beat’s run consisted of 26 episodes and was also run in many other cities including Chicago, Detroit, and New York. This DVD compiles all of Freddie King’s appearances on the show as he romps through many of his classics, including the instrumentals “San-Ho-Zay,” “Hide Away,” as well as a few soul-shaking vocal numbers, including “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” and “I’m Tore Down” among others. King’s tone is sometimes honky and gruff, and other times piercing, cutting straight to the bone as it resonates off of the walls of the studio. Sporting a thumbpick and steel fingerpick on his index finger and playing a Gibson ES-345, King mixes it up with “Gatemouth” Brown (who switches between a Fender Jaguar and a Rickenbacker) a couple of times on the video, but for the most part, it’s all about Freddie. The disc’s bonus footage consists of three performances from Sweden in 1973, which, although not bad, don’t equal up to the funky intensity of The !!! Beat. Vestapol. —DF

King Crimson
Neal and Jack and Me

This DVD repackaging of the Three of a Perfect Pair—Live in Japan 1984 and The Noise—Live in Frejus 1982 videos captures Crimson’s fourth incarnation performing material from their three studio albums. Drummer Bill Bruford and bassist/Stick player Tony Levin provide the perfect launching pad for Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew’s sonic excursions—courtesy of Roland guitar synths and myriad effects pumped through a combination of tube combos and Roland JC-120s. Fripp’s Apollonian “manual sequencing” and “guitar gamelon” parts (still played in standard tuning at that point) provide the perfect foil to Belew’s sinewy phrasing, crazed twang bar manipulations, ferocious feedback, and other Dionysian explosions—and both solo with otherworldly abandon. Post-prog at it’s best. DGM. —BC

Led Zeppelin
DVD

One of the greatest injustices in rock history was having The Song Remains the Same be the only commercially available visual record of Led Zeppelin in concert. Although the band’s performances were notoriously inconsistent, anyone who had ever witnessed the group on a good night was aware of the inadequacy of TSRTS to convey the experience. These two discs—containing well over four hours of restored footage from 1970, 1973, 1975, and 1979—bring it on home with a vengeance.

In addition to the ’70s shows, several brief television appearances from early 1969 are included as bonus material, and it is instructive to view them first. On a March 17 performance, the band sticks close to the album versions of “Communication Breakdown,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” and “How Many More Times,” with Jimmy Page in tight control of his Telecaster. A performance filmed eight days later is similar, but by June, Page has switched to a sunburst Les Paul, and a Marshall stack has replaced the WEM and other amps seen previously. The musicians also take greater liberties with the arrangements, Page’s playing is slightly looser, and he and vocalist Robert Plant pout, posture, and jump around more.

DVD One features 13 songs filmed on January 9, 1970, by which point Page had two stacks, and the sound engineer was enhancing select guitar parts with tape echo—though Page was still conjuring tons of killer tones simply by switching pickups and adjusting the controls on his ’burst.

The whole show is excellent, but highlights include Page’s lengthy improvisation on “Dazed and Confused,” his going nuts on a DADGAD-tuned Danelectro throughout a 12-minute version of “White Summer,” a riveting “What Is and What Should Never Be,” and a super-enthusiastic “How Many More Times.” Towards the end, Page straps on a Bigsby-equipped, triple-pickup Les Paul Custom for rousing covers of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” and “Something Else,” and the set concludes with a totally kick-ass “Bring It on Home.”

A brief “Immigrant Song” from February 1972—with audio and video from multiple shows grafted together—opens DVD Two, followed by four passionately performed pieces culled from the same July 1973 Madison Square Garden shows as TSRTS, including an absolutely brilliant “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The band’s gear at that point included piles of amps, a timpani drum, and Jones’ Mellotron, Rhodes piano, and Clavinet. Next come six songs from May 1975, including wonderful versions of “Going to California” and “That’s the Way” featuring Page on acoustic and Jones on mandolin and bass pedals, and fiery Dano slide work on “In My Time of Dying.” The final eight tracks are from an August 4, 1979 show, just months before Bonzo’s death, and the band is still smoking. A particularly animated Page twangs and wails on a Strat on “In the Evening,” pounds out phase-shifted prog riffs on a Dano on “Kashmir,” and dons his Paul again for a rousing reworking of “Whole Lotta Love.”

This is simply one of the best live DVDs ever, showcasing one of classic rock guitar’s leading lights. Atlantic. —BC

Mahavishnu Orchestra
Live at Montreux 1974/1984

The Mahavishnu Orchestra was arguably the greatest of all the ’70s fusion groups—at least from a guitar perspective—and this disc contains the group’s second and final incarnations performing at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The 1974 performance finds Mahavishnu John McLaughlin playing his 35-pound Rex Bogue Double Rainbow 6/12 doubleneck through a pair of Boogie combos, surrounded by a ten-piece band that includes brass and a string quartet (as well as an ecstatic teenaged Narada Michael Walden on drums). The group powers through extended versions of “Wings of Karma” and “Hymn to Him” from Apocalypse (four additional bonus tracks have audio only), and McLaughlin’s playing is so white-hot that you half expect him to spontaneously combust at any moment.

McLaughlin’s playing is equally incendiary throughout the 1984 show, though within the much jazzier context of material mostly drawn from Mahavishnu, and at this point he’s switching between a Roland GR-300 MIDI guitar fitted with a Synclavier II controller, and a ’50s Gibson Les Paul Special. The Special screams—underscoring the “rock” in jazz-rock fusion—and the synth work is extraordinary, both in terms of sounds and execution. Eagle Eye Media. —BC

Joe Maphis
Live at Town Hall Party

The Town Hall Party television show ran from 1952 to 1961 on channel 13 in Los Angeles. Broadcast from the Compton Town Hall Dance Club, Town Hall Party hosted the likes of Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent among tons of others. Joe Maphis (along with Merle Travis), was a THP regular, backing up guests and performing his own tunes, proving his “King of the Strings” moniker was indeed for real. Tearing it up on his Mosrite guitars as well as banjo and fiddle, this collection highlights Maphis’ unparalleled rapid-fire flatpicking. His signature tune, “Fire on the Strings,” is the real jaw-dropper here, as the tempo ticks upward every chorus, eventually hitting insanity. Totally unfazed, Maphis peels off lick after lick, eating the tune alive and completely owning it. “Orange Blossom Special” showcases Maphis’ low-end twang sensibilities, as well as some more of his nimble licks.

There are also some duets with Travis, including “Wildwood Flower,” “Under the Double Eagle,” and Main Street Breakdown” (with Travis playing a Guild instead of his usual Gibson Super 400), as well as “Rockin’ Along” which also features Maphis protégé Larry Collins as the three guitarists gang up on Collins’ doubleneck Mosrite for some first class hillbilly showmanship. Maphis is an American original and a guitar icon and pioneer. Thanks to the folks at Bear Family, his legacy has been preserved. Bear Family. —DF

The Mars Volta
Live At The Electric Ballroom

These aural alchemists seem to be a tad camera shy, as this set is just 18 minutes long, and few other commercially available videos exist. Happily, 18 minutes is time enough to be sucked into the off-kilter melodic flurries, delay cascades, psychedelic tones, and feedback drones unleashed by guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. It’s something to see and hear as Rodriguez-Lopez juggles experimentalism, prog-rock, and way-out jazz within his eerie and evocative—and, sometimes, frightening—textures. If you’re bored copping SRV licks, but can’t find any depth or spark in the new generation, pop this puppy in your DVD player, and let a modern renegade free your mind. Universal. —MM

Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery Live in ’65

While there is apparently no footage of Montgomery performing with the Wynton Kelly Trio, the group that recorded the incredible Smokin’ at the Half Note live in 1965, these English and European television performances filmed during the same year with various pickup bands are an invaluable consolation prize. Montgomery burns on 14 great songs, including staples such as “Impressions,” “Four on Six,” and “West Coast Blues,” with the cameras tightly focused on his hands throughout much of the action. Besides providing well over an hour of live Wes, the hands-on close-ups, and a song-by-song commentary by Pat Metheny in the accompanying booklet, make this DVD a must-have for guitarists. Naxos. —BC

The Steve  Morse Band
Live in Baden-Baden Germany March 1990

This incarnation of the Steve Morse Band featured drummer Van Romaine and Dave LaRue, the same group that recorded Morse’s 1991 slammer, Southern Steel. With killer, up-close hand shots and a punchy, clear mix, the trio runs through selections from the first two Steve Morse Band albums (The Introduction and Stand Up), Dregs material (the epic “Night Meets Light” and the displaced funky riffage of “Ice Cakes”), as well as material off of the just released High Tension Wires. Morse thrives in the trio format, and the way he fades his delays, synth tones, and chorusing in and out with volume pedals is study for anyone that wants to make a power trio sound absolutely huge. Of course Morse burns throughout as well, firing up the insane chops on “Tumeni Notes” and “Cruise Missle” among others. Always the versatile ax-man, Morse’s chicken pickin’ and bluegrass chops are on display as well, as are his delicate harp harmonics on the track “Country Colors.” A true master at work. Eagle Rock. —DF

Joe Pass
’75

“This performance is guitar mastery that will never be out of fashion,” says jazz critic Nat Hentoff at the beginning of ’75. Indeed. Culled from two of Joe Pass’ solo performances from back-to-back nights at the 1975 Montreux Jazz Festival, Pass takes the stage armed with a Gibson ES-175, and hits the ground running with an unholy sense of swing and dynamics. His chord melody excursions, walking bass lines, and spiraling legato runs seamlessly blend into one another and his tone is burnished, bold, and rich. His ultra-bluesy rendition of “It’s a Wonderful World” features some great shots of Pass’ picking technique, and the tune “Mahna De Carnaval” finds Pass just scalding. The second night starts off with Pass going sans pick and delivering soaring versions of “Summertime” and an unreal take on Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” In 1975, high-volume fusion was king and subtlety was not the order of the day. But with this timeless performance from Pass, he proves that you can be understated, yet complex and burning—and you can do it all by yourself. Eagle Vision. —DF

Pink Floyd
Live at Pompeii (The Director’s Cut)

There have actually been three versions of this film. This one includes 1973 footage of the band pretending to record The Dark Side of the Moon, among other things. But the original film, containing only live footage filmed in an ancient amphitheatre in Pompeii in October 1971, and additional live studio footage shot in Paris a few months later, is included as a “bonus”—and that’s where the action is. Playing six songs from the band’s super-psychedelic pre-Dark Side repertoire, David Gilmour evokes truly cosmic tones from a Stratocaster played through piles of Hiwatt heads and WEM cabinets, with the aid of a Fuzz Face, a DeArmond volume pedal, a Vox wah, and—most importantly—a Binson Echorec II (an Italian echo unit that records onto an electrostatic drum rather than tape). Guitar highlights include split-screen close-ups of Gilmour’s hands as he solos on “Echoes, Part 1,” and shots of him sitting on the ground rubbing a slide on his strings with one hand, while using the other to manipulate his vibrato bar and the controls on his guitar, pedals, and Binson while performing “Saucerful of Secrets.” Universal. —BC

Queen
Rock Montreal & Live Aid

If there was ever a band that could make it happen live, it was Queen. The complexity and magnitude of their songs would have caused a lesser band to rely heavily on backing tracks in concert, but not Queen (they would just flat-out leave the stage while tape rolled for the “Galileo” section of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”) You’d pretty much have to be on life support to not be impressed by the freewheeling abandon exhibited at this 1982 concert by the four members of this supremely gifted group. Brian May shines with his brilliant playing and magnificent tones that he wrenches from his homemade Red Special guitar though a bank of Vox AC30s, and what can’t you say about the incomparable Freddie Mercury? Despite having not played together for several months prior to this show, the band kicks things off with blistering versions of “We Will Rock You” and “Let Me Entertain You,” before Mercury takes to the piano to bolster the adventurous arrangements of “Play the Game” and “Somebody to Love,” both of which feature classic May solos. Roger Taylor’s ability to nail down the beats so perfectly while hitting all those sky-high vocal parts is a constant source of amazement, and with bassist John Deacon guarding the groove, Queen burns white hot throughout their set. All the way along, the dynamics are spectacular. “Save Me” is the embodiment of Queen’s soft-to-sledgehammer extremes, with May starting the tune on piano before taking a beautifully melodic lead break. On “Love of My Life,” May plays a 12-fret Ovation 12-string (with the octave strings reversed) providing a soothing respite from the “killer” Queen assault. As a bonus, the two-DVD set also features the band’s five-song 1985 Live Aid performance—including the “Is This the World We Created” duet by May and Mercury—as well as 11 minutes of never-before-seen rehearsal footage, and a 1982 televised PM Magazine interview. Eagle Vision. —AT

Rage Against the Machine
The Battle of Mexico City

Tom Morello is absolutely on fire in this south of the border concert as he and his fellow Ragers stake their claim as one of the heaviest bands ever. You can see all of Morello’s badass trickery quite clearly, like his neo-shred Whammy Pedal solo in “Know Your Enemy.” The camera angles are cool enough that you can even make out the brass Fathead on the back of the headstock on his Arm the Homeless guitar. His Tele tones are massively funky in “Freedom” and he gets awesome trem/phaser textures from his Ibanez hollowbody in “Guerilla Radio.” Morello keeps it real throughout, so real that you can hear his guitar humming, buzzing, and squealing uncontrollably at times and you can hear his low-E string pulling wildly sharp when he hits it hard, which is in every song. It’s all very refreshing in the polite, perfected, produced era and it lends an immediacy that makes you feel like you’re onstage with the band, which is a good thing when you see the thousands of jumping, raging fans right in front. This show is very similar to the killer RATM reunion tour of ’07. It’s a tragedy that this band is no longer around now that the machine against which Morello raged is so far out of control. Sony. —MB

Django Reinhardt
Swing Guitar: The Genius of Django Reinhardt

This brief documentary includes all of the existing footage of the gypsy jazz master—of which, unfortunately, there is precious little. The longest clip, however, is included intact as an extra. Le Jazz Hot (1938) features some incredible footage of Reinhardt playing with the legendary Hot Club of France. During several minutes of close-ups, we get to see firsthand how he negotiated complex lines and rhythm figures—as well as executing breathtakingly fast runs and chord melodies—with only two fingers. Tight shots also spotlight ornaments such as his distinct rapid vibrato and Lonnie Johnson-approved bends, as well as the subtlety and delicacy of his right-hand movements. There are also brief glimpses of Reinhardt playing electric, including a few moments of him blazing on a DeArmond-equipped Gibson L-5 during one of his ill-fated U.S. performances with Duke Ellington in 1946. The footage presented here may be minimal in length, but it provides remarkable insights into the approach of this singular genius. EFOR. —BC

Rush
R30

Sure, the footage from Exit Stage Left is classic, and you can’t beat the wild Brazilian crowd in the Rush in Rio DVD, but if you can only get one Rush DVD it has to be R30. The setlist, sound quality, and camera angles just can’t be beat. The R30 Overture that opens the show has all-instrumental snippets of  “Finding My Way,” “Anthem,” “Bastille Day,” “A Passage to Bangkok,” “Cygnus X-1,” and “Hemispheres,” plus a hilarious cameo from Jerry Stiller. The lack of vocals on this medley allows Alex Lifeson’s PRS-fueled guitar tones to really stand out. He and the boys run through a whole bunch of Rush favorites including “Xanadu,” “Subdivisions,” “Red Barchetta,” and “Tom Sawyer” (with a killer Lifeson solo). The show kicks ass from start to finish and Lifeson is in fine form the entire time with his trademark arpeggios, fiery solos, and a humongous tone that fills the arena. If the gig was all you got this would still be a must have. When you factor in all the DVD extras like a bunch of live-in-the-studio performances from back in the day and soundcheck footage, this is an amazing piece of work and a great example of Lifeson working his magic. Zoe. —MB

Carlos Santana and Wayne Shorter
Live at the 1988 Montreux Jazz Festival

Not that Carlos Santana needs extra inspiration when he hits the stage, but damn, if having one of jazz’s most legendary improvisers, Wayne Shorter, stage left doesn’t give you a bit more of a charge, you best check your pulse. Captured during his Blues for Salvador period and armed with a PRS through a Mesa/Boogie full stack, it’s positively enlightening to watch Santana coax myriad tones simply by manipulating his guitar’s volume and tone controls. From his patented midrange-rich, sustain-for-days tone to almost twangy textures, Santana—who is always hanging out by his speaker cabs for max sustain and feedback—also displays some wicked wah-wah work. Sure, some of the cheesoid keyboard sounds date the DVD, but that’s a minor niggle. Santana’s chops are out of sight, and he’s at the top of his game with a fiery ensemble that pushes him to dizzying heights. Image. —DF 

Andrés Segovia
In Portrait

The maestro lives on with this DVD that has two very different films by Christopher Nupen. Segovia at Los Olivos was shot in Segovia’s new home on the Costa del Sol in Andalucia in 1967 when he was 75. Segovia believed this film to be the best thing he ever did for television. Andrés Segovia: The Song of the Guitar was filmed in Granada and the Palaces of the Alhambra in 1976 when he was 84. Free of the limitations of fickle concert hall acoustics and Segovia’s refusal to use amplification, these films present the best opportunity anyone will ever have to see and hear Segovia play music by Bach, Albéniz, Scarlatti, Ponce, Torroba, Rameau, Granados and others. Classical guitar students will appreciate the camera angles that present Segovia’s left and right hand technique. Always the pedagogist, Segovia explains how orchestral sounds are achieved on the guitar and provides a rich history of the classical guitar and a context for the various composers and their music. Segovia died at age 94, six weeks after playing his last concert. He always loved to play multiple encores for his audience. This DVD makes that a perpetual possibility. Opus Arte —MCD

Merle Travis
Rare Performances 1946-1981

Spanning nearly 40 years, Rare Performances lays out the genius of Merle Travis in stark, simple terms. More than just an amazing guitarist with an unmatched fingerstyle technique that would eventually bear his name, Travis was also an accomplished singer/songwriter as well as, along with Les Paul, a pioneer of multi-track recording. With a deceptively simple technique—using only a thumbpick and his index finger—Travis could elicit grooving, contrapuntal wonder that is just as impressive 60 years on.

Highlights include a stunning “Cannonball Rag” from a 1970 episode of the Porter Wagoner Show that positively smokes as Travis effortlessly walks the strings of his ornate Gibson Super 400. “Lost John,” on the other hand, taken from a 1951 transcription (an early form of music video) is performed on acoustic—a Martin D-28 outfitted with a Bigsby neck—and shows that Travis could do his thing just as easily on an acoustic. All of the performances throughout the DVD are incredible, and the DVD closes with two songs featuring Travis and his son, Thom Bresh, who has gone on to become the preeminent Travis picker in the world. Also recommended is Vestapol’s Merle Travis Sixteen Tons: Rare Performances 1946-1981 Vol. 2. Vestapol. —DF

U2
Vertigo 2005-Live from Chicago 

The hardcore “I was into those guys before anybody” U2 fans might submit that their Red Rocks gig from 1983 that was captured on Under a Blood Red Sky is a better example of the band in their raw state. The fact remains that this concert from Chicago shows them at the absolute pinnacle of their game and that includes Mr. Edge, who gives yet another master class in getting great tone, crafting memorable parts, and rocking 20,000 people. The high angle shot that opens the gig shows The Edge getting his delay on as he cranks out some glorious Gretsch tone. Always famous for doing a bunch of guitar changes in the course of a show, Edgy doesn’t disappoint as he dons his Rickenbacker for “Mysterious Ways,” a Strat on “Pride”, a Telecaster for the killer power chording of “Vertigo,” and his classic Explorer on “Miracle Drug.” It doesn’t matter what guitar he puts on, though, because there’s just not a bad tone on this DVD. His touch is perfect and it’s downright staggering to hear all the classic riffs that this guy wrote. Because U2 is a band, the camera is not always trained on the guitar but there’s plenty of Edge footage and the sound quality is stellar. Interscope. —MB

Various
The American Folk Blues Festival 62-66 Vol. 1-3

As documents go, it doesn’t get any better than this series—wonderful camera work, sterling audio, and a who’s who of American blues. Compelling all the way around. The American Folk Blues tours electrified Europe between the years 1962-1970, and they’re credited with igniting the British blues boom. It’s almost frightening to think that, had it not been for two German promoters (Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau), many of these American blues pioneers may have never been captured on film.

These DVDs are mother’s milk. You get electrifying, even otherworldly performances from early Delta blues masters Skip James, Bukka White, and Son House (complete with amazing camera work that details their technique), as well as Chicago stalwarts Otis Rush (rocking an Epiphone Riviera through a Fender Bassman piggyback set up), Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy.

But wait, there’s more—a lot more. Three selections featuring Howlin’ Wolf with Hubert Sumlin on guitar will make your spine tingle, as will the very rare footage of Magic Sam and Earl Hooker—all of whom use the same, wicked sounding rig for their respective performances—Hooker’s Univox Les Paul through a Sound City half stack! Other highlights include the more Piedmont-infused blues of duo Sonny Terry and guitarist Brownie McGhee, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, and John Lee Hooker. Hip-O. —DF

Various
Deke Dickerson’s Guitar Geek Festival Vol. 1 & 2 

“The whole reason I started the Guitar Geek Festival was because no one was putting on the kind of show that I wanted to see,” says Deke Dickerson. “So I sort of became a promoter by default.” Dickerson’s Guitar Geek Festival is an unfettered celebration of the guitar featuring a slew of amazing performers—many of whom may have been passed over if not for Dickerson’s labor of love.

For the first Geek Fest DVD from 2004, Dickerson rounded up legendary rockabilly guitarist Gary Lambert, steel player Jeremy Wakefield and guitarist T.K. Smith for a tribute set to Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West (complete with Smith donning a double neck Stratosphere guitar), as well as Dickerson’s own group, and his side-project, Venturesmania, a tribute to the Ventures. For the second year DVD, Dickerson got even geekier, bringing onboard criminally unheralded pioneers such as Dave Bunker and his doubleneck Touch Guitar (an instrument he patented in 1961), and Hollywood session man and gear pioneer Del Casher, one of, if not the earliest of the wah-wah’s practitioners.

T.K. Smith and Jeremy Wakefield appear on both DVDs as does Bakersfield’s Brian Lonbeck, a Joe Maphis protégé who has unbelievably flown under the radar for decades. “When people see Brian play, they lose their minds,” says Dickerson. “He can play just like Joe Maphis—maybe even a little faster. And that’s just one side of his playing. He’s truly frightening.”

“The first two DVDs are pretty low-budget deals,” continues Dickerson, who is currently working on 2008’s festivities, which takes place every year in Anaheim during the NAMM show (you don’t need to be a NAMM attendee to go to the festival). “The first one was shot with my own camcorder, and the second DVD was two camcorders. The upcoming  DVDs from the 2006 and 2007 festivals are being put together right now, but they’re taking longer to produce because the quality is miles above what we’ve done before—now it’s a four camera pro shoot with a 16-track audio recording.”

One of the second DVD’s more hilarious moments is the surprise appearance of Dick Dale during Ventures’ legend Nokie Edwards’ headlining set during the 2005 show at Anaheim’s Odd Fellows Lodge. “I never even talked to Dick beforehand,” says Dickerson who was surprised as anyone at the King of Surf Guitar’s sudden manifestation. “We were onstage playing with Nokie and all of a sudden I see a giant pile of gear next to the stage.”

Dale proceeds to completely destroy the room and all in it with a torrent of volume. ”Dick was mad afterwards because his roadie only set up one of his two Fender Dual Showman stacks—but he was still louder than the rest of us combined!” Major Label Video. —DF


Various
Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar Festival (2004)

I was there, and it was incredible. Clapton’s obvious joy at being able to pull off this amazing three-day pageant of the guitar inspired every player and every performance. Even Clapton himself—who had been treading pretty sleepy territory for some time—was digging in deep and meaning it. Witness his giddy intensity as he shares the stage with heroes such as Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Guy, and B.B. King. There are also jaw-dropping moments from Vince Gill and Jerry Douglas, a just-breaking-into-the-mainstream Robert Randolph, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Larry Carlton, Steve Vai, an unexpectedly fiery David Hidalgo, Eric Johnson, ZZ Top, John McLaughlin, and Joe Walsh (who nearly stole the whole show the day he took the stage). Many other festival thrills couldn’t be shoehorned into this two DVD set, of course, and it sucks that Jeff Beck’s performance is MIA, but this is still a remarkable document of a historic, 6-string tribal stomp. Rhino. —MM

Various
Old Grey Whistle Test Vol. 1-3

Running on the BBC from 1971 to 1987, the Old Grey Whistle Test DVD set is a cornucopia of diverse artists and guitarists with exceptional audio and video quality. The collection’s 6-string highlights are almost too many to mention, but here goes. Volume One includes a very young Rick Derringer with the Edgar Winter Group on a killin’ version of “Frankenstein” (sporting a Les Paul and a Marshall half-stack), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Curtis Mayfield, Rory Gallagher, Little Feat, Emmylou Harris (with James Burton), the Ramones, and Alice Cooper. Volume Two starts off with the group Head, Hands & Feet (featuring Albert Lee on Dobro), Montrose, Gary Moore and Phil Lynott, BeBop Deluxe, and Humble Pie with the highly underrated Clem Clemson on lead guitar. Volume three offers Johnny Winter, King Crimson (Discipline-era), Freddie King, Richard and Linda Thompson, and B.B. King among tons of others. Eclectic? You bet. Killer? Yup, that too. Trust me, pop these in, put them on “shuffle” and you will discover something new. I guarantee it. BBC. —DF

Various Artists
Sacred Steel: The Steel Guitar Tradition of the House of God Churches

On any given Sunday morning in America, a lot of guitarists are gigging. Few of them, however, are taking solos—at least not solos longer than a few bars. Fewer still are given license to play epic, open-ended improvisations at paint-peeling volumes. In the House of God Keith Dominion—which has churches everywhere from upstate New York to the Bahamas—it’s a different story. Lap and pedal steel guitars are the instruments of choice, and to say these guys take solos is like saying Tiger Woods plays miniature golf. These guys are wailing. It sounds like Duane Allman and Mahalia Jackson combined.

The numerous live clips on Sacred Steel rarely stretch longer than a minute or two, but they’re priceless teasers that transport you into churches set “a-shambles” by the vocal-like vibrato and overdriven amps of master steelers such as the Campbell Brothers, Henry Nelson, Nelson’s son Aubrey Ghent, and Robert Randolph, the genre’s young crossover star. Also given camera time is Willie Eason, who reflects on his now-legendary performance of “Closer Walk with Thee” on a lap steel in his family’s Philadelphia church nearly 70 years ago: “It sounded like the guitar was singing the words to the song, and the crowd just went for it.” Eason’s lyrical, Hawaiian-steel-influenced rendition of the gospel standard essentially launched this genre we now call sacred steel. Arhoolie. —JG

Stevie Ray Vaughan &  Double Trouble
Live at the El Mocambo

It’s rare that a guitarist can be the right player at the right time but Stevie Ray Vaughan was that guy in the ’80s. He made the blues hip (and marketable) without robbing it of any of its balls or danger and he was embraced and revered by guitarists of all styles. His live shows were the stuff of legend and this smoking, raucous Canadian set shows exactly why. As the announcer tells the crowd, “It’s boogie time tonight,” SRV hits the stage at full throttle, launching into “Testify.” He’s just killing and, when you think that it can’t get any better, he starts playing with his hand over the top of the neck—bending, hammering, and pulling off. Amazing. In the second tune, “So Excited,” he shows you a thousand ways to bend up to a note, each one funkier and more soulful than the last. The dynamics in this tune are absolutely breathtaking. And “Voodoo Chile”? Forget about it. One of the greatest guitar performances of all time. This guy was the Man, and the Man was on that night. We should all be so lucky as to play one 12-bar phrase that’s 1/10th as awesome as his worst on this DVD. Sony. —MB

White Stripes
Under Black Pool Lights

It’s no surprise that Jack White’s gritty approach to rock and blues is mirrored in this DVD’s 8mm, no-frills footage. It would be almost too calculated if it wasn’t for the fact that White plays and sings as if hellhounds are on his tail. This is music on the edge—with all its beatific warts, surprises, and intensity. Filmed during a 2004 concert at the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool, England, the performances almost hit the amphetamine-fueled fury of the Stones’ Got Live If You Want It, as the Whites tear through 26 songs in 77 minutes. For all the silly mystery and artsy pretensions surrounding the White Stripes, seldom is guitar music this tortured and raw and real anymore. White didn’t just reinterpret the blues with lo-fi sounds and radio-friendly riffs for New Millennium audiences, he also channeled the elusive angst, swagger, sex, passion, joy, and pain of the music’s originators. Weasel Disc/V2. —MM

The Who
Live at the Isle of  Wight Festival 1970

The Who’s inspired and powerful performance at this British festival remains a high water mark for a band that was at the top of their game. Taking the stage at three o’ clock in the morning obviously didn’t faze the foursome—nor their fans—as the Who tear up their 85 minute headliner spot with some 24 songs from their Tommy and pre-Tommy eras. Fans of Hiwatt/Gibson SG Special-era Pete Townshend are well entertained here as one sees the songwriter/ guitarist driving home his amazing songs with slashing riffs, windmilling power chords, and—as if to give Hendrix a run for his money—a lot of fuzz-laden solos. The close-up footage brings you right into Townshend’s glorious guitar sphere where you can catch many of the sly nuances in his playing and vibe on his mastery of dynamics on what must have been some pretty challenging tunes to pull off live. The Who make it all look so natural that you could almost take for granted the great musicianship that made this band such a huge sensation. Townshend’s songwriting genius notwithstanding, the Who could not have been what they were without John Entwhistle’s monstrous bass lines, Keith Moon’s manic drumming, or Roger Daltrey’s awesome vocal delivery—all of which culminate here to keep the rapt crowd in nearly perpetual motion right though the band’s epic performance of “Listening to You.” Remixed from the original 8-track tapes and mastered in DTS and 5.1 surround sound, this DVD also features a 40-minute interview with Townshend and two tracks (“Naked Eye” and “Substitute”) that were cut from the original film. Eagle Vision. —AT

Yes
Yessongs

Filmed in December of 1972 at London’s Rainbow Theater, this somewhat grainy 16mm footage captures stellar performances by the seminal progressive rockers at the height of their creative powers. The eight songs—drawn mostly from The Yes Album, Fragile, and the newly released Close to the Edge—feature a young Steve Howe blazing on a bevy of Gibson guitars, including an ES-5 Switchmaster, an ES-175D, an EDS-1275 doubleneck, and an ES-345TL, along with lap-steel, a Coral Sitar, a Martin 00-18 acoustic, and a lute—most amplified through piles of large Fender amplifiers. Despite the funky video quality, the extended guitar solos and many close-up shots of Howe’s hands make this an invaluable testament to one of prog’s most versatile and exciting guitarists.  Image. —BC

Neil Young
Live at Massey Hall

While there’s plenty to dig about seeing a proto-punk Neil Young rocking out on a Les Paul with Crazy Horse in tow (as can be witnessed on Rust Never Sleeps—The Concert Film), this never-before-released solo acoustic performance from 1971 scores on two fronts. First off, Young was on a songwriting roll at the time that would yield some of his biggest tunes from his upcoming biggest-selling album, Harvest. Second, he obviously wanted to present new songs like “Heart of Gold,” “Needle and the Damage Done,” and “Old Man” —along with 14 others that this Canadian audience may or may not have heard—in their most stripped-down form, which meant, of course, accompanying his voice with just his Martin guitar, and sometimes a piano. So what you get here is akin to Young performing these songs in his living room. Audience cheers notwithstanding, the dimly lit stage creates a very intimate setting where the intricacies of his guitar playing are readily evident—particularly when you hear him working in those signature parts that would be replicated (often by other instruments) on the recorded versions. Occasionally Young talks about the songs while he changes his tunings (which he dials in without even glancing at an electronic tuner), and the net effect is that you’re brought much closer to the songs themselves than one could ever experience in the context of a CH or CSN&Y concert. Warner/Reprise. —AT

Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society
Boozed, BrOOZed & Broken-Boned 

No one mixes wah-wah, chorus, Uni-Vibe, monster JCM-era Marshall tones, and beer as successfully as Zakk Wylde. Even with the sound off, you can tell from just a few frames of this pummeling performance that the hissin’ ’n’ spittin’ (literally on that last part, unfortunately) metal god truly feels each of the two zillion notes he plays. Asked how he tames thousands of raucous metalheads each night at Ozzfest, the ever-laconic gladiator of the Gibson once told GP, “You just gotta beat some ass.” He makes the task sound easy, but we all know that whether it’s heavy metal or ultimate fighting, dues must be paid, or yours may be the ass getting beat. The power behind the punches on this video comes from Wylde’s life mission to reinvent the licks of Iommi, Rhoads, Trower, Marino, Allman, EVH, and Hendrix, as well as his 20 years onstage with Ozzy Osbourne. In other words, when it comes to paying dues, ol’ Zakk is well in the black. If it weren’t for the inclusion of Wylde’s dated and obscene verbal assaults on Limp Bizkit, this DVD would be utterly timeless.

One practical lesson you can take from Boozed is that if you’re going to film your band’s show, do the shoot at the end of the tour, even if you’re utterly beat down. “We did nothing [as far as editing] to that video,” says Wylde’s guitar stunt double Nick Catanese. “We thought it was gonna sound like dog sh*t, because we’d been on the road forever and were tired, but when we saw it, we were stunned by how tight we were.” Eagle Vision. —JG

Frank Zappa
The Dub Room Special

Although there are vaults filled to the ceiling with Zappa film and video, very little has made it into the hands of the general public, so we’re going to have to go with what we got. Made up of two performances, the Dub Room Special offers two different eras of FZ—the 1974 group that was featured prominently on the One Size Fits All album, and the 1981 group that included Steve Vai.

Amongst the gaggle of control room tomfoolery (which gets a bit old) and claymation by Bruce Bickford (which never gets old!), you get the ’74 band doing their thing in front of a television audience at PBS station KCET. This group, which featured keyboardist George Duke, drummer Chester Thompson, and percussionist Ruth Underwood (among others), is considered one of Zappa’s finest. And Zappa’s guitar playing during this time is some of his most enduring. “Inca Roads,” a prime FZ soloing vehicle, features a beautiful excursion by Zappa against the spacey, stark backing of the group, while “Florentine Pogen” delivers an extended and sick flange-encrusted solo while also highlighting Zappa’s ensemble guitar work. “Cosmik Debris” flaunts FZ’s formidable blues lyricism as well as his blues comping chops as he tastefully adds chordal stabs behind Duke’s solo. Sporting his famous Gibson SG, Zappa appears to be running through a 100-watt plexi Marshall (there are two, but only one appears in use) as well as an Acoustic head.

For the ’81 footage, which was shot on Halloween night in New York, FZ is slinging a Les Paul and playing through a combination of Carvin and Marshall heads. High points include an extended solo on “Easy Meat” with a vicious, heavily-tweezed and modulated tone, as well as Zappa’s trademark polyrhythmic insanity. Zappa also lets Vai cut loose on the tune “Stevie’s Spanking,” but it’s the ’74 footage that is the real gold here. Hey Zappa family, more please! Eagle Vision. —DF

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