There was a story in the Hendrix biography Room Full of Mirrors about how the first time Michael Bloomfield heard Hendrix play he left the show swearing he was never going to play guitar again. He did play again, of course, and likely gained some motivation and inspiration from the awe he felt for Jimi’s playing that night. Even if you’re not the guitar giant Bloomfield was, you can get that same sense of inspiration for (and possibly frustration with) your own guitar playing by listening to some of the tracks on the Guitar Masters Vol. 1 compilation. If you’re not a guitar player, but a guitar music aficionado, you get to skip the frustration part and just revel in the pure awe.
The first tune I heard from this album was included as a bonus with a Guitar World DVD a few months back – Jeff Beck jamming with Toots & the Maytals on “54-46 Was My Number.” I’ve been waiting for the whole volume ever since. The fusion of Beck’s smoking licks and Toots’ reggae groove was a good primer for an album that revels in musical diversity – the guitarists featured are playing in or fusing with a variety of different styles from funk to jazz, bluegrass to flamenco, shred to bound by a common virtuosity.
It’s amazing how technical and artistic proficiency can marry songs on an album – so that Zakk Wylde’s blazing riffs over Randy Coven’s funky cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish” and the beautiful, gentle acoustic guitar work of Carl Tosten on his “What Can I Say” not only feel complimentary, but each become plotlines in the same broader story; a story about the instrument itself.
Guitar Masters Vol. 1 is produced by Bohemian Productions, a New York City imprint headed by guitarist Brian Tarquin. Tarquin founded Bohemian to showcase “unique instrumental music which has fallen through the cracks in the music industry.” While this disc features many artists who are far from having fallen through the cracks, it does bring a unique and awesome perspective to their work as guitarists, showcasing them in inventive and sometimes startling ways.
Unlike Bloomfield after hearing Hendrix, I didn’t swear never to play guitar again after hearing this compilation. Then again, I’m light years from his league or from the league these amazing players are in, so I can listen with the awe of a pupil as opposed to the jealousy of a rival master. Even so, I’ve found it hard to listen to the disc straight through from beginning to end unless I’m in the car. Because if I’m anywhere near a guitar, every song is a goad to pick up my instrument and try and figure out how these guitar heroes are doing these unbelievable things.
1. "B Fingers" – John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) featuring Trey Gunn
2. "54-46 Was My Number" – Toots & the Maytals featuring Jeff Beck
3. I Wish – Zakk Wylde & Randy Coven
4. "Unleash the Beast" – Billy Sheehan
5. "Hair" – Stanley Clarke featuring Joe Satriani
6. "Minute Mouse" – Steve Morse & Randy Coven
7. "Skippy" – Allan Holdsworth & David Hines
8. "Rumba" – Marcus Nand
9. "Shenandoah" – Will Ray
10. "Picture of a Purple Sky" – Steve Booke
11. "Frankenstein" – Doug Stapp
12. "The Nag" – John Scofield
13. "Jack Hammer" – Brian Tarquin
14. "What Can I Say" – Carl Tosten
15. "Space Talk" – James Ryan
16. "Stay With Me" – Martin Winch
17. "Kruununvuori" – Jason Carter
18. "Zero Gravity" – Doug Doppler