Why Prince May Have Been the Greatest Guitarist Since Hendrix

Debeacafcd0f62a70642622316721ee395e7df34Jack Hamilton at Slate:

By the time Prince emerged into superstardom, the notion of a post-Hendrix black rock guitar god had become more or less unthinkable to rock fans, who were mired in the throes of the “Disco Sucks” movement. (Never mind that the best guitar player on the face of the Earth in the late 1970s was probably Chic’s Nile Rodgers.) Purple Rain, the 1984 film and accompanying album that made Prince a superstar, brought the Minneapolis prodigy’s guitar chops to the forefront, literally: The soundtrack’s lead single, “When Doves Cry,” opens with a distortion-drenched run that’s one of the more breathtaking displays of virtuosity ever heard on the instrument. (In a recent interview with the Washington Post, ZZ Top’s great guitarist Billy Gibbons spoke of the many hours he’d spent over the years trying pin down that opening lick.) The movie included copious footage of Prince as guitar hero, from the torrential outro of “Let’s Go Crazy” to the soaring, gorgeous solo that closes “Purple Rain” itself.

But in years since Prince’s position in the rock pantheon has remained unstable. On Rolling Stone’s list, he ranked 33rd, five spots beneath Johnny Ramone, a guitarist widely beloved for not being very good. Any list like this is stupid, but this is really, really stupid. Prince may have been the greatest guitarist of the post-Hendrix era and often seemed to carry Hendrix’s aura more intrepidly than anyone, most notably in his incredible versatility. Our pop-cultural memory of Hendrix is dominated by gnashing feedback squawls and pyrotechnics both figurative and literal, a misguided belief that his signature moments were the last few minutes of “Wild Thing” at Monterey or quoting “Taps” in the early morning at Woodstock. But Hendrix’s true greatness lay in his ability to do almost anything and everything with the instrument, from the dreamy Curtis Mayfield-isms of “Little Wing” to the psychedelic frenzy of “Purple Haze” to the chicken scratches and pentatonic howls of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” to the sumptuous melodicism of “Burning of the Midnight Lamp.”

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