Top 10 Underrated Hard Rock Guitarists
By Bruce Harris
Amazing lead guitar work is a staple of hard music. The skill and dexterity of the very best ax-slingers is often a result of years of hard work, study and practice. While a rock n roll god like Eddie Van Halen becomes a house hold name, many other, equally talented players seemingly often go under the radar. I’m here to bring some of these names to light and relight the candles of rock!
The first shredder I ever met was in one of my early bands. Linus Dotson was a 16 year old prodigy who has since evolved into a power pop power house. If you listen to our podcast you’ve heard him on the show before and he’s working on his next album release right now. Go check out his Pledge Music page for more info.
At the end of the article you’ll find a link to a track we recently did together along with our other band mates from Nightfall.
But for this article I asked Linus for some help in naming names of a few forgotten masters. What follows is a Top 10 list of some guys you already know and some that you may not have heard of before. Turn this article up to 11 and enjoy!
#10 Neal Schon / Journey
So how can a newly minted member of the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame be underrated? Well, its my opinion that Neal is often taken for granted when people start naming great guitar players. You’ve heard those five same Journey songs a thousand times in your lifetime but you probably never took the time to appreciate Neal’s virtuosity. I’ve always said a great guitar solo needs to be simple enough for you to hum. Schon’s soaring melodic runs are certainly hummable.
He’d deserve to be higher on this list if it wasn’t for the fact that his band has already sold a bajillion records.
#9 Jake E. Lee / Badlands
Jake is already famous in the world of metal for being the dude that replaced Randy Rhoads in Ozzy’s band. However, his exceptional work in his next band, Badlands, is sadly often forgotten. He then took a mysteriously long hiatus from the music business but has resurfaced recently with a band called Red Dragon Cartel.
Check out this gem of a song by Badlands.
Had Jake navigated the minefields laid down by Sharon Osbourne and managed to remain with Ozzy all of this time he’d be up on the Mount Rushmore of guitar gods. But as it is now, he’s still on my favorite players of all time and I recommend that you check out Bandland’s first two albums for some great, bluesy hard rock.
#8 Brad Gillis / Night Ranger
Here is another guy that’s sold a shit ton of records in his career but might be someone who is still underrated. After Randy Rhoad’s untimely death, Ozzy had to pump out another album to satisfy his label and before he discovered the then unknown Jake E. Lee he tapped Brad Gillis to record a live set of Black Sabbath covers. It’s never easy to follow in the footsteps of both Tony Iommi and Randy Rhoads, but Gillis was up to the task on short notice and even added some (for the times) “modern flare” with his own whammy bar techniques.
Of course, it was Night Ranger that made him famous, along with co-lead guitarist Jeff Watson (he of the two hands on the neck tricks). But ask a music fan to name a first handful of all time great guitarists off the top of their heads and I bet you that ol’ Brad will be left out. Well not today, not here and not on this list!
#7 John Christ / Danzig
Glenn Danzig would never have been able to make the jump from the punk rock Misfits to his next life of being a metal hero if not for an amazing back up band, headed up by John Christ. Unfortunately, Danzig later grew into a parody of himself but back in the day those first couple of solo albums were hot shit. And you can look no further than John Christ to see why.
#6 Andy Timmons / Danger Danger
Danger Danger is usually overlooked in the world of hair metal and if you haven’t heard them before you aren’t missing out on a whole lot, except for the exceptional playing of Andy Timmons. He has gone on to have a pretty successful solo career.
But its his licks in Danger Danger that I still remember him for, so enjoy this track by the boys from New York.
#5 Rowan Robertson / Bang Tango
Underrated personified might be Rowan Roberston. This Englishman joined Dio’s band at the very young age of 17 and released one fantastic album called Lock Up The Wolves. Being linked to Ronnie James Dio is enough to earn a life time of street cred but Rowan has since gone on to play in of my favorite 80’s bands, Bang Tango.
Here I am interviewing Bang Tango’s lead singer Joe Leste backstage at an 80’s music festival.
And it was at that same festival that I first saw Rowan play in person and I was amazed at his ability to pull off a two guitar attack all by himself. It was right then that I knew he was a bad ass guitarist in his own right.
#4 Kee Marcello / Europe
Everyone knows “The Final Countdown” but how many of you knew their guitarist’s name? Well, you do now. Blending melody and speed, Marcello’s guitar work in Europe stood out even in an era known for great soloists. But he also played with heart and feeling. Check him out on this famous ballad.
#3 Keith Douglas / Tora Tora
Rock n roll owes its entire sum of success to the blues and few players of any other genre or era know how to play the blues as well as Keith Douglas from Tora Tora. The band out of Memphis, TN had a couple of hit songs and can still been seen on the 80’s rock festival circuit, and you can also hear them occasionally on SiriusXm’s Hair Nation channel.
This was their biggest hit and also showcases Keith’s blues licks.
#2 Ronnie Le Tekro / T.N.T.
Ronnie Le Tekro is arguably the best guitarist on this entire list. Guys like Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen don’t have anything on this guy. Le Tekro can do it all. His band T.N.T. had moderate international success but they deserved to be much bigger. Their singer Tony Harnell is in the running for my greatest metal singers of all time. But this is a six stringer’s list, so let’s let the music do the talking.
#1 Vito Bratta / White Lion
And at #1 on our list we have the venerable Vito Bratta! I was never much a White Lion fan but I always paid attention when it came time for the solos. I’ve sort of rediscovered their work recently and I appreciate the band as a whole much more now. But one thing that hasn’t changed after repeated listening is the depth and quality of Vito’s playing. A true virtuoso!
And that, my friends, is how you play hard rock guitar! Cheers to you, Vito!
Thanks for checking out this list and thanks again to Linus Dotson. And now, as promised, check him out on lead guitar and lead vocals and myself on bass, along with our old band mates Todd Charron on drums and Steve Lewis on rhythm guitar and harmony vocals as we reunited our old band Nighftall to cover a song for a tribute album to Florida’s own Dead Serios.