Nev Marten ponders the back catalogues of three huge bands and wonders which he could spend eternity with
Working in an office with fellow guitarists invariably means guitars and music always figure high on the list when it comes to topics of conversation. This month the curious question arose: if you could listen to only Cream, Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix for the rest of your life, which of these seminal bands would you back?
Some months ago I talked about desert island guitars. My conclusion then was I would not go with my favourite Strat because, over time, it was less likely to demand much new from me. A jazz box or a nylon-string on the other hand, would elicit inspiration and provide years of foraging through fields that were less familiar to me than the blues, rock and pop of my musical upbringing. Thus I think the same may be true of the Cream, Led Zep and Hendrix.
My first foray into blues-rock guitar was when I heard the Beano album. This naturally led me to Cream when the band formed just months after Clapton quit his post with Mayall. When one relates to a musician it’s natural that one follows that player through thick and thin. I’d always loved the fat, Gibson-fuelled tone that Eric wrought from his Les Paul and Marshall, so when this was built upon in Cream with bigger amps and recording budgets, it was mother’s milk to me and a million others.
Hendrix came on the scene soon after and I loved the singles. Hey Joe, Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary came in quick succession, each radically different from the other and all mind-blowing to a budding 17-year-old plank-spanker. But I didn’t much like the albums; they were too way out and reeked (to me anyway) of a guitarist who’d found the overdub button and gone berserk. I confess I was a tad closed-minded about Jimi back then (even though I was kind of right). It wasn’t until his death and the release of Voodoo Chile (still my favourite bit of recorded guitar) that the depth of his talent dawned on me. Then the live bootleg Hendrix In The West (three guys and no trickery) cemented him for me as the genius he so clearly was.
I believe I heard the first broadcast of Led Zeppelin on British radio in 1969. I was stunned. Page had diverged from the path trampled by Clapton and Hendrix, but retained elements that I loved in both – Eric’s dark but edgy tone, and Jimi’s ‘on the verge of falling off’ nature. I loved the first album. I adored the second. The third, well, I wasn’t into acoustic folk back then so, while half of it did what was expected, the rest left me rather nonplussed.
Now, before you lambast my ignorance in all this, in my defence I was not yet out of my teens. And although my family was steeped in music and we listened to a broad range, I was still in the formative stages of my understanding. But where does this leave me and that earlier question?
Well, as with the Strat I’m afraid it wouldn’t be Cream. I can sing every note they ever played and, while I admit we can all hear something new in old favourites, I’m afraid I would tire of them after a while and I’d rather recall them with the joy and amazement that first took me.
Once I had ‘found’ Hendrix, as it were, I did get more into the back catalogue. Hendrix the musician and the showman I can’t praise highly enough. He kicked everyone else into oblivion in certain respects, but I do still find a lot of the early album stuff a little self indulgent, and much of it just snippets of ideas joined up with overdubs and studio effects. You can play almost any Cream or Zeppelin song on one acoustic guitar, give or take, but with many of Hendrix’s studio concoctions that’s impossible. And I’m a song kind of guy so Jimi joins Eric on the subs bench (God, what am I saying?).
And that leaves Jimmy and the boys. I did get into folk music later on, and while I love a lot of it today, I never really got back into those acoustic album tracks. But Led Zeppelin put so much craft into what they did that there’d be years of aural exploration for me among the albums that I really only skimmed back in the day. Hence I hang my fedora on their hatstand.
I’d be really interested to hear your views on this ideal pub-banter subject, and perhaps which artist you could stand listening to – forever! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.