I became obsessive about music in a pretty unhealthy way when I was in Junior High. From there it just kept getting worse and worse. I was playing sax in the school band and enjoying it. When I started high school I briefly switched to trumpet, then back to sax, and then it all went to hell when I started playing guitar. I was already psychotically obsessed with a handful of guitar players before I started playing, but once I started taking lessons it just went out of control. The final nail in the social coffin came in 1985 when I went to my first arena concert. Not only can I obsessively listen to my favorite bands and musicians, but now I could actually go and see them live too? Goodbye any chance of me ever getting a girlfriend.
At some point in high school I came up with the “must see” list. Guitar players that I absolutely had to see before I (they) died. I had already seen Rush, Boston, and Triumph, so Alex Lifeson, Tom Scholz, and Rik Emmett were never on the list. Eventually I settled on five guys. Three Yardbirds, and two GTRs.
Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page had all been members of the Yardbirds. Steve Howe and Steve Hackett had both briefly been in a band together called GTR in, I want to say, 1986 or so. That was the “must see” list. There were other names too who were honorary members of the must see list as well (Robert Fripp, Eric Johnson, Ritchie Blackmore, David Gilmour, to name a few), but the official list was always those five guys.
I saw Eric Clapton in 1990, and then again in 2005. I saw Jimmy Page on his one and only solo tour in 1988… I think. Might have been 1987. Close enough. I saw Steve Howe with Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe in 1989, and then again with Yes in 1991.
That was it, until this week. Two nights ago I finally saw Steve Hackett. It was absolutely worth the wait. He played most of my favorite solo album, Spectral Mornings, and all of my favorite Genesis album, Selling England by the Pound. He was a much better front man than I expected, but I should have known seeing as he’s been doing it since the late 70’s. He mentioned visiting the Freedom Trail before the show, and like many a British artist touring the US he lamented his country not being able to hang on to us. Big laughs. He also name dropped someone I never expected him to. He praised Anthony Phillips, his predecessor in Genesis, for coming up with their acoustic style of layering 12-string guitars. He also mentioned that he played on an Anthony Phillips tribute album and that Phillips was surprised so many people wanted to contribute to it.
Back to the “must see” list (should it be capitalized or not?), I have now seen four out of the five. Jeff Beck came to the United States briefly this year, but he never came to New England. He’s 75 years old. I fear that I’ve missed my chance, but I keep my fingers crossed.
I would love to see Clapton again, but he’s developing health issues and his shows are few and far between. He came to the US a couple of times this year, including the Crossroads festival in Texas last week, but he never came close to me. Jimmy Page and Steve Howe… I’m good. Steve Howe is a shell of his former self and it’s a little painful to listen to now. Granted, being a shell of the most talented guitarist on Earth is still pretty fantastic, but when I listen to his recent releases I can’t stop myself from cringing a little. He can still play, but not like he could before. Jimmy Page, to my ears at least, was losing it while his band was still on top of the world. Listen to him on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. His playing is spectacular. It’s down right sublime. Then listen to his playing on In Through the Out Door four years later. The songs are (mostly) still stellar, but his playing… it is barely recognizable as the same guy. Clapton pissed his talent away through most of the 70’s too, but he was able to get it back eventually. Page… not so much.
The days are numbered for my 60’s and 70’s musical heroes. Time is running out. Jack Bruce is gone. Paul Kantner is gone. Keith Emerson and Greg Lake are gone (though I did get to see them once). Jon Lord is gone (though I did get to see him twice). Now today we hear the news that Ginger Baker, age 80, is in the hospital and is critically ill. I wish him the best, but this is going to keep happening more and more often.
Hey Jeff Beck, how about one more trip to Massachusetts? What do you think? I will do my absolute best to not miss you again.