Our Top 10 All-Time Favorite Slide Guitarists

Mark Johnson and Tom Gray
(Photo: Daniel Coston)

Driving home from Mobile yesterday, Mark and I put together a list of our top ten favorite slide guitar players (bottleneck or steel). Here’s what we came up with, with a link to a song for each:

Mark:

1. Mick Taylor – Beautiful tone and exceptional vibrato. “Love in Vain”

2. Ry Cooder – To me he’s got the hugest slide sound. His technique and vocabulary are so refined that he’s impossible to copy. “Get Rhythm”

3. Lowell George – For his economy of notes and his use of compression and sustain. His rhythm playing was impeccable. “Rock and Roll Doctor”

4. Mississippi Fred McDowell – He incorporated bottleneck slide into funky, hypnotic, rhythmic riffs. “Write Me a Few of Your Lines”

5. Sonny Landreth – He’s taken everything one step further, doing stuff that no one has ever done before, including fretting behind the slide. He’s influenced the whole next generation of players. “Bayou Teche”

Tom:

6. Blind Willie Johnson – One of the earliest recorded slide players and still one of the greatest. His music was beyond genre and beyond time. “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground”

7. David Lindley – He brought the lap steel, kicking and screaming, into rock and roll in the 1970s, and later inspired a renaissance of Weissenborn acoustic Hawaiian guitars. “Mercury Blues”

8. Jerry Byrd – He recorded with Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and hundreds of others. He was the absolute master of the lap steel guitar and the source of most of the technique I’ve managed to absorb. “My Little Chickadee”

9. Josh Graves – He established the Dobro in bluegrass music. Yet his sound with Flatt and Scruggs was so gritty and bluesy that Carl Smith once told him, “If they ever figure out what you’re playing they’ll fire you.” “Fireball Mail”

10. The Campbell Brothers – There’s some amazing music being played in the Sacred Steel churches, and the Campbell Brothers — Chuck on pedal steel and Darick on lap steel — are making some of the best of it. “The Judgment”

Of course, this list barely scratches the surface. I can think of many other great players who deserve to appear on it, and probably you can too. If so, please leave a comment. Whose name would you add and why?

9 replies
  1. Jeff swarts
    Jeff swarts says:

    Rick Vito! Another huge tone,and a very dynamic player. He’s got some kind of touch. I want to know how he does that “wah wah” sound on “My Baby’s Hot”

    Reply
  2. Chris Jones
    Chris Jones says:

    Dan Dugmore! Even though his main instrument is pedal steel, he can hold his own on lap steel as well. Check him out on “East of Gary” on Darrell Scott’s CD ‘Theater of the Unheard’. (Actually, Darrell Scott himself is no slouch himself on lap steel, Weissenborn and Dobro.)

    Reply
  3. mary ann taylor
    mary ann taylor says:

    you boys rock..thank you for the wonderful songs and caring to keep the blues alive and well…..slide-on….mat

    Reply
  4. Mike Axford
    Mike Axford says:

    I think that the list needs to be expanded beyond a top ten list.
    I would also include Duane Allman Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes to the list.

    Reply
  5. Les from Mpls
    Les from Mpls says:

    I totally agree with all the players mentioned…especially Mick Taylor…also, if you watch the Ry Cooder video…you’ll see Terry Evans singing in the background…check out the Bobby King & Terry Evans cd “Rhythm, Blues, Soul, & Grooves on which Ry really plays magnificently (he has a one-of-a-kind amp w/ oil damped reverb..if I remember an old article in Rolling Stone correctly)..I’ve met Terry and he’s one of the great gentlemen in music..really a class act

    But hey, let’s not forget about….

    Jim & Bob The Genial Hawaiians…!!!!!!

    perhaps the original dual slide afficionados…I love their version of ‘St. Louis Blues’…generally regarded as the original blues tune by W. C. Handy…their change of tempo is awesome…blues, march, waltz…what’s goin’ on there?…brilliant!!

    If our guys go duo…how ’bout??

    Mark & Tom… the Genial Georgians

    you fans…if you think about our guys…they fit the definition below..yeah?

    gen·ial
    –adjective
    1.
    warmly and pleasantly cheerful; cordial: a genial disposition; a genial host.
    2.
    favorable for life, growth, or comfort; pleasantly warm; comfortably mild: the genial climate of Hawaii…er Georgia.
    3.
    characterized by genius.

    …no doubt in my mind…I can’t wait for the next CD,

    -Les from Mpls-

    Reply

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