Read Time 6 Minutes
Live albums come and go. They can dazzle, thrill, or run its course like the tail end of a piece of Bazooka bubble gum. Then it’s time to spit it out. Some make you drive faster, and some send you running off to the woodshed. It’s a feeling. It’s the energy and excitement. It’s the combination of great songs being captured at a special time, at the perfect moment. These are the six live guitar albums that blew my mind.
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1. Jimi Hendrix – The Hendrix Concerts
There are many Hendrix recordings to choose from but this live compilation put together by Alan Douglas in 1982 is truly inspired. Google searching hipsters will see the name Alan Douglas and go off all half-cocked with insults. True Hendrix scholars will smile and patiently correct these young noobs by explaining to them that this record is arguably the best thing Douglas ever did while he was handling Jimi’s discography.
What do you get? You get the best of the best, that’s what! The best live version of “Fire” ever recorded from Winterland ’68, “I Don’t Live Today” from The San Diego Sports Arena ’69, and “Bleeding Heart” from Randall’s Island ’70. The mind blowing just goes on and on. The track list is stellar, seamless, and sounds like the perfect full-length concert Jimi ever played. The album originally appeared as a double vinyl album with twelve tracks, but if you’re lucky you can find the CD version; though you’ll miss all it’s original analog splendor.
Hendrix never played his songs the same way twice and neither should you, but if you want the best heart pounding live versions of his songs in one package, look no further. This collection will enrich your repertoire, your chops, and your reverence for a gifted icon.
2. Ted Nugent – Double Live Gonzo
He could make his guitar sound like a woolly mammoth mating with a herd of giant buffalo. It’s a combination guitar record and theater experience. Double Live Gonzo mixed heavy rock & roll with over the top tasty guitar playing. Think Chuck Berry on massive amounts of anabolic steroids and Viagra. Epic tunes like “Hibernation,” “Great White Buffalo,” coupled with radio hits like “Cat Scratch Fever” blew everybody’s mind back in 1978.
Nugent’s manipulation of feedback, sustain, and lightnin’ licks is all here in massive doses. It’s big, it’s live, it’s nasty, and you are there. His stage rap takes this type of record to a whole other level of auditory incredibleness. “This guitar right here is guaranteed to blow the balls off a charging rhino at sixty paces. That’s my baby. You know what I’m talkin’ bout! You see this guitar definitely refuses to play sweet shit…it just refuses…”
It’s a masterpiece and if you call yourself a serious guitar player, this record is already in your collection. If you don’t own it, you might want to re-think your entire life. I’ll let Terrible Teddy explain it to you, “Anyone wants to get mellow, you can turn around get the fuck outta here!”
3. Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia – Friday Night In San Francisco
This live concert was recorded in 1980 at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco and released in 1981. It doesn’t get much better than this in terms of complete mastery and freedom on the acoustic guitar. These guys sound like they could do anything, play anything, and go anywhere musically. The tunes bridge the gap between jazz, flamenco, and world music, creating their own hybrid style that was later copied by many other artists.
DiMeola’s articulate and flawless picking will force you to seek out your metronome and question what your problem is. The musicianship is so high on this record that you will either become a better guitarist, or give away all your equipment. Friday Night In San Francisco is also a joyous and playful record. You can hear these three virtuosos having a good time with each other and interacting with the audience. The compositions are top notch too. Highlights include “Frevo Rasgado,” “Fantasia Suite For Two Guitars,” and “Mediterranean Sundance.”
4. Jimmy Witherspoon, Robben Ford – Live Jimmy Witherspoon & Robben Ford
The year is 1976 and Robben Ford is a baby faced twenty-five year old who gets to play guitar behind blues-jazz legend Jimmy Witherspoon. Ford was a teen prodigy who had it together years earlier, and slowly evolved his style to peak out for this live recording. It’s a fascinating record on many levels.
Witherspoon is in his prime singing like a man with a real life, who knows his way all around the blues-jazz vocal traditions. He’s a 9th degree black belt in blues without a doubt. His vocal stylings are rich, deep, and heartfelt, but done with a combination of masculinity, sensitivity, and genius story telling.
Ford brings his quasi-Mike Bloomfield meets Coltrane vibe along with an extremely well studied approach to blues guitar. He knows every trick in the book. The guitar playing on this album is cherry stuff. It’s earthy, smart, clever, and most importantly soulful. If you need a tutorial in cliché free blues, this album is a one-stop shop. It’s everything you need to know, and devoid of any hackneyed blues tripe. If you copied every note from this album and started playing around town, you’d be the baddest blues guitarist in your neighborhood, and nobody would guess where you stole it.
From mutated Chicago blues lines, horn-like phrasing, hip chord voicings, and intelligent turnarounds, it’s all here. He was playing a Gibson Super 400 back then, and this album marks the last time you would ever hear Ford playing so raw and earthy. Somewhere between this recording and him joining Tom Scott’s LA Express, Ford underwent a transformation. He switched to a 335 and would never return to this style of blues playing ever again.
5. The Police – The Police Live!
It was released in 1995. Two CDs. Two live concerts. CD One is from 1979 at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. CD Two is from 1983 at the Omni in Atlanta Georgia. It’s an informative history lesson illustrating the gigantic growth of The Police during their short but amazing heyday. It also an audio snap shot of the mind-blowing genius of Andy Summers. What he did on the studio recordings bares little resemblance to the awesomeness that he was able to orchestrate live. These time machine recordings take you back to the magic and energy of the early 80’s without having to get a stupid hair cut.
Summers’ Pete Cornish pedal board is legendary, and you get to hear all the tricks and guitar techniques that made this little three-piece band sound so huge. Summers was the master of the perfectly timed slap back delay, and his use of the Electric Mistress will make you want to go shopping to get one of your own. He took reggae style guitar techniques to a whole new level and blended them with rock, and classical finger style techniques, creating a whole new thing. His clever choice of chord voicings, predilection for jazz harmony, and use of space, inspired many a shameless clone; and his influence is still felt today. One added benefit of this recording is that Andy Summers was the producer on this package, which is why the guitar parts are so up front in the mix, where they should be.
6. Screaming Headless Torsos – Screaming Headless Torsos Live!!
Warning: This live recording contains funk, metal, jazz, scat singing, wild guitar pyrotechnics, Latin percussion, ska, and yodeling. Sometimes all within the same song. Why this band never became the biggest thing ever I’ll never know. Well, actually I do know. They never had any radio friendly hit songs that catered to the lowest common denominator. Oh well.
The year is 1996. If you were an artsy fartsy black guy hanging out in the artsy fartsy part of New York, who was into everything from Sonny Rollins to Anthrax to Darryl Dawkins, this would be the kind of music you would make. The all seeing and all knowing David “Fuze” Fiuczynski is at the center of this musical monstrosity supplying the funk, jazz-fusion, and tons of heaviosity. Reggae mixes with octave displacement, winding Zappa runs, Hendrixy whammy workouts, shred, and chordal voice leading beyond mortal comprehension.
“Word To Herb” for example mixes scat, bebop lines, Jaco style bassmanship, and old school rap with quotes from “Birdland.” The whole record swings and funks so hard it hurts. Juxtaposing contrasting genre splashes is a black-rock trademark, and where others have failed, it succeeds all over this record. Their cover of John Lennon’s “Dig A Pony” is simply brilliant.