A History of Alt Rock, A Heritage of the Blues

I love the pentatonic scale. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.  My hearty thanks to Charles Dickens for that last sentence.

But, I do love the pentatonic scale. If you’re not musically inclined, don’t worry. I only mention it as a means to my main point. So that you know, the pentatonic scale is something you’ve heard on nearly every major rock recording…ever, just about. Listen to the guitar solo of “Stairway to Heaven.” Classic pentatonic usage (A minor, if you’re wondering).

There’s something strangely simple, strangely raw, strangely classic about it’s sound. And it sounds amazingly bluesy…

Legend has it that Axl Rose met Slash when he posted a classified ad which read “Wanted: hard rock guitarist, blues influenced” and Slash showed up. If you know me long enough (or if you simply finish reading this sentence) you will learn that Slash is the reason I began playing guitar. His music, style, and attitude are the reason I picked up the instrument.  I mimicked his moves and swagger when I could only barely play Smoke On the Water.

Music influences work a little like a family tree. You can obviously see how you favor your dad. And you probably notice some mannerisms or features in common with your granddad, though maybe not as much as between your dad and granddad.  Perhaps you seem some genetic similarities between yourself and your great-granddad.  My point is that the closer (in time) the relationship is to you (say, your dad), the more obvious the similarities. Musical influences are the same.  My style has a lot in common with the alt-rock of the 90’s because that is what was happening when I was learning guitar. Though I bear some resemblances (in my playing only) to Slash because he was my inspiration to play guitar.

He was greatly influenced by Joe Perry (Aerosmith) and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), as was I but not as directly as he. Still there are those blues traces that came down to me.

This brings me to the blues. Every form of rock n’ roll began with the blues (yes, even Nickelback). As the talent and music of legends like Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, and Sonny Boy Williamson began to slowly creep into the limelight in the 60’s (decades after many of the initial records), the blues began to influence more and more white musicians. The “British Invasion” of the 60’s was really an invasion of so-called British blues whereby British players like John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jimmy Page pioneered a style of rock-blues that borrowed heavily from early-20th century American blues.

The thing that I have realized about my guitar playing is the classic blues lives on in the way I play. And really it lives on in the way nearly every guitarist I’ve met plays. If you’re a rock guitarist, then the blues is in your blood, so to speak.  This is why I have always been drawn back to the style of the 2nd and 3rd generation blues-rock players (Page, Clapton, Hendrix, Perry, Vaughn, Slash, and even more modern guys like Billy Corgan). And no matter what styles I may dabble in, hand me a guitar and ask me to play the first thing that comes to mind, and it will be something sounds like these classic guitarists. It’s in me blood, matey!

In what ways or in what types of creativity and art do you seen the influence of the artists who came before you?



  1. Matthew Patterson :

    While studying music history in college, I was constantly aware of this type of progression. Even from period to period you could trace the evolution and influence one to another. And then when a composer would create a certain style of writing, say Wagner and his use of leitmotif, and everyone else would follow suit, adding their own flare and twist… its just a really cool inherent nature to music that is fascinating to observe and be a part of.

  2. You forgot to mention Dickey Betts, Ted Nuggent, CeCe Deville and of course Esteban in your list of influences.

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