A few years ago, the editors of Guitar World compiled what we feel is the ultimate guide to the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time.
The list, which has been quoted by countless artists, websites and publications around the world, starts with Richie Sambora's work on Bon Jovi's “Wanted Dead or Alive” (100) and builds to a truly epic finish with Jimmy Page's solo on "Stairway to Heaven" (01).
To quote our "Stairway to Heaven" story that ran with the list, "If Jimmy Page is the Steven Spielberg of guitarists, then 'Stairway' is his Close Encounters."
On June 10, we kicked off a summer blockbuster of our own — a no-holds-barred six-string shootout. We pitted Guitar World's top 64 guitar solos against each other in an NCAA-style, 64-team single-elimination tournament. Every day, we asked you to cast your vote in a different guitar-solo matchup as dictated by the 64-team-style bracket. Now Rounds 1, 2 and 3 (also known as the Sweet 16 round) have come and gone, leaving us with eight guitar solos!
WELCOME TO THE ELITE EIGHT ROUND, where all eight still-standing solos will go head to head before your eyes! As always, you can vote once per matchup, and the voting ends as soon as the next matchup is posted.
In one or two cases, genre might clash against genre. But please get real, people! They're all guitar solos, played on guitars, by guitarists, most of them in some subset of the umbrella genre of rock. When choosing, it might have to come down to, "Which solo is more original and creative for its time? Which is more iconic or important? or Which one kicks a larger, more impressive assemblage of asses?"
Winner: "Mr. Crowley" (50.15 percent)
Loser: "Since I've Been Loving You" (49.85 percent)
Today's Sweetwater Elite Eight Matchup (1 of 4)
"Free Bird" Vs. "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)"
Welcome to the Elite Eight round of Guitar World's Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time readers poll! We're kicking off this latest round with a clash between guitar solos by two American rock institutions, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jimi Hendrix. Over the next few days, we'll ask you to choose between "Free Bird" (03), which features an epic solo by guitarists Allen Collins and Gary Rossington, and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" (11), the Hendrix classic from 1968.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
• "Free Bird" defeated Pink Floyd's "Money" (62) in Round 1, Joe Satriani's "Surfing with the Alien" (30) in Round 2 and Ozzy Osbourne's "No More Tears" (51) in the Sweet 16 round.
• "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" defeated Smashing Pumpkins' "Geek USA" (54) in Round 1, Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" (22) in Round 2 and Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" (38) in the Sweet 16 round.
Vote now! You'll find the poll at the very bottom of the story.
03. “Free Bird”
Soloist: Allen Collins, Gary Rossington
Album: Lynyrd Skynyrd—pronounced leh-nerd skin-nerd (MCA, 1973)
“ ‘Free Bird’ was actually one of the first songs we ever wrote,” says guitarist Gary Rossington. “Allen [Collins] had the chords for the pretty part in the beginning, two full years, but Ronnie [Van Zant] kept saying that because there were too many chords he couldn’t find a melody for it. We were just beginning to write and he thought that he had to change with every chord change.
“Then one day we were at rehearsal and Allen started playing those chords, and Ronnie said, ‘Those are pretty. Play them again.’ Allen played it again, and Ronnie said, ‘Okay, I got it.’ And he wrote the lyrics in three or four minutes—the whole damned thing! He came up with a lot of stuff that way, and he never wrote anything down. His motto was, ‘If you can’t remember it, it’s not worth remembering.’
“So we started playing it in clubs, but it was just the slow part. Then Ronnie said, ‘Why don’t you do something at the end of that so I can take a break for a few minutes?’ So I came up with those three chords at the end and Allen played over them, then I soloed and then he soloed…it all evolved out of a jam one night. So, we started playing it that way, but Ronnie kept saying, ‘It’s not long enough. Make it longer.’ Because we were playing three or four sets a night, and he was looking to fill it up. Then one of our roadies told us we should check out this piano part that another roadie, Billy Powell, had come up with as an intro for the song. We did—and he went from being a roadie to a member right then.”
On the studio version of the song, which appeared on Skynyrd’s debut album, Collins played the entire solo himself on his Gibson Explorer, with Rossington playing rhythm on his Les Paul, “Bernice,” and adding the slide fills on his SG. “The whole long jam was Allen Collins, himself,” Rossington says. “He was bad. He was super bad! He was bad-to-the-bone bad. When we put the solo together, we liked the sound of the two guitars, and I could’ve gone out and played it with him. But the way he was doin’ it, he was just so hot! He just did it once and did it again and it was done.”
The resulting track was nine minutes long, and no one’s idea of a classic radio song. “Everybody told us that we were crazy to put the song on our first album, because it was too long,” recalls Rossington. “Our record company begged us not to include it. And when it first came out, they did all kinds of awful radio edits until it got big enough where it didn’t matter any more.”
Shortly after the album was recorded, bassist Leon Wilkeson returned to the group after a brief hiatus and Ed King, his replacement, slid over to guitar, creating a three-guitar juggernaut that could reproduce the song’s majestic attack onstage. By the time Skynyrd cut the 1976 live album One More from the Road, Steve Gaines had replaced King and “Free Bird” had soared to over 13 minutes in length. This version, with its famous shouted intro, “What song is it that you want to hear?,” triggered air guitar frenzy from coast to coast and firmly sealed “Free Bird’s” status as a national treasure.
11. “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”
Soloist: Jimi Hendrix
Album: The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Electric Ladyland (Experience Hendrix/MCA, 1968)
Jimi Hendrix’s publicist, Michael Goldstein, had successfully arranged for ABC-TV to produce a short news feature based primarily on the Experience’s triumphant success in America. Filming began on May 3, 1968, with 16mm cameras capturing the recording of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” which, like many Hendrix songs, borrowed both musical and lyrical themes from Muddy Waters and other Delta bluesmen.
“ ‘Voodoo Child’ was something Jimi brought in, and we learned that song right on the spot in front of the cameras,” recalls bassist Noel Redding. “We ran through it about three times, and that was it.”
It is not known whether ABC ever used any of the footage. And, unfortunately, all the camera originals were stolen from ABC’s archives sometime after Jimi’s death. The reel also included footage of the group performing at the Fillmore East and the Miami Pop Festival.
Engineer Eddie Kramer recalls: “ ‘Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ was recorded the day after Jimi tracked ‘Voodoo Chile,’ the extended jam on Electric Ladyland featuring Traffic’s Stevie Winwood on organ and Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady. Basically, Jimi used the same setup—his Strat through a nice, warm Fender Bassman amp. Jimi’s sound on both tracks is remarkably consistent, leading some to think they were recorded at the same session.”
[[ When you're done voting, start learning most of the guitar solos in this poll — and and a whole lot more! Check out a new TAB book from Guitar World and Hal Leonard: 'The 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of All Time: A Treasure Trove of Guitar Leads Transcribed Note-for-Note, Plus Song Notes for More Than 40 of the Best Solos.' It's available now at the Guitar World Online Store for $29.99. NOTE: Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" guitar solo (solo number 39 on our list) is NOT included in this book. ]]