Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen picks 10 essential guitar albums
Rick Nielsen's criteria for what makes a great guitar album can be broken down into two words: Jeff Beck. "Anything that Beck is on will usually work for me," says the Cheap Trick lead axeman. "You can’t get much better than him. From the early stuff to what he's doing now, it's all fantastic."
Known for his solid, memorable riffs and quirky yet effervescent leads, Nielsen says that most over-the-top players leave him scratching his head. "I’m not into all of those ‘guitar workout’ records," he says. "You know what I mean – ‘Who’s got the most notes?’ and that kind of thing. When a guitarist can evoke a certain mood through his playing, that’s what’s most important to me.
"Have a point of view," he continues. "If you can say something special on the guitar, then you're going to perk my ears up. But if you're just gonna run through all the scales, then I can always find something else to listen to. Keep it fun. Do something new. People say that it's all been done already, but I think there's still room for a fresh perspective."
On the following pages, Nielsen runs down his picks for 10 essential guitar albums, and he leads things off with not one, not two, but three records from his main guitar hero.
Jeff Beck - Roger The Engineer (The Yardbirds) (1966), Blow By Blow (1975), Emotions & Commotion (2010)
“Jeff Beck is going to take up three of the choices. He could easily make up the whole list, but we’ll keep it to a trio of albums so somebody else can get a fighting chance.
"Jeff's playing was always way ahead of what anybody was doing. He was great way back when, and he somehow gets greater over time. Who does that, you know? Nobody. I think he’s the influence to all known guitarists. Steve Vai, Satriani, Derek Trucks, everybody – they all take something from Beck and put it into their thing.
“What’s funny is, I sold him his Les Paul back in 1968. I’ve known him that long. I knew him even when he was in The Yardbirds. I have a ticket stub from 1965, from when I saw the band play in Rockford, Illinois. I’m a huge fan. He’s more amazing than anybody else – put it that way.”
Duane Eddy - Have "Twangy" Guitar Will Travel (1958)
“I’ve always loved him because he wasn’t like everybody else. He did something that was all his own, but it was something you could immediately understand. You hear it and it sounds like music. Some of these guys take too long to figure out – ‘Is this good? Should I like this or be confused by it?’
“I mean, I like Chet Atkins, but what he did wasn’t anything I’d ever play. Same with Segovia – all right, it’s amazing, but it’s so far out of my realm. I could never want to try to emulate that stuff.
“Duane Eddy is somebody I wanted to play like. I discovered him before The Beatles, and he totally got to me. He sent me a note back in 1977 and said that he really liked what Cheap Trick were doing. That’s one of those ‘Wow!’ moments, you know?”
Mahavishnu Orchestra - The Inner Mounting Flame (1971), Birds Of Fire (1973)
“So we've got two picks here, The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds Of Fire. I worked with those guys way back when – early '70s. Cheap Trick were called Sick Man Of Europe at the time, and we opened for Mahavishnu Orchestra. They blew my mind all over the place.
“It wasn’t music that I could play or would play, but it was so innovate that all you could do was be stunned. And even though it was sort of beyond me, I could still get into it – I didn't have to sit there and figure out if it was happening.
"John McLaughlin has always been right up there with the greatest guitarists alive, but I actually liked him better back when he was taking drugs. The stuff was way more fun and so far out there. When he straightened up, the music wasn’t as fun. I could be right or wrong on that, and people might argue the point, but whatever – that's how I feel.”
Harvey Mandel - Cristo Redentor (1968)
“A really unique guitarist. The playing is different, and the chordings are cool. If you hear Harvey Mandel, you know it’s him. Amazing tone. Nobody could get tones like Harvey.
“I got into him in the early ‘70s. I don’t know how I came to check him out. One day you don’t know anything about a guy, and then suddenly he’s one of your favorites. Harvey was like a cross between the Electric Flag and a bunch of other things – he mixed it all up. I saw him play in Rockfield, Illinois, and he just made things clear for me. I understood him.”
Tedeschi Trucks Band - Made Up Mind (2013)
“I knew the guys in the Allman Brothers way back in the day, before they were famous. I knew Berry Oakley, the late bassist, man, I knew him when he was in Tommy Roman and the Romans – we’re going back.
“Funnily enough, I didn’t follow a lot of the real Allmans stuff over the years, but I saw Derek Trucks and his wife, Susan Tedeschi, and they were doing some solid, solid stuff. I dig what they’re doing a whole lot. Derek's a brilliant player. He's way far ahead of a lot of guys.”
Van Halen - Van Halen (1978)
“I love the chord progressions, the tempo changes, and the melodic twists and turns. It’s not just straight rock ‘n’ roll. Even if I’m not crazy about all the songs, the record has so many other things going for it.
“On one hand, I’m surprised that Eddie did as well as he did, but on the other hand I’m not surprised at all. Technically, he’s at the top of the game. I didn’t even try to do the whole tapping thing – plenty of other people were doing it. When it comes to great, great guitar playing, this one is a lot of fun to listen to.”
The Ventures - Walk, Don't Dun (1959)
“Here a bunch of guys who had a band with no vocalist – already that’s interesting! And they came out in the ‘50s, after Elvis and before The Beatles. They were doing really cool stuff during that period.
“Nobody I know was into The Ventures; I was the only guy around who dug them. I liked them until I tried to play a Mosrite guitar, and that ruined it for me. I never listened to The Ventures again. For me, those guitars just didn’t cut it. Maybe you had to be one of The Ventures to make something happen with them.
“I met some of the band members in Japan one time. I don’t know if they were thrilled to see me. Who is?” [Laughs]