Treble-Fueled Motivators: Guitarists No Longer Underground

By Stevil, December 10th, 2016


Mike Palm's Agent Orange making great use of a pool. Photographer Unknown

Guitarists in the punk rock world have long been the adrenaline-producing hypodermic needle that metaphorically penetrates our veins and delivers that burst of energy that makes us feel like we can smash through walls. In turn, we've literally seen walls around us go down--and many more are sure to crumble. The power of music must not be underestimated, and the guitarists cited here are a sample of some of my favorites at the forefront of this wrecking ball.

This time around I won't torture myself trying to limit the list to just 10 names. Yes, I learn from my mistakes far better than my track-record with the females indicates, and with that said, here they are:

  1. Joseph Mascis. Dinosaur Jr. are the masters of changes. While you're losing count, or holding your breath waiting for a verse to repeat, J's throwing in a new riff, or a lead, that draws your attention away from everything else and leaves you wondering how the hell he did it. Til this day, nobody actually knows how You're Living All Over Me was possible to record. I put out a theory years ago suggesting he contracted someone at MIT to assist in orchestrating an assault on the human auditory system. I have yet to hear a better explanation.
  2. Gary Miller. Better known as Dr. Know, Gary puts on a clinic of positive aggression that is memorable, ingenious, and STD-free. Some of the best songwriters in music are where they are because of Gary and his bandmates.
  3. Mick Jones. While Joe probably got most of the attention in The Clash (and understandably so), Mick was the lead guitarist, and since this list is supposed to focus on Guitars, I thought I'd focus on Mick. Cops died because of his music. Think about that.
  4. Stephen O'R...Egerton. Few people probably know about Massacre Guys, or The Plumbers (Pike filled-in a real bra without artificial stuffing!), and numerous other bands and projects he's been in/on. But Descendents and ALL are necessities for most people in this scene, and Stephen has been the biggest contributor via 6-stringed instruments for that/those band/bands (are they actually different?) for 30 years now. He's old enough to be your father (if your mom was a fan, he may actually be your father), and he was the third guitarist in that family.
  5. Greg Ginn. We've all heard stories about Greg as a bandmate and businessman, both good, and bad (mostly bad), but there's no denying that his odd style of playing was original, inspirational, tough, and responsible for riots. He may not have been able to repeat a single solo he ever recorded, and his obsession with solid-state amplifiers is still mind-boggling, but his work fueled a scene that needed fuel.
  6. Mike Palm. The Godfather of Surf-Punk, Mike is the mastermind of Agent Orange (the band, you twit) and one of the greatest melodic, punk rock guitarists alive. He's also a heck of a nice guy. His mother said as much. Need an example of a class act, Mike is your guy. Efforts to prove otherwise would be futile and disrespectful to his parents--and Mike himself! Don't even think about it. 
  7. Paul Weller. The Jam, in my opinion, was the greatest of the British bands to come out of the late 1970's, and Paul Weller was the guitarist and principle songwriter. Ironically, some of his most memorable guitars for me came in a pair of Foxton's songs, News of the World, and Carnaby Street. If you're not familiar with his work, stay clear of the solo stuff and stick with The Jam. You'll be glad you did.
  8. Brian Baker. While Brian is undoubtedly best known for his Grammy-nominated work in Doggy Style and Junkyard, he's contributed to other, more humble acts, such as Minor Threat, Dag Nasty, and Bad Religion. He's also rumored to have killed G.G. Allen by way of professionalism. Not laughing? Whatever.
  9. John Kastner. This bilingual Quebecian (I'm not sure if that's actually a word) was one of the first Canucks to export solid songwriting--and without over-drenched distortion (this is a good thing)--to a world-wide scene desperately in need of music that offered more than just power-chords. Who hasn't had "Forecast" stuck in their head for at least a week each time they've heard it? From Asexuals, to Doughboys, to All Systems Go!, to his solo work, John's kept busy, and as a result, my stereo's been in an intimate relationship with his recordings. I won't gossip, though.
  10. Howard Trafford. Better known as Howard Devoto, Howard might actually have been the first true pop-punk guitarist (don't bother arguing with me, let's just assume), and his band, Buzzcocks, are still among the best there is, oh, 40 YEARS(!!!) after breaking-in to the London scene. They've set the bar.

    John Kastner (center) and Mark Arnold (right), with Frank Daily and Matt Taylor. Photograph from

  11. Mark Arnold. After M.I.A., and some fill-in work, Mark teamed up Frank and formed Big Drill Car, a band that composed 1/3 of Cruz Record's big-3 (ALL and Chemical People were the others; Goodbye Harry came later), and Mark's work is deserving of recognition with the best of 'em. He shares much of Kastner's CV as well, and probably cheated off of John's tests, which would explain why both are musicians instead of respectable lawyers.
  12. Raymond Burns. Though an argument could be made for Brian James, someone from The Damned absolutely had to be on this list, and since the good captain is still very much active, and wrote the guitars on many of my favorite goddamned cuts (bad pun intended), I chose him.
  13. Greg Hetson. Redd Kross, Circle Jerks, Bad Religion have been 3 of the largest bands to come out of the late 70's/early 80's. Greg has been quite active, but wasn't actually the first black president, contrary to various public reports.
  14. Mike Ness. While I wasn't the biggest fan of the early Social Distortion albums (don't misinterpret that!), Mike's been a well-respected musician, and when White Light, White Heat, White Trash came out, I personally felt he had arrived as one of punk rock's elite. He's paid his dues, and he's shared the rewards. He'll even share his drinks with you, and you don't even have to ask--just take!
  15. John Cummings. Johnny Ramone. Stage-names often drive me crazy, hence my insistence on listing the actual names of musicians here, but the concept of Ramones was authentic and flat-out fuckin' cool--and that will never be repeated (Nice try, Donnas). While we didn't get much in the way of lead work from Johnny, what he lacked in solobility (write that down), he more than made up for in power and stamina. Every guitarist thinks they can play Ramones' songs until they realize everything was down-stroked. Yeah, not so easy at those speeds, is it? He may be the single most influential guitarist since 1974. I make this statement in the present tense, because his music will always be active.
  16. Nicky Garratt. The legendary U.K. Subs original guitarist has left his mark musically upon the world, but he's given us much, much more than that. He's the creator of New Red Archives, he's an author of many brilliant, realist-based articles, as well as vegan cook books, and a champion advocate for a number of critical issues. When you remember a guitarist for his songs and social work, you know you're dealing with a real leader and legend.
  17. Bob Mould. I don't think many other authors would leave Bob off of a top-20 list of punk rock guitarists. Hüsker Dü was one of the few bands that produced great hardcore records, as well as great melodic records, and Bob's work was a driving force in that machine. We're talking about pioneers here--pioneers that broke down a lot of doors, and not just closet doors.
  18. John Haggerty. My guess is that far too few people discovered Pegboy, or even Naked Raygun, and that's a pity, because those two bands were great, and John's guitars drove them both to excellency. John also literally drove those bands into a ditch, wrecking the van, thereby causing their demises. There may be conflicting reports over their actual breakups, but my versions of what occurred are always more fun.
  19. Raymond Pepperill. With a name like Pepperill, I'll never understand why he was better known as East Bay Ray, but the unique sound that was/is the Dead Kennedy's had a lot to do with Ray's guitars. Northern California--and the world--was never the same, and I mean that in a positive ray...I mean, way. I'm entitled to a bad joke or two.
  20. Richard Agnew. Last but not least on this list is Rikk, yet another well-traveled journeyman. From Social Distortion, to Adolescents, to Christian Death, to D.I.; solo work, etc., Rikk has done a little bit of everything. And like many others on this list, he's a multi-instrument talent and artist in every sense of the word, who helped rewrite the rules regarding songwriting in the 1980's and beyond. If you have the pleasure of meeting him, be sure to offer to buy him a drink. He quite drinking, but the thought will count, so you'll still get credit without having sacrificed a dime. 
I'm sure anyone who reads this will be screaming at the top of their lungs "HOW COULD YOU LEAVE OUT ___________ YOU FUCKIN' DIPSHIT"?!!!!". My answer is simple: because I knew it would piss you off. That, or because I elected to go with only 20 spaces, so I simply gave thought to those I personally find myself listening to the most, or who produced the most riffs and leads that are now firmly embedded in my head and on loop. Or both. Some of the MIA will be addressed when I tackle vocalists. Some of the MIA will remain MIA. The actual M.I.A. has already been covered.

We've all heard someone say or suggest that our genre lacks talent. We all know that people who say such things lack understanding, diversity, and probably creativity, among many other things. This list, along with my previous and future lists, is/will be physical evidence that the predominant majority of substance in music indeed stems from punk rock and hardcore.

With that in mind, I will now engage in lunch (with music), and look for typos and mistakes as I reflect upon what I've just shared. You should do the same and enjoy.


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