Nigel Tufnel Day: this list goes to 11!

Happy Nigel Tufnel Day! Yes, the day when everything goes up to 11 - it's November 11, 2011 or, put another way, 11/11/11.

Nigel Tufnel, guitarist for the band Spinal Tap is the comic creation of Christopher Guest. The movie This Is Spinal Tap introduced Tufnel and Tap to the world.

A deft satire of so many of the worst qualities in lead guitarists, Tufnel certainly looks as though he was modelled on Jeff Beck but has backstage green-room requirements that, er, riff on Eddie Van Halen's infamous difficulty. Like so many heavy-metal players he is fond of classical music, even mixing Bach and Mozart to make his own "Mach" piece - a beautiful piano instrumental called Lick My Love Pump.

Tufnel is a scene-stealer in This Is Spinal Tap. He has a guitar that still has the price-tag on - to show it's in mint condition. "Don't touch it, don't even look at it!" he warns the film's director, Marty DiBergi. There's another guitar with beautiful sustain; he even attempts to demonstrate. DiBergi points out that he can't hear anything. "You would, if it were playing," Tufnel explains.

Before Spinal Tap there was his band The Originals; they had to become The New Originals since there was another band calling themselves The Originals.

But before I came to know and love the movie This Is Spinal Tap - watching it over and over, quoting from it incessantly, annoyingly, reading any relating paraphernalia, buying the soundtrack album and the band's Break Like the Wind and Back from the Dead albums - I first heard about Nigel Tufnel in the pages of Guitar World magazine. There was even an interview with him - I couldn't work out if it was serious or not. Then, in place of the closeup shots of fingers on frets, demonstrating chord positions and string picking/bending techniques, Tufnel had closeups of his face to show the different mouth-shapes he made to correspond with certain notes.

That gave the game away. Brilliantly so. I was a Spinal Tap devotee from that moment on - even though it would be a few years before I got hold of the movie, the books, the albums...

So it's Nigel Tufnel Day - the 11th day of the 11th month of 2011. This is indeed a special day; I'll be fitting in a screening of the film at some point. Definitely. I'll watch a few of my favourite clips of the band: Big Bottom, Stonehenge and from the early days, Gimme Some Money.

But, since it's Nigel Tufnel Day, a day when everything goes up to 11, I thought I would make a list of 11 of my favourite guitarists; players who I think of when I think of guitar-heroes. Some of them do not fit the typical idea of a "Guitar Hero" and that's exactly why I like them.

You might like to add your own list at the end.

1. Lindsey Buckingham: so gifted and still making great music. Click here for a sample track.

2. Richard Thompson:  already gushed about his playing here - but for more evidence see here.

3. Carlos Santana: but only listen to the live album Lotus (and try your best to forget this atrocity).

4. Jeff Beck: not just an obvious antecedent for Nigel Tufnel's look (and sulkiness) Beck is one of the very few guitarists of his era, to come up in that time, who is still concerned with the journey; still looking forward, still seeking out new sounds and trying to translate the voice in his head. Phenomenal player - but Blow by Blow is the one for me if I have to name just one album by him.

5. Paul Ubana Jones: an amazing player and a great friend. I've interviewed Paul here and here for Blog on the Tracks and catching up with him to talk about music is a great pleasure. Watching him play is always inspiring and astounding. The man has a gift. He's a master musician. Here's a sample of his work.

6. Johnny Marr: it's become a cliché to talk about Marr as a songwriting-guitarist or anti-guitar-hero but it was his lines, his playing that hooked me into The Smiths. And it's his work on those records that keeps me there still.

7. Derek Trucks: incredible to speak to Trucks (see here for my interview) because he was one of the nicest, warmest people I've spoken to about music. And he was so clued up. I could never get too excited with his playing, because I just didn't like a lot of the music by his band. But this year's album with his wife was a step in the right direction. And the man is a very tasteful and talented player. Check it!

8. Frank Zappa: he introduced a lot of great musicians to the world, gave some great players a platform and so on - but Zappa's own playing was sublime. His "voice" on the instrument is full of life. There's space in his playing. See/hear.

9. Prince: I actually think that there's some similarity in the way Prince and Zappa play guitar. It's that space and the way they explore it. An incredible guitar player. Need proof? Listen to anything on any of his albums.

10. Kaki King: a new favourite for me - very new in fact. But really digging her playing. Worth checking out.

11. Nels Cline: he's the polarising new factor in Wilco; some claim that his jazzy chops are a bit high-brow and just a bunch of noodling. Balls. I reckon he's a class act and his range is superb. He's tasteful and can really charge a tune. He's been crucial in taking the band to another level. (Impossible Germany is just one class-act performance that really benefits from his touch.)

So, as always with lists, I could name 11 more instantly. But just wanted to mention a bunch that don't always get named on Best Guitarist lists. And these players mean a lot more to me than so many other (obvious) names.

I see the G3 show is coming to New Zealand. It's about a decade too late for me to be really excited - but the chance to see Satriani and Vai live will be a treat. I was such a big fan of their early records.

Happy Nigel Tufnel Day

Postscript: A big week here at Blog on the Tracks - what with Monday's New Release (see here). I want to again thank The Omnivore, Mr Jeremy Taylor, for stepping in to offer his take on Scott Walker earlier in the week. A lifesaver, the blogging equivalent of stepping in with a meal for the freezer (he writes a food blog and I'm still waiting for an invite out to "review" a meal). Seriously though, thanks Jez, you're a pal - and a great writer. Also, the Right This Blog! winners were announced. Your deadline is this Saturday, November 12. Get cracking!

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