Best Performer- Solo Guitar and Vocals (completely solo)

What musician gave the best completely solo Guitar/Vocals performance you ever saw?

My Picks (in no order):

**1)**About seven or eight years ago I saw Steve Poltz at the House of Blues in New Orleans.
Nobody in the audience knew him prior to his performance that night (he was an opening act, people were there to see Lisa Loeb), but he gave such an amazing performance that he totally won the crowd over- and even received a standing ovation.
If you ever get a chance to see him perform, don’t miss it. He’s charming, funny, a great guitar player, and a great songwriter. The House of Blues isn’t the largest venue, but it ain’t small either. It’s a pretty big room to have to grab the audience all by one’s lonesome. Some performers may give a wonderful Guitar/Vocals performance in a more intimate setting but then get lost trying to accomplish the same thing in a large venue. The House of Blues is the kind of venue that I’d normally say should be done with a full band but Steve Poltz’ Guitar/Vocals performance was so solid that he blew everybody away- and, again, these were not “fans” most of these people had no idea who he was (although the posters that were on the walls did inform us that he co-wrote Jewel’s “You Were Meant For Me” which was a current hit at the time).
2) The Lifetime Achievement Award in this particular category may have to go to Richard Thompson. I mentioned that I was so impressed with Steve Poltz for handling himself so well solo in such a big venue- well, that venue was teeny tiny compared to the giant theater where I saw Richard Thompson play. And Richard Thompson has been doing this for decades and he still puts on an amazing show, just himself and a guitar.
3) John Wesley Harding is perhaps my favorite. The musicianship is top notch, the songs are excellent, he’s a brilliant storyteller, and he makes you feel like you’re hanging out with an amazingly talented friend who on a whim decided to whip out his guitar and play you a couple of tunes. Beautiful performances each time I’ve seen him!

Kenny Rankin

Robert Johnson and a host of other Delta bluesmen.

Chris Smither - great songwriter, great voice, amazing guitar!

And a darned nice guy! He was my teacher at Fur Peace Ranch a couple of years ago.

If dead people are eligible, I would second Robert Johnson, along with Charlie Patton, Skip James, Booker White, Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

If live people I’ve heard on records are eligible, I would add Rory Block and Paul Geremia.

The best such performance I ever saw in person was John Hammond (he also played harmonica).

I saw him at Wolf Trap in a songriters’ showcase along with Peter Case and Dave Alvin. He’s good; great baritone voice.

John Denver.

He did a solo bit in one of his shows that I saw in Houston. Sang “Lady” and then “Poems, Prayers and Promises”. Just him and his guitar.

Damn, he was good.

Dammit, you took mine!

Other nominees would include Richie Havens, Greg Brown, and John Gorka.

Loudon Wainwright III. He does a terrific solo show. I saw him first many years ago, and it was by far the most entertaining solo concert I’d ever seen. He’s a truly great songwriter and has a great rapport with the audience.

Livingston Taylor is also quite entertaining solo. I don’t think Liv’s as good a songwriter as his brother James, but he also had great audience rapport and is a very good live act.

Bob Mould. Seen him a number of times solo. Just as intense as when he was playing with any of the bands he was in.

Paul Westerberg, only because he jumped off the “stage” (it was an in-store at a Virgin Megastore in San Francisco) and slapped a heckler right across the face before storming off mid-set.

Robin Williamson - although he played harp and pipes as well as guitar.
Martin Carthy
Richard Thompson
Roy Harper

Leo Kotke. His vocals are more spoken than sung, but his sense of humor is as dry as the Mojave desert and that more than makes up for it. His guitar playing is…well, he’s Leo Kotke.

Preston Reed.

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I’ve seen him a couple of times and he is the most impressive solo guitar player I’ve ever encounted.

My favorite is Bert Jansch. Beautiful melancholy Brit folk type stuff.

I’ll second Roy Harper, saw him live and solo five or so years ago, and he was amazing.

I’ll second Bob Mould. I saw him at the Metro in Chicago, and it was him, the guitar, a little stand for his water, and a lot of speakers.

It was flat-out amazing. woodstockbirdybird…he was as intense as you say. Still in my “Top 5” concerts ever.

I also was fortunate to see Sting solo with a bass at an in-store. “Fortress Around Your Heart” sounds remarkably good with only a bass guitar.

I’m also a huge fan of Richard Thompson (his web site). I’ve seen him live 4 times, twice solo, and twice with his band. I’ve never been disappointed. He works very hard for his fans and he’s got a great stage presence.

When he’s working solo, if you’re not watching him, you’d swear there were two guitarists on stage.

Jeff Buckley.

Two nominees, whom I have had the pleasure of seeing live mulitple times:

  1. Glenn Tilbrook (former lead singer and guitarist with Squeeze)
  2. Glen Phillips (former lead singer and guitarist with Toad the Wet Sprocket)

Billy Bragg has some good man-and-his-electric songs.