Lead singers as guitarists.

Hoping one of you all guitarist can tell me how good some lead singers are who are always with guitar. For example I can’t make out Sprinsteen’s or Pettys playing over the other guitarist and band and don’t recall ever seeing them play anything like a solo.

So how good are Springsteen, Strummer, Petty and the ilk?


Petty is a pretty great rhythm guitar player. Springsteen I always felt was good but not great, and Strummer was fine for what he was doing.

There are some amazing lead singers who also are amazing guitar players, but I wouldn’t place those three in that category.

Eric Clapton was God for a brief period of time. But I suspect you are asking about people who are not known for their guitar chops first.

Brian Setzer has the ability to actually play lead parts while singing at the same time which is pretty nifty. Mark Knopfler and Lindsay Buckingham are both great and both play lead without a pick, which is how I learned to play, so I have always had a soft spot in my heart for them.

Perfect answer. Thanks. I guess I always wondered what these guys could go if they just sat down solo and played guitar.

I’d listened to Prince for years before learning about how good a player he really is.

How bout Cash?

It’s hard strumming a guitar and singing. Some greats never could do it. BB King for example had someone else play guitar when BB sang. Some could do it, like Buck Owens but he eventually trained Don Rich (his fiddle player) to play rhythm guitar. A lot of singers just use the guitar as a prop.

Playing lead and singing is nearly impossible. Thats why many musicians play lead during the intro or include a picking break when they aren’t singing.

One of the best at singing and playing guitar is Emmylou Harris. She a very solid rhythm guitarist and a great singer. She’s said in interviews that she takes playing rhythm guitar very seriously. Its very rare to ever see her singing without her guitar.

2 names from me:
Todd Rundgren

Paul Westerberg

I love the Replacements. How good is Paul?

I never thought it was hard strumming or fingerpicking while singing. Playing lead, on the other hand, is a different story.

Years ago there was this guy named Hendrix who I hear played pretty good.

Frank Zappa once explained that sing and playing guitar simultaneously was “like walking and chewing gum.” I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. I’ve seen photos of Elvis, Jagger and Bowie with guitars (and there’s a video of Bowie singing and playing “Heroes” for some fundraiser, seated, for what it’s worth), but these guys tend to stick to what they do best.

Loudon Wainwright III often tours solo, playing just guitar and singing. It’s more rhythm guitar than a lead, but he does do short solos.

Jorma Kaukonen with Hot Tuna played lead/rhythm and sung.

I think Jerry Garcia did it.

Paul played all the guitars on Pleased to meet me. He has always been my model of a great rock singer songwriter guitarist.

BTW: Bob Stinson recorded all his guitar parts for “Tim” in one session, after all the tracks were recorded. He was outta control.

John Fogerty, lead singer and guitarist for Creedence Clearwater Revival and as a solo performer.

Cooley and Hood in** Drive-By Truckers**. Both play lead and sing. Both fucking awesome.

Thanks all. Don’t really care though who can play and sing at the same time. Just what singers who don’t normally show off their chops (like Clapton does) are actually really good guitarists.

Here is my favorite clip of Springsteen doing an amazing solo intro to Prove It All Night.

Sammy Hagar isn’t really known for playing guitar, but he could hold his own in an instrumental jam.

So, you want singers who can play a guitar well, or at least more than play rhythm, as opposed to a guitarist who can sing?

How about Doc Watson?

Country is a great place for this - Vince Gill, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban are all excellent guitar players.

Fogerty and Springsteen are surprisingly great lead players. Springsteen has been doing more lead work on his tours, even with Nils standing by. John Fogerty has focused on his playing over the past decade, picking up his chops. He’s discussed it in a few interviews. He’s a real guitar geek.

Petty - obviously a brilliant rhythm player - the Heartbreakers are an amazing band. I never hear him play lead, now that I think about it, and when he does move, he moves towards bass, e.g., with Mudcrutch, vs. more prominent guitar. Heck, if I had Mike Campbell, I wouldn’t either.

Obviously you have David Gilmour who is prominent in both roles. And yeah, Hagar can play.

But the biggies? Well, McCartney is a great guitarist - listen to the lead on Taxman or the picking pattern for Blackbird.

Lennon? Minor lead work. Jagger, Plant, Daltrey - all can play, but none are standout. Kurt Cobain is a surprisingly economical and powerful guitar player, filling both rhythm and lead roles really well.

Oh - wait! I have one: Amy Winehouse!!!

Have you seen the documentary that won the Oscar, Amy? In it, she is shown playing guitar in a few scenes in the first, oh 45 minutes. She is brilliant - moving jazz chords with lead fills. Very spare and mainly to support her vocals, but her chordal knowledge and sense of melody and rhythm/space jump out. Who knew?? At one point, she she was in the studio, I think, she discussed working on a song using a guitar. She says something like “yeah, guitar is better - I am a guitarist and think like one.” Given what I had seen of her playing that was totally credible - and I didn’t even know she played before the film started.

I think he wants singers who stand out the front strumming a barely audible guitar who probably have another guitarist for all the fancy bits. He’s wondering, who are the singers like this who are actually pretty good on the guitar but who choose not to display it for whatever reason.