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Influences of Guitar Giants

Aug 26, 2009
By Lindsey Schneider

Even guitar gods like Jimmy Page, Jack White and The Edge have their heroes. When the three get together in the new documentary, It Might Get Loud, each talks about one song that has absolutely transfixed them their entire careers.

Read more about each of their choices below, and don’t forget to check out FLYP’s story on It Might Get Loud’s director, Davis Guggenheim.

 Son House
Son House in the mid-1960s. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Jack White
Son House – “Grinnin’ In Your Face”


After playing a critical role in the emerging Delta blues sound in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, Eddie James “Son” House, Jr., went on to pioneer many of the repetitive rhythms and slide guitar tricks that have since become standards. His solo work and his collaborations with Mississippi John Hurt, Howlin’ Wolf, and many others would influence a whole generation of bluesmen, making House one of the true fathers of blues music.

It would seem that a bit of Son House’s DNA lives on in Jack White of The White Stripes. The band’s self-titled debut was dedicated to the Delta blues giant, House’s “Death Letter” is frequently performed by the band at concerts, and both White and House have a raw, hyperbolic style.

In It Might Get Loud, White explains that while “Grinnin’ In Your Face” is one of his favorite House song, it will never become part of The White Stripes’ repertoire:

“Someone had played it for me when I was about 18 or 19, that song. I’d already heard ‘John The Revelator,’ and I was in love with that. Then I heard ‘Grinnin’ In Your Face,’ and that was just the end of it for me. I just couldn’t believe it. But by the time the Stripes had started recording, I picked ‘Death Letter,’ because I wanted to sing ‘Grinnin’ In Your Face,’ but it was too special to me. I didn’t want to insult it. So we picked ‘Death Letter’ just off the cuff, and the funny thing was that we had recorded that song in my living room, and the door was open, and I was looking at Meg while we were recording, and when I finished the song, Meg had a scary look on her face. And I was like, “what?” I came to find out that there was a drunk man standing behind me who had wandered into the house.”

“Grinnin’ In Your Face” has certainly had a large influence on White, but he’s not the only musician to be captivated by House’s spellbinding performances and compositions. Rory Block—a rare female guitarist in the male blues world—recently released an album titled Blues Walkin’ Like a Man that was entirely devoted to House’s music. You can read more about Block in FLYP’s feature story.

Listen to Son House perform “Grinnin’ In Your Face” from a 1965 live recording.


 Paul Weller
Paul Weller of The Jam in 1982. Photo courtesy of Newscom

The Edge
The Jam – “In the City”


“In the City,” The Jam’s propulsive, complacency-shattering punk-pop debut, broke into the top 40 on the British pop charts in 1977. The loud and pointed single was emblematic of the band’s brash sound, which took the basic components of ’60s rock and made them hit harder and move faster.

But The Jam wasn’t your typical punk band. Even though they were angry and made raucous music, their style was much more in tune with the musical establishment (tailored suits were the norm). If the Beatles had stayed together and led the mod revival, they probably would have sounded a lot like The Jam.

So it should come as no surprise that their catchy riffs and commanding performances would serve as a continuing inspiration for U2’s The Edge, who lists both The Jam and the Beatles among his musical influences.

Watch The Jam perform “In the City” live in 1977.


 Link Wray
Link Wray in 1979. Photo courtesy of Newscom

Jimmy Page
Link Wray – “Rumble”


American guitarist, songwriter and (occasional) singer Link Wray is considered by many to be the architect of the electric guitar sound that has become so familiar today. His combination of distortion and power chords in “Rumble” helped pave the way for much of the heavier, harder rock to come.

Musical greats from Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix to Neil Young and Bob Dylan have hailed the song’s intensity and ferocity. In 1974, Pete Townshend even wrote, “I remember being made very uneasy the first time I heard it, and yet excited by the savage guitar sounds.” The coup de grace is a scene in It Might Get Loud in which Page extols the song as one that has affected his entire life and musicianship, and then proceeds to play air guitar to the “savage” recording.

Check out a video from 1978 of one of Link Wray’s live performances of “Rumble.”

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