From George Harrison to Lou Reed: The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. picked his favourite guitarists
What determines a great guitarist? Is it the notes they play or the way they play them? For Albert Hammond Jr., lead guitarist of the garage rock revivalists The Strokes, it’s a delicate combination of both. Within the band’s iconic rise to indie stardom, AHJ became not only an excellent guitarist, swashbuckling his New York-style whenever he could, but singled himself out as one of the most unique players in modern times.
The mark of a great guitarist is to have the audience not only sing the lyrics to your band’s best song back at you but when they provide their own version of your guitar licks. For The Strokes, thanks to Hammond Jr’s idiosyncratic style, this was a near-permanent feature. Every time they got on stage, they were greeted by a chorus of fans humming or bopping their way along to one of AHJ’s signature lead lines. But for a guitar player so unique, who were the players he held in the highest regard?
Perhaps we should have expected it, given the style AHJ brought to his own work, both with and without The Strokes, but it’s clear that the guitarist has a definitive style that he cherishes more than most — pop music. No, we don’t mean the chintzy candy-coated tripe you hear on mainstream radio but the golden age of pop. It’s a penchant for the genre that can be seen in selecting his five favourite guitarists of all time.
It’s a usual occurrence to be asked who your favourite guitarist is when you’re already one of the most prominent players of the 21st century. When the Boston Globe asked the songwriter to pick five of his favourites, he turned to pop music and, as a testament to his own singular way of playing, picked five guitarists that we’re sure won’t feature on many other people’s lists.
For starters, it includes one man who many wouldn’t even really associate with a guitar — Lou Reed. As frontman for The Velvet Underground and then as part of his own glam rock pursuit of solo stardom, Reed has always had a guitar with him. The guitar has also featured in his most prominent gift of songwriting. Yet, it feels strange to refer to Reed as a guitarist, let alone your favourite. For AHJ, it was an easy pick and one that surprises him to this day: I love his melodic side. Sometimes when he got weird, it wasn’t what I loved about it. I’m surprised he wasn’t much bigger […] If his self-titled album came out today. . . I’m just surprised it wasn’t more popular then.”
Another doff of the cap to those who informed The Strokes sound comes with AHJ picking Elliot Easton of The Cars, which heavily informed The Strokes and their style. The guitarist said of Easton: “He’s one of the few people who is an amazing guitar player professionally, but also, all the things he added to the Cars songs really gave them an edge.” Similarly, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ own axeman Mike Campbell is part of Hammond’s selection. “He picks the right moments to show off, by doing what’s better for the song,” says Hammond. “It’s not a bad thing [to show off] — you want to play this riff and have a little bit of fire.”
The last two spots for AHJ’s go to the two guitarists in The Beatles. It’s not often that both of the band’s premier guitarists will get a spot on this list, usually, it is reserved for George Harrison alone. For Hammond, the way Harrison plays is magnetic and “made it seem effortless. He had such a unique sound and style […] And his side notes or things he would say about life were really inspiring.” But while there are similarities between the two players, it was John Lennon who really shaped AHJ’s music taste.
One album, in fact, would change the guitarist’s life and his musical direction: When I was 18, I got the Plastic Ono Band album — I guess maybe I was doing softer things then, or I just didn’t understand there was a lot of edge in a way that was easily accessible. It could hit you immediately but still have depth, and that was very powerful. It took me a long time to try and feel like I could do it — I’m still not sure I can, but it’s fun to try.”
Below, we’ve got Albert Hammond Jr.’s favourite guitarists of all time and an introductory playlist to their talents.