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The Prince solo that changed Billy Gibbons forever


Prince Rogers Nelson may not be the first name you think of when trying to ascertain who should be anointed the greatest guitarist of all time, but when you consider all of the hands at play, it’s hard to decide on anyone else. Jimmy page may have be a rock hero, Eddie Van Halen then took that baton and set it alight. True, Jimi Hendrix was a true virtuoso and there are countless blues musicians who taught Hendrix everything he knew. But Prince had a unique tone, a far-flung sensibility and the technical ability to pull it all together.

Famed for his unique songwriting ability and utterly wondrous viewpoint, the late, great Prince carved out a career shrouded in purple and founded within the purest moments of music. While he may have been a pioneering figure of R&B and hip hop today — owing mainly to his outrageous creativity — the really impressive thing is that Prince handled pretty much every single note in his productions. The jury has already convicted Prince of being ‘His Royal Badness’, but it takes some of the greats of the guitar world to give him his dues in that regard. Eric Clapton often speaks about how Prince saved rock and roll, while the late Tom Petty proclaimed that solo to be one the greatest ever. However, for ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, another solo sealed the deal.

Speaking to Ultimate Prince, the ZZ Top guitar hero, who has his own ream of impressive admirers, including Slash and Hendrix himself, said that as soon as he heard the solo on Prince’s song ‘When Doves Cry’, he was a goner. “That opening guitar figure is killer. That passage solidified our admiration for Prince as a truly gifted soloist on the six-string — something that was overlooked ’til the sound of that first fill hit the airwaves.”

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It immediately converted Gibbons into a Prince fan, and he remains one to this day: “All the Prince stuff is satisfying,” he says. “The awe-inspired from the realisation that he could play everything with a delivery that made total sense nails it. Prince’ knew what he knew’ and brought it forth for enjoyment for many.”

It’s hard not to see Purple Rain as one of the definitive guitar albums of the 1980s, if not the entire 20th century. ‘When Doves Cry’ isn’t just a classic song; it’s also a marker of how incredibly musical Prince was. He displays a sincere amount of guitar talent throughout the piece, but perhaps nothing is more impressive than the unusual squeaks he retrieves from his guitar early on.

The song is full of feedback, enriched by Prince’s unique ear and absolutely drenched in attitude. Skeletal and without much backing, Prince manages to ensure his guitar fills all of the spaces available. The lengthy outro is certainly worth revisiting too. It’s a reminder that Prince’s tracks have always been an evolution rather than a revolution. He uses a similar style in his previous records, and it can be plotted all the way to Purple Rain and this song.

While there is no hope for collaboration following Prince’s tragic passing in 2016, Gibbons and His Royal Badness did cross paths on a number of occasions, including in 2009 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “We performed together one evening in Manhattan, and later that same night, we gathered at a late-night club to exchange angles on all things guitar,” Gibbons tells the publication. “Prince was always stretching the limits, and his guitar prowess out there remains timeless.”

Gibbons reflected more thoroughly on the conversation in 2016, shortly after Prince’s death: “We really dove into the depth of his intent, interest and focus toward technique and tone. I left that evening even more mesmerised than I’d previously been, just knowing the sincerity that Prince kept toward his playing, his performing and his all-around showmanship.

“He said, ‘I’ve really enjoyed some of the work that showed up on that monster hit of yours, Eliminator, the sound of ‘Gimme All Your Lovin”,” Gibbons continued. “He went on to cite a number of titles. I said, ‘Okay, I could give you some amplifier settings, I could give you some guitar strings.’ I said, ‘Why don’t you tell me about ‘When Doves Cry’? He just smiled: ‘That one gets me too.'”

Listen to Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ below.