It is one thing to be musical because you are born into a musical family; quite another to also make a mark in the industry. Specifically at Guitars Exchange we are interested in a select group in which children of guitarists have seen commercial success in their own right. We chose 15 ‘pairings’(and in brackets choose a key guitar associated with their family) - but would love to know if there are any major stars you think we should have included!
Devon Allman and Duane Betts (Washburn / Les Paul Goldtop)
In late 2018, Devon Allman teamed with Duane Betts to form The Allman Betts Band (the pair being the sons of The Allman Brothers Band’s Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts. Devon only met his father when he was 16, but the legend asked his son to join him on the band’s Dreamstour in the summer of 1989, where he first met Duane. Devon has worked in several collaborations over the years, but he found a special connection with Duane, as can be heard on their blues-driven debut album, Down To The River.
Jakob Dylan (Fender 1993 Strat)
It cannot be easy for any musician trying to make a name for themselves when their parent is famous but being the son of Bob Dylan must take the biscuit. When your dad has penned monsters like Lay Lady Lay and Like a Rolling Stone, among a huge discography, and won a Nobel Prize for their lyrics, where do you find the confidence to get up on stage? Amazingly, Jakob has achieved what might have seemed impossible, first as lead singer of The Wallflowers, which he founded in 1989, and produced the hit album, Bringing Down the Horse; then as a solo performer before returning to his band with another hit, 2021’s Exit Wounds. And, who knows, maybe his best work still lies ahead of him?
Lukas Nelson (1969 Martin N-20)
If many of these famous musician’s children might be said to have been born with a silver spoon in their mouths, I guess Willie Nelson’s son would have to have been born with a spliff. The country outlaw legend, famous for his consumption of marihuana, had two sons who followed his path into music, but Lukas made a particularly impressive splash when his band, The Promise of the Real, released their eponymous debut in 2010, which went to number 23 in the US country charts.
Rufus and Martha Wainwright (Gibson J-45)
Both Rufus and Martha toured with their father, Loudon Wainwright III, in their early teens, and besides their solo careers the pair have collaborated ever since. Apart from his career in film, Rufus has now released 10 albums. While Martha took a more folk route, her brother has a style that has sometimes been described as ‘pop baroque’, and he often pivots between piano and guitar on stage. One lesser-known anecdote is that in 2011 Rufus had a child with Leonard Cohen's daughter, Lorca.
Julian Lennon (Epiphone Casino)
John Lennon’s first son had a distant relationship with his father but growing up knowing that you were the inspiration for Hey Jude, among other classics, must spur any latent interest you have in music. Julian kicked off his musical career with the album Valotte, in 1984, which spawned the hit single Too Late for Goodbyes, and went on to release many more, though he also has pursued an interest in making documentaries on environmental and women’s issues.
Dweezil Zappa (Gibson Les Paul Custom)
Frank Zappa’s son, Dweezil, released his first single at 12 years old; possibly aided by his father’s unbounded enthusiasm, and learning guitar from Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen as a child. The second of Zappa's four sons, Dweezil released his first solo album, Confessions, in 1991, and now plays guitar on “Zappa Plays Zappa” tours, which draw on highlights from his father’s incredible 75-album output. “Rehearsals can be very difficult at times," Dweezil admits, "because we're so shaken by emotion. Luckily, I never felt the burden of being Frank's son, I never aspire to compete with him. But I feel his music deep inside me.”
Ziggy Marley (1970’s Les Paul Special)
Of Bob Marley's 12 acknowledged children, five went on to become musicians, but the most commercially successful has been his eldest, Ziggy. Ziggy’s career began in his family’s band, Ziggy Marley & The Melody Makers; while he has also played with the Wailers and released nearly 20 albums, including Conscious Party and Joy and Blues. Ziggy is nothing less than the son of the man who wrote I Shot the Sheriff, No Woman No Cry, and Redemption Song, and popularised Reggae across the world, but he has nevertheless managed to carve out a more than respectable career for himself.
Dhani Harrison (Gibson SG standard)
Born in 1978 to George and Olivia Harrison, Dhani formed his own band, thenewno2, in 2002 and released his debut solo album IN///PARALLEL in 2017, and has also written music for TV shows and documentaries. He has toured with Eric Clapton, performed with Pearl Jam and famously appeared alongside Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Prince, playing While My Guitar Gently Weeps, to mark his father’s induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. In 2019, he toured as the opening act for Jeff Lynne's ELO, and sang on the Traveling Wilburys’ song Handle with Care. One lesser known anecdote is that Dhani initially went to university to study physics before beginning a career as a car designer at McLaren’s.
Shooter Jennings (1946 Martin D-28)
Country outlaw legends Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter gave birth to Shooter on 19 May 1979, who spawned his breakthrough album Put The O Back In Country, in 2005. Shooter has experiemented with alt-rock and hip hop, but it might be said that ‘while you can take the boy out of the country, you can’t take the country out of the boy’…
Hank Williams Jr (Gibson J-45)
Hank Williams Jr, or Bocephus, kicked off his career at the age of 14 by covering his father's songs. However Hank Jr understandably became very unhappy about being known as a ‘Hank Williams impersonator’ and gradually the multi-instrumentalist found his own style. Finally, in 1975, Hank Williams Jr. and Friends, (with Waylon Jennings, Toy Caldwell, and Charlie Daniels) brought him widespread recognition on his own terms. His output then became prolific, and between 1979 and 1990 he had 30 Top Ten hits on the Billboard Country charts, including eight number 1 singles. He has battled drug abuse and survived a 150 metre fall onto a piece of rock, which brought him life-changing injuries, but that has not stopped him having a career that can only be described as stellar.
Jeff Buckley (Guild F-212)
Tim Buckley almost hit double-figures in terms of albums but his son Jeff only fully completed one: Grace. However that album, his premature death by drowning in Tennessee’s Wolf River, and his incredible talent, has ensured Jeff’s status as a legend. Jeff’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallellujah, and the singles Grace and Mojo Pin, co-written with Captain Beefheart’s Gary Lucas, did not intially receive the acclaim they deserved, but today are considered to be masterpieces.
Arlo Guthrie (Gibson L-00)
Woody Guthrie was an iconic American folk and protest guitarist and singer-songwriter, and his son Arlo followed a similar path. Born in 1947, Arlo’s best known song is probably Alice's Restaurant Massacree, or Alice's Restaurant, which is a satirical talking-blues protest song against the Vietnam War. The tune is based on a true story from Guthrie's own life when he was convicted of illegally dumping rubbish, which later emerged as a potential impediment to being drafted into the military. The song is known for its extended story and its repeated fingerstyle ragtime-guitar backing. Arlo has also seen success with Coming into Los Angeles and City of New Orleans, among others. However, in 2020 he announced that he had "reached the difficult decision that touring and stage shows are no longer possible," due to health issues that made it difficult to walk and perform.
Wolfgang Van Halen (‘Frankenstrat’)
Following years of success (and trouble), guitarist Eddie Van Halen and his brother, drummer Alex, added bassist Wolfgang to their line-up in 2006. Wolfgang was only 15 at the time, but his father said he "breathes new life into what we're doing. He's only been playing bass for three months, but he's locked tight and puts an incredible spin on our shit. The kid is kicking my arse! To have my son follow in my footsteps, without me pushing him into it, is the greatest feeling in the world."
Rosanne Cash (Martin D-35 Signature custom)
Three of Johnny Cash’s kids became musicians, but the country singer Rosanne Cash became the most successful of his progeny. The fruit of the Man in Black’s first marriage to Vivian Liberto, Roseanne has won four Grammy Awards and seen 11 singles at number 1 on the Billboard Country chart, while Seven Year Ache made the Top 30 on the US Billboard pop chart. Among her many achievements was the release of a touching father and daughter song, September When It Comes, from 2003’s Rules of Travel, a few months before Johnny Cash's death.
Justin Townes Earle (Martin M-21)
Steve Earle’s son Justin had his drug addictions and demons, but he also inherited much of his father’s talent as a guitarist and singer-songwriter. Justin accidentally overdosed on fentanyl-laced cocaine at the age of 38, and in January 2021 his father released a moving tribute to him under the name Steve Earle & The Dukes JT, which covered 10 of his son’s songs – mostly from Justin’s album The Good Life - and added one of his own. Last Words, the only original song on the record, provides the perfect end to the album, and helps close this list: “Last time we spoke was on the phone, And we hung up and now you’re gone, Last thing I said was I love you, Your last words to me were I love you too”.
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