Great guitarists under a pseudonym

By Sergio Ariza

Jimmy Page (appears as S. Flavius Mercurius)

For too long Roy Harper was simply a footnote in rock history, his name was mentioned as a curiosity when they talked about how Led Zeppelin had dedicated him a song, Hats Off To (Roy) Harper, or how he recorded the lead vocal for Have a Cigar by Pink Floyd. But an album like Stormcock, released in 1971, should serve to put his name in a much bigger sphere. Musically we are facing an enormous record one could call progressive folk, both for the length of the songs and for the various parts in which they were composed. Clearly Harper is the main protagonist but there is an invited guest on the marvellous The Same Old Rock, one of the 4 songs in the album, built on two acoustic guitars and with a magnificent final solo by one S. Flavius Mercurius, none other than Jimmy Page in person, who, if any doubt remains, gives himself a self-reference on the solo (10:34) with his Whole Lotta Love riff. On the 70th birthday of Roy Harper they got back together to play it with Page on his Martin D-28.

George Harrison
(appears as L'Angelo Misterioso)

In 1968 Eric Clapton dropped over, at George Harrisons request, to the Abbey Road studios to record the solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps while the Beatles were cutting the White Album. Around the same time Clapton and Harrison were in George’s house and Eric needed a song for the farewell album by Cream, so both got busy writing it. They almost had it wrapped up when Clapton walked over to see what Harrison was writing, and read the part where it says “Bridgeincorrectly, saying “Badge, giving the song a definitive title. In October of ‘68 they went to the studio to record it with Harrison on rhythmic guitar, many think those are his famous arpeggios (very similar to things on Abbey Road) that begin after 1:07, and open the way for one of the best solos in Clapton’s career with his red Gibson ES-335, a solo in which he says many more things in 30 seconds than most guitarists in unending solos of over 10 minutes. The thing is that due to contractual reasons Harrison could not appear in the album credits, so he decided to sign the name L'Angelo Misterioso. So when in the credits to Clapton’s album of 2016, I Still Do, the name appears once again as the guest Angelo Misterioso on I Will Be There, the world went nuts thinking it was a Harrison recording (already dead at this point). But Clapton declared that it was not his mate but loved the speculation over the affair, “I've been that 'angel' sometimes. George was, and now there's someone else. So I can't say who it is, but I like the speculation 


Mike Bloomfield
(appears as Makal Blumfeld and The Great)

Before heroin ripped the guitar from Mike Bloomfield
s hands he was the best white blues guitar player in the U.S.A.. He left his indelible fingerprints on the first records (clearly the best) by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, helped electrify Dylan with Highway 61, triumphed in Monterey with Electric Flag, and reached superstardom with his Super Session together with Al Kooper. Bloomfield was always willing to lend a hand to his mates, whether recognised or not, so it’s not surprising that his legendary Les Paul appears on several albums. On two of them he does it in a special way, using a pseudonym for contract purposes. The first is the debut of Mother Earth, Tracy Nelson’s band, Living With the Animals. He did it as Makal Blumfeld on a song titled like the group, an old blues number by Memphis Slim, where he shines with his delicate tone with strength. The 2nd is one of the first solo albums by his old friend Barry Goldberg. His relation with the keyboardist went back to Chicago, when they were teens going to all the juke joints listening to Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. Goldberg had in mind a record called 2 Jews Blues, in which he would play with Bloomfield, but his recording company soundly refused, not wanting to have anything to do with the matter. Even so, Bloomfield went ahead and played on 4 of the 9 songs on the record, including the sublime Barry Goldberg And...which left it quite clear, from the first second, who was the 2nd Jew, in spite hiding behind the subtle pseudonym The Great.    

Pete Townshend
(appears as Bijou Drains)

In 1969 Pete Townshend
created Thunderclap Newman to highlight the composing skills of his ex-chaufer, Speedy Ken, the man who wrote the opening song on The Who Sell Out, Armenia City in the Sky. The band was made up of John “Speedy” Keen (vocals, drums, and guitar), Andy “Thunderclap” Newman (piano), and Jimmy McCulloch (guitar), but the bassist responded to the strange name of Bijou Drains, and it was none other than Townshend himself, ready to leave his beloved SG to play bass with his friend on a song as perfect as Something in the Air.

Jeff Beck
(appears as J. Toad)

The truth is that it wasn’t very hard to discover the identity of J. Toad, the invited guitarist who appeared on My World Is Empty Without You, one of the songs on the first record, with new material by Vanilla Fudge, after their reunion in the early 80s. Besides how recognisable Jeff Beck
is, nobody had missed the group he put together in 1972, with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, bassman and drummer of the band.

Buddy Guy (appears as Friendly Chap)

In 1965 Buddy Guy was signed by the most important record label of Chicago blues, Chess Records, but they were unable to exploit his potential, so he teamed up with his friend
Junior Wells to record what was possibly the best record he participated on, Hoodoo Man Blues, one of the great blues classics. Recorded by Delmark Records, the name Guy could not appear, due to the usual contract troubles with Chess, so he decided to use the handle Friendly Chap. His marvellous licks on his Stratocaster in songs like Snatch It Back and Hold It, Good Morning Schoolgirl, or the title song, served as an example for the entire British Blues/Rock scene. His relation with Wells would be one of the most fruitful of the blues, and would plant many more seeds, this time correctly accredited on his 1972 album, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues.  

John Lee Hooker
(appears as John Lee Booker, Johnny Williams, Poor John, Texas Slim, Boogie Man, Little Pork Chops...)

But Guy’s case wasn’t isolated among bluesmen, on the first recordings of the genre there was an infinity of musicians who changed their names and pseudonyms just as easily as changing their shirt. It wasn't strange in those times that a black artist could cut a single, sell hundreds of thousands of copies and get just $200 for his trouble, as well as an exclusive contract that kept you from recording with another label. One of the most prolific was the great John Lee Hooker
who used dozens of nicknames, some which left little room to doubt who he was, like John Lee Cooker, and John Lee Booker, and others a bit more elaborate like Johnny Williams, Poor John, Texas Slim, and anything else that crossed his mind. But they were all united by his unmistakable style and inimitable voice.    

Blind Lemon Jefferson
(appears as Deacon LJ Bates)

As we were saying in the case of J.L. Hooker, among bluesmen it was quite common to use pseudonyms to be able to record, and get paid, with different labels, but also there were others who used them not only for contractual reasons, but to record different types of music. In Blind Lemon Jefferson
s case, the father of Texas blues, for his gospel songs he preferred the tag Deacon LJ Bates. Under this name he appeared on his debut recording, a single in 1925, and one of his most remembered songs See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.

Josh White (appears as Pinewood Tom)

One of the most paradigmatic cases of the use of two distinct names. Josh White was a young guitar prodigy who made his mark in several sessions as a session player while just a teenager. In 1930, ARC Records sent a couple of workers down south to sign him up and get a contract. White was still under age and was living with his mother, so they convinced her by saying he would just record gospel songs and nothing to do with “the devil’s music. So White left for New York to record religious songs under the nickname Joshua White, The Singing Christian. But some months later, when he finished with God’s repertoire, the label recommended that he start again, this time with the Devil. So White started recording blues records under the moniker Pinewood Tom, while he was still recording gospel records as ‘The Singing Christian’. Years later a Broadway company began to prepare a production of a play called John Henry, where one of the characters was Blind Lemon Jefferson. To interpret the part they began listening to blues and gospel records, reaching the final 2 candidates, Pinewood Tom and ‘The Singing Christian’. How could it be otherwise, he got the part and his career was revitalised. From then on he would be simply Josh White.