The punk rock aces

By Sergio Ariza

Punk was a return to the origins of rock & roll, taking away all the pretentiousness and pomp that the worst elements of progressive rock had given it, (which had threatened to turn the style into something far from its own purpose), instead of serving as a soundtrack for youthful rebellion, and illustrating all the frustrations and ire that come with being young and angry. Here the guitar is not for a chosen few who have been studying for years, but for anyone capable of picking it up, learning three chords and using it as a weapon against the system. The punk motto was "do it yourself" and served to revitalize a music that urgently needed it. In order to talk about the genre we wanted to choose our particular aces from among the members of its first generation, from the man who served as prologue to the guy who gave it its definitive sound, without forgetting the English boys who managed to popularize it all over the world.  

Johnny Thunders
(15 July 1952 - 23 April 1991)

When we dedicated the special article to Johnny Thunders we called him "the father of punk" and there may not be another musician who comes so close to the title. Detroit bands like MC5 and Iggy's Stooges were abrasive, while Lou Reed's noisy Velvet’s and garage bands were something like the grandparents of these bands. But Thunders and the New York Dolls were "lewd, unpleasant, harsh, raw and wild", words that Arthur Kane, the bassist of the Dolls, dedicated to Thunders' style and that still today serve as the perfect definition of punk. His concise and aggressive style is clear proof that Chuck Berry and Keith Richards are only one step away from punk. His New York Dolls served as a prototype for Malcolm McLaren to create the Sex Pistols and, when they split up, he became part of the growing New York punk scene that had formed around the CBGB and the Ramones. In 1975 Thunders formed the Heartbreakers with his partner, and drummer, in the Dolls, Jerry Nolan, and Richard Hell, who had just left Television, as well as composing Chinese Rocks with Dee Dee Ramone. After Hell's departure, the band went to Great Britain to participate in the mythical Anarchy Tour, along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Damned, where they recorded their only studio album, L.A.M.F., and ended up separating. Thunders stayed in London where he recorded the magnificent So Alone in 1978 with a band featuring Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, as well as special guests such as Chrissie Hynde and Steve Marriott. But the demons of this "born to lose" type were always giants and ended up being devoured by the character. In the end he fell, as everyone expected, victim of an overdose; but his legacy remains.

Main guitar: Les Paul Special TV  



Johnny Ramone
(8 October 1948 - 15 September 2004)

But if Johnny Thunders was the prologue, Johnny Ramone was the architect of the punk sound, his barre chords played at full speed are the pillar on which the genre was built. One interesting detail is that Johnny gained his sparkle from playing Led Zeppelin's Communication Breakdown riff incessantly. That sound was achieved with a Mosrite, a guitar that was bought for being the "cheapest" but which remained with him because it had its own identity. As faithful as he was to the Mosrite he was also to the amplifier with which he began his career, a Marshall 1959 Super Lead. Few guitarists are more influential than he has been in the last 50 years, especially for a guy who only played a few solos (and of very short duration) in his career, being chosen among the best guitarists of all time by the magazines 'Time', 'Rolling Stone' and 'Spin'. If you want a guitarist who defines the punk sound, don't look away, Johnny Ramone is your man.

Main Guitar: Mosrite Ventures II  



Robert Quine
(30 December 1942 - 31 May 2004)

Robert Quine
was one of the most atypical punks in the explosion of the movement in mid-1970s New York. By then he had already surpassed thirty and his baldness contrasted with Richard Hell's pointy hairs and the other punks, but his work as guitarist of the Voidoids of Hell can be considered as the beginning of the solo guitar in punk rock, with a vicious and angular style; as well as being totally brilliant. His influences were based on the more 'arty' sounds of bands like The Velvet Underground and artists like Brian Eno. His work on the six strings gave a new sound to Hell's hymns such as Blank Generation, Love Comes In Spurts or Betrayal Takes Two. In 1982 he would be claimed by his hero, Lou Reed, with whom he would work on the remarkable Blue Mask. His incredible work can be appreciated on iconoclastic songs of artists like Tom Waits or John Zorn, but also in the work of more conventional artists like Mathew Sweet or Lloyd Cole. Perhaps the phrase that best defines him is his very own "By many peoples' standards my playing is very primitive, but by punk standards, I'm a virtuoso".

Main guitar: Fender Stratocaster del 76  



Steve Jones
(3 September 1955)

The Ramones may have invented the genre but when most people think of punk, the first image that comes to mind is that of the Sex Pistols. A group that was created by a manager, Malcolm McLaren, who was fascinated by the New York movement but that, against all odds, release one of the best debut albums in history, Never Mind The Bollocks...Here's The Sex Pistols. Well, the great protagonist in the music on that album was Steve Jones, a guitarist who had just started playing three months before the Sex Pistols gave their first concert. This disciple of Johnny Thunders and Mick Ronson plays all the guitars on the album (there were several overdubs) as well as almost all the bass tracks (Glenn Matlock only appears on Anarchy in the UK and Sid Vicious on Bodies) with a Fender Precision. But if one thing stands out is his fierceness on the guitar, far from being a virtuoso Jones puts all his meat on the grill with his mythical Les Paul, a white Custom from 1971 (which had belonged to Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, although Jones preferred to say that he had stolen it from Mick Ronson) and a black Custom from 1954, and brings back to rock the energy of a Chuck Berry, passed through the dirt of a Thunders and the speed of a Johnny Ramone.

Main Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Custom  



Mick Jones
(26 June1955)

The Clash's lead guitarist was in charge - with his concise and brilliant solos - of putting rock into punk. And if at the beginning of 1977, fully immersed in the pathos of punk, he had declared "I don't believe in 'guitar heroes'", in less than half a year, Joe Strummer would exclaim in ecstasy in the middle of the Complete Control solo: "You're My Guitar Hero! In this way Mick Jones and the Clash became responsible for breaking down all barriers of the genre, as in his case punk was an attitude and not a genre in itself that repeated over and again the postulates of Johnny Ramone. With them everything went into the recipe, from rockabilly to ska, from classic rock to disco or jazz. Just as he never got married to a particular style, Jones also didn't remain very faithful to a single guitar, recording the band’s first album with a Les Paul Junior – again showing the influence of Thunders - the second with a Les Paul Standard 58 and the seminal London Calling with a pair of Les Paul Customs and a Stratocaster.

Main guitar: Gibson Les Paul