by Dave Keneston
Here we are folks, down to my top five songs featuring slide guitar. It has been fun listening to all these songs again and getting that same rush I always get. These top five crush me so hard and further my love of slide. I have to thank these artists in advance for giving me so much joy.
Are you ready for greasy, gritty goodness and some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful slide guitar playing of all time?
5. “High Hopes”– Pink Floyd/David Gilmour
Here’s the thing, for the first five minutes of this song there isn’t any slide. So how did this song end up at five on the list? I’ll explain. When the slide solo comes in, David Gilmour immediately shows why some tone hounds regard him as an idol held above all others. The thick, smooth and slightly delayed tone from his guitar is one of the best slide tones I’ve ever imagined, let alone had the pleasure of hearing. The melodic sweeping and building into crescendo notes that sound like the cries of a child being pulled from its mother’s breast are so emotionally destructive yet exhilarating, that my chest swells just thinking about them. The perfect intonation and sparing use of tasteful vibrato are a master class in professional slide guitar playing. Then, just before segueing into the song’s outro, he breaks into a repeated melody so majestically sorrowful that even Dick Cheney would get misty eyed. This solo has firmly cemented Gilmour in the Ring of Honor of melodic slide playing. For best reference, please listen to his performance at the Royal Albert Hall.
4. “Old Friend”- Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes wrote this song in the mid nineties and had been playing it solo for years before he and Derek Trucks recorded it on an Allman Brothers record in the 2000s. Because of that fact, I’m considering this song as one of his solo works separate from the Allman Brothers. The reason I enjoy his solo performances so much are mainly due to the authenticity that he exudes. Warren has been around the block; he’s experienced loss and seen far too many fellow musicians and friends destroy their lives. He knows what hard times are and sometimes he has to cry into the ether for relief.
Stripped down with only one acoustic guitar, Warren propels this tune forward with a tremendous riff you feel like you’ve heard before but that you can’t quite place. It fits right in there with the great blues riffs of all time. The song is a stylistic bridge between the old time blues cats and the blues rockers who came after. In addition, Warren’s gravelly voice is perfect for the blues, as he has used it well over the years. This combination of voice and guitar are paramount to placing this song so high on the list.
3. “Statesboro Blues”- Allman Brothers Band
Originally written by Blind Willie McTell, “Statesboro Blues” is the opening track on the Allman Brothers Band’s 1971 epic, Live at the Fillmore East. The band gets introduced, “Ok, The Allman Brothers Band” and you are hit with the initial licks of one of the greatest blues romps in existence. Duane Allman nails every piece of this jam. Every fill and response to his Brother Gregg’s calls are little nuggets of bouncy, blues perfection released through his Les Paul and Marshall. The way he weaves around the vocals without stepping on a single one should be a lesson to lead guitarists everywhere. Do your thing, but stay the fuck out of the singer’s way you egotistical slingers of rock phallus.
After the second verse, we get to Duane’s solo and we see why Dickey Betts called him a triple Scorpio. In an interview in 2007, Betts explained, “In astrology, triple Scorpios are people that are on fire – just blasting straight –ahead.”  If ever there was an example of this it is “Statesboro Blues.” The first chorus of his lead is marked by a mix of slashing and sustained notes, paving the way for Duane to take off into the stratosphere for the second 12 bars of his solo. With string zips and singing bell like tones flying from his fingers, Duane launches into the final turnaround like a coked up tiger murdering his prey with lightning fast execution and vicious intent. I still get goose bumps every time I hear it. This is Duane at his peak and sadly, only a few months later he would die in a motorcycle accident leaving us with just our love of his music and endless speculation on how good he could have been. He was only 24 when he died.
2. “In My Time of Dying”- Led Zeppelin
In this epic, which has its roots in a gospel spiritual called “Jesus Gonna Make up my Dying Bed” originally recorded by Blind Willie Johnson, Led Zeppelin delivers a powerful performance that made their version on 1975’s Physical Graffiti the definitive one. I am going to overlook the fact that they wrongly took credit for writing the song and focus on the genius use of dynamics, seemingly endless variations of riffs and all around bad motherfuckery of this priceless piece of blues-rock.
The song starts out with Jimmy Page’s shimmering slide intro that incorporates the vocal melody and blends it into yet another successful round of riffs. The haunting, foreboding vocals of Robert Plant accompanied by Page’s moaning slide fit the song so perfectly it should be illegal. There is a slow build into the middle section, where Page unleashes some awesomely heavy slide lines. This thrusts the song into the first lead section, which is a fuzzed-out, twangy masterpiece of blues rock to be equaled by few. You can see where guys like Jack White and Dan Auerbach got an ear for some of their fuzz tones that became so familiar in the 2000’s. The breakdown and second build continue to justify this songs position at number two on the list with Page continuing to come up with new wrinkles and turns almost effortlessly.
I can’t stress how key the interplay between the slide guitar and vocal is. It should be used as a template for all future epic blues jam outs.
1. “Midnight in Harlem”- Tedeschi Trucks Band
In 2010, Derek Trucks and his wife, Susan Tedeschi, dismantled their respective bands and joined together to cut Revelator. They recorded a subsequent live album entitled Everybody’s Talkin’ and the highlight of both is “Midnight is Harlem”, particularly the live version.
The live version starts with an intro section called “Swamp Raga”, blending his southern blues roots with Indian Raga melodies. Derek studied at the Ali Akbar College of Music in California and has been melding Middle Eastern and Indian microtonal sentiments into his playing since he was a teenager. Towards the end of the intro Derek subtly teases Little Martha, paying homage to his Allman Brothers roots. As the song progresses, it develops into a stunning soul/r & b ballad where Derek predominately fills in sparingly with restrained dignity. When Derek takes his solo seven minutes into the song, he eases into it with smooth, melodic playing that slowly builds, continuously playing new licks and melodies, never repeating himself unless for effect. The way he builds this solo is the greatest example of how to create tension. When he releases it, at just the right point, it gives the listener an earthshaking eargasm. I swear he also studied Tantra at Ali Akbar because I can’t figure out how he’s able to hold back on giving you that sequence of climax notes until it’s almost unbearable.When he showers you with an explosion of sound resolving so magnificently pure and satisfying, you can’t imagine that another human being could give you this feeling through their music. I’m not saying I’m looking to steal Derek from Susan, but we could definitely have a healthy bromance.
There it is, my ten favorite songs featuring slide guitar.
Here’s a complete list of songs referenced in both articles:
I hope y’all enjoyed it. If I missed some fantastic pieces of slide work, feel free to comment and let me know. I always dig checking out some tasty slide playing.
 ‘Guitar World’, Vol. 28 / No. 4, April 2007, http://www.duaneallman.info/bigbrother.htm