Bruce Springsteen names “the best rhythm guitarist of all time”

The art of a good rhythm guitarist is one of the most deceptively complicated things to do in a rock and roll band. Although they might not be the ones that are making the massive solo runs, à la Eddie Van Halen, a good rhythm guitarist, knows how to make a group cut through the speakers, providing the melodic heartbeat alongside the drummer and bassist. While Bruce Springsteen was able to use his guitar to make the E Street Band come alive, he thought that the master of the medium was Pete Townshend.

When looking at the first few generations of rock and roll guitar playing, you hardly saw the rhythm guitar players. Chuck Berry was one to split the difference every time he played songs like ‘Johnny B Goode’, but most people tended to focus on the massive solo runs he was doing during the verse part.

Even when Elvis Presley started slinging a guitar across his back, he wasn’t fooling anyone during most of his television appearances. While he may have been able to throw a few chords together, it was clear that the guy wasn’t playing anything live, practically using the instrument as a prop that stood in front of him as he flexed his dance moves.

As the British Invasion got underway, the rhythm guitarists had started to become one of the most important members of the band. Although John Lennon of The Beatles or Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones were never known for their furious lead work, their ability to make them jump helped them cross over in America, playing a more energetic take on the first wave of rock and roll.

As The Who began working on their first handful of tunes, Pete Townshend was emerging as the stand-out performer. Even for a band that has Keith Moon at the helm behind the drumkit, Townshend was a musical dynamo whenever he took to the stage, turning the rock show into a spectacle when he started smashing his guitars after every performance.

Most people may have been coming for the performance, but Springsteen was already mesmerised by what Townshend could do with the guitar. Since there was no rhythm guitarist to speak of, Townshend would end up using the percussive side of his instrument a lot more often, serving as another drummer in the band while Moon got up to his usual shenanigans at the back of the stage.

When talking about his own playing style, Springsteen singled out Townshend as one of his greatest influences, saying, “As I grew older, the Who’s music seemed to grow with me. Pete is the greatest rhythm guitarist of all time. He plays such incredible rhythm, and he showed you don’t have to play any lead. It’s a fantastic thing to behold.”

While Springsteen famously said that he could make his guitar talk on the song ‘Thunder Road’, his playing style is very similar to Townshend’s. Shying away from the fierce lead work, Springsteen is the kind of musician who uses his guitar as his emotional conduit, looking to tell the listeners a story rather than blow them away with his technical prowess. Springsteen and Townshend may have come from different musical backgrounds, but both of them always knew that you needed to keep the rhythm simple for the audience to follow you.

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