I am in the midst of a journey beyond my comfort zone that has been ongoing for almost two years now. It doesn’t involve living in a tent. It doesn’t involve travel. It doesn’t involve high altitude, or peeing outdoors in the blowing wind, or eating scary food. But it does involve jumping into something difficult, something I always wanted to do, something physically and mentally taxing, and working my ass off with often minimally stunning results. I am talking about learning how to play the guitar. Holy crap, it’s hard. I grew up with a musician father, and have a good ear for music. I played clarinet through middle and high school, reading music was a breeze, and taught myself how to play piano for a while when I was in high school. I can hear what notes should come next, and can pick out when notes are off or out of place. But the execution of playing guitar is difficult for me. The instrument itself is a tough bitch to tame.
When I was a kid my father tried numerous times to teach me to play guitar. It was his passion, and he was a great teacher and a great player. But I was not ready to commit to the difficult task of practicing this instrument that made my fingers sore, and more often than not sounded muted and cranky because I could not finger the chords properly, or strongly enough. It was less than satisfying and I blew it off. It is my single biggest regret in life, and here I am at 40 years old starting over and trying to learn how to master this complex instrument. It is true what they say – it is easier to learn anything when you are young, and learning guitar is no exception. I have somehow managed to get to the point where I can play songs and even squeak out some solo notes over background chords if the song isn’t too fast or complicated. But being the competitive, type A, overachiever that I am, I constantly feel as if I am not good enough, maybe even a complete lost cause and should throw in the towel before I have to face the grim reality that I suck. But I push on, because, hell, this is just my kind of situation. Uncomfortable? Yup. Difficult? Absolutely. Utterly euphoric when I feel the slightest bit of success? Oh yeah. So my fingers are often sore, and my once smooth fingertips are rough and callused, sometimes to the point of peeling off, but on I go.
I have this very vivid fantasy in my brain of being on a stage in a crazy outfit, black eye liner, black boots, rocking out on my guitar while a band of sweaty guys backs me up and the crowd goes wild. It is utterly nonsensical, I know, and not something that will ever happen, but I love to think about what it must feel like to be able to rock out like a banshee. If I ever attempted this I wonder what my colleagues in the science world would think. This gets me thinking again about what is considered normal for women, and just like my previous post about the Scientific 100 (100 most groundbreaking scientists of all time), any lists of the best guitarists of all time are extremely lacking in female representation. As in science, males dominate the world of guitar playing. At least, the world of being famous and making your living as a guitarist is dominated by males. Again, I don’t say this to hate on the men because, believe me, I have a deep and some might say unhealthy love and respect for guitar playing men. I am completely in awe of anyone who can play a mean guitar. If I could sell my soul to the devil and be granted the gift of guitar goddess status, I would do it in a heartbeat. Yes, I would do it. I am serious. I suppose I could just practice more and be satisfied with being able to play a few tunes and the enjoyment that brings. Yeah, that sounds more reasonable.
But in the spirit of #LikeAGirl, and all of the things women do that some would say are against type, not normal, and beyond their comfort zone, I would like to generate my own list of guitar goddesses and worship them through my words, all the while wishing I could do just a small iota of what they do with a guitar. I might forget some that you think are worthy of a shout out and if I do, please comment below and share with me your favorite female guitarists and why you love them! I have my black eyeliner and thigh high boots on (figuratively speaking), and I am ready to rock!
Nancy Wilson is at the top of my list for so many reasons. Not everyone knows that she composed much of the music for Heart, and played some of the leads as well as kick ass rhythm guitar. She can sing too. I love how on the Heart album covers she often looked like such an innocent, angelic lady, but put a guitar in her hands and she was a tiger. The juxtaposition of ladylike and badass is perfection. That beginning part of Crazy on You…that’s all her. Check it out:
Now let’s talk about Joan. Joan Jett started out in a band called the Runaways when she was just a kid. Guess who else was in the band? Lita Ford. Two rocking women who both went on to commercial success. But Joan is the epitome of I Don’t Give A Fuck. She is a woman who seems completely comfortable in her skin, and completely unapologetic about being tough and crass. She wears he guitar slung low like a heavy metal rocker dude. Her uniform is skintight black leather. Everyone knows her for I Love Rock n Roll, but what about I Hate Myself For Loving You, and Do Ya Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah). Why shouldn’t a woman flat out ask for it? You go, Joan.
How many of you know about Orianthi Panagaris? Michael Jackson chose her to tour with him on his last tour (unfortunately, she never got the chance). He picked her because she could slam the solo from Beat It. She is absolutely unbelievable. Watch her tear it up here on Voodoo Child. Oh. My. God. She is just as good, if not better, than most of the male masters out there but I bet you have never heard of her. Well, now you have.
Blues, baby. If you can finesse the blues you are a goddess, in my book. Which brings us to Miss Bonnie Raitt, master of the blues, with her soulful, raspy voice and guitar skills, including playing a mean slide. Love Me Like A Man is another unapologetic anthem for all women who believe that we are just as entitled as men to ask for what we want, and get it. Never settle, ladies. Never Settle. Watch her here, backed up only by a bass. That’s all her, carrying that whole song. Guitar. Goddess.
And some more recent additions to this world of wild women, showing us all that man handling a guitar and belting out mad lead vocals is indeed behaving #LikeAGirl. The first is Grace Potter, leader of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. This woman is hot, she can sing, and she plays guitar. She struts around on stage in micro mini dresses and heels while playing a Flying V guitar, and she rocks the house. Grace with gusto!
And finally, Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. Oh my. I will admit, I had to be schooled on her by my male guitar teacher-I had no idea who she was. I have been missing out. This woman is not messing around. She can play. She can sing. And in the tradition of Joan Jett and Lita Ford, she isn’t afraid to wear torn leather short shorts, sling her guitar low, and sing about drinking and fucking around. “If you’re a freak like me, wave your flag,” she sings. What a message. “If you’re a freak like me, don’t apologize. They can’t hold you down, you were born to rise.” Women, ya hear that? They can’t hold you down, no matter what you want to do. Guys, you don’t get to monopolize the market of hard rocking, unapologetic hedonism in the world of rock and roll. Get outta Lzzy’s way – she’s got the goods.
More guitar women that deserve a shout out: Melissa Etheridge, Sheryl Crow, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Charro (yes, she can play like nobody’s business), Ani DiFranco, Chrissie Hynde, Tracy Chapman. All these ladies are unbelievably talented and can old their own on any stage, as the headliner, all alone, no male guitar players needed. I wanted to spend time with them tonight, not just because I idolize and worship their skills and talent, but because they are such a gorgeous example of women pushing the boundaries of what society deems normal female behavior and saying, screw it, this is who I am, and I am going to rock the shit out of it. They weren’t afraid to pursue their passion in a male dominated world.
And you know what? They don’t just survive in the male dominated world of rock and roll. They steal the show. Yeah…oh yeah….oh yeah.