With the Rolling Stones coming to town (Oakland on Sunday and San Jose on Wednesday), one hears hopeful rumblings among fans about seeing former guitarist Mick Taylor on stage again.
Taylor -- who played with the Stones from 1969 to 1974 -- has made a few appearances onstage with them in various tour spots. He's not the most famous Rolling Stone, but he represents what many fans (me included) think was the band's best period, to which his excellent guitar skills and musical taste contributed mightily.
Yet one doesn't hear Taylor's name much during conversations about the best rock guitarists of all time.
That's right -- he's underrated.
In the shadows
There are many reasons why various musicians are underrated, most of which involve them playing with people who are either more famous or perceived as even better musicians (or, if you're a drummer or bassist, it's called hanging around singers and guitarists). Some never had the chance to get as big as they should have, including a generation of blues players whose names we may only know because of bands like Led Zeppelin and the Stones covering their music.
Still others play a genre of music that isn't mainstream enough.
Taylor isn't the only talented musician to be dwarfed by more famous bandmates.
Take drummer Alex Van Halen, for example. There's a guy in his band who happens to have the same last name who pretty much revolutionized rock guitar playing 30 or so years ago. But while little brother Edward was making history downstage, Alex was taking his jazz and swing chops, adding a ton of muscle and developing a driving style that fuels the whole Van Halen franchise.
Another drummer that comes to mind is Frank Beard of ZZ Top. Most people think of him as the guy who doesn't have 4 feet of facial hair (odd, given his name). When MTV infiltrated ZZ Top's world back in the 1980s, the band started looking for accessible hits that didn't require Beard to do much. But back in the '70s, Beard's boogie/blues-infected rock playing could be mind-boggling. He would occasionally do things that required slowing down the music to figure it out, but he always stayed right in that comfortable rock pocket of beat.
Some people are underrated because they outshine themselves. Are Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Bruce Springsteen overrated? Of course not. But they all might be underrated guitarists. Same goes for Willie Nelson.
If Eddie Izzard were a musician, he'd be underrated. For now, he's just going to have to be content with being the most underrated comic on the planet.
Then there are entire bands that are underrated, which every rock snob on the planet would say includes the Replacements, which, come to think of it, means that maybe they are not so underrated after all.
A whole host
But there are plenty of other acts. A few that come to mind: De La Soul, ELO, the Supersuckers, UFO, Squeeze, Citizen Cope, Fiona Apple, Terence Trent D'Arby, The Georgia Satellites, Hanoi Rocks, and especially Oingo Boingo. Danny Elfman's old band was considered a weird, semi-New Wave act during the '80s that relied on gimmicky soundtrack songs. But anyone who thinks Elfman just sounds impressive when doing music for Tim Burton should go back and listen to the well-arranged and layered pop genius of Oingo Boingo. It was a band full of great players in a genre that wasn't supposed to have great players.
Even with all that discovered music out there, we can still go back, listen again, and rediscover musical greatness we didn't know was there.