15 absolutely virtuoso performances from rock and roll history

Rock and roll lends itself to great individual performances and here are 15 of the best.
Thin Lizzy At The Marquee
Thin Lizzy At The Marquee / Michael Putland/GettyImages
2 of 6



Eric Bell was Thin Lizzy’s original guitarist. He was there for the first several albums, helping them build a cult following that would soon bloom into international stardom. Then he quit. He wasn’t around for the success of “The Boys Are Back in Town,” but he was on hand for their first regional hit “Whiskey in the Jar,” and for the follow-up “The Rocker.”

“The Rocker” is simply a sensational early rock guitar. Bell can get an awesome pounding rhythm out of his Strat for the early verses. Then, a couple of minutes in, his fuzz gives way to the beginning of a lyrical, modulated solo.

Bell shows he can shred as well as anyone, but he also can run through an array of effects all in the service of an inventive solo. For more than two minutes, he soars up and down the fretboard. Feel free to pick something else as the greatest solo ever. But put this one somewhere on your shortlist.


From Kottke’s astonishing debut, 6- and 12-String Guitar. If anyone can be said to “shred” an acoustic, it would be Kottke. He would do other recordings of this track with some accompaniment. But on his debut album, produced by fellow guitar legend John Fahey, it’s all Leo, at his fastest and most compelling.

The entire album is filled with spectacular 12-string playing in a variety of hybrid genres that defy classification. He begins this tune with a countrified version of “Taps” before taking off on a roller coaster of blues and bluegrass, with some pop and classical embellishments tossed in for good measure. And he does basically the same thing on all 14 album tracks.


If at some point in your past, you got yourself an electric guitar, you may have tried to master the opening riff of “Smoke on the Water.” It isn’t very hard. If you could do it, you might move on up to learning assorted barre chords and some simple blues licks to toss into a fill.  Now, if you were really good – I mean just about the best of anyone you hung out with – you might set your sights much higher. You might try to copy some of the easier Clapton, Page, or even Hendrix songs. And then the harder ones.

And then, in about 1978, you heard Eddie Van Halen playing a 100-second guitar jam called “Eruption” and you probably threw your guitar away. You weren’t going to be able to play this one. Of course, if you did, you probably went on to a successful music career. I wouldn’t know anything about that.