10 Albums That Changed My Life: Rocky Athas

As a guitarist, Rocky Athas has it all: The tone, the phrasing, the touch. Now come to know the 10 albums that changed his life.
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 Rocky Athas performs with John Mayall at De Montfort Hall And Gardens on November 8, 2011 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Steve Thorne/WireImage)

Rocky Athas performs with John Mayall at De Montfort Hall And Gardens on November 8, 2011 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Steve Thorne/WireImage)

The 10 Albums that changed Rocky Athas' life

Intro by John "Jay Jay" French

Since the John Mayall/Bluesbreakers “Beano” album with Eric Clapton (released in 1966) was so influential, any guitar player coming in to carry on the legacy had all the pressure of knowing what fans expect. After all, following Clapton was Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Harvey Mandel and a long list of who’s who of great bluesman.

My wife surprised me a couple of years ago with tickets to see John Mayall in NYC. It was there that I saw the latest blues wiz, Rocky Athas.

Any player who has grown up with the knowledge and the tone of an overdriven Les Paul into a Marshall amp knows that, to many, the successful reproduction of that, forms the foundation of the Bluesbreakers sound.

Rocky Athas has it all: The tone, the phrasing, the touch.

Rocky is from Texas and I’m starting to wonder what is in the water down there. He is a great player and his 2017 album Shakin’ The Dust continues to establish Rocky Athas as one of the world’s best bluesmen.

The Animals, The Best of The Animals

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I am very fortunate and thankful for an older brother who turned me on to music so young. Basically, my brother conducted a master class in classic rock (before the term was invented) in our bedroom. And The Animals were the soundtrack of my youth... I connected with The Animals’ message and I experienced the power that music could have over a person’s feelings.

John Mayall, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton

Oh, Eric is God! Was Eric on fire on this album or what? Coming off The Yardbirds, Eric was already on my radar (because of my brother’s introduction) when John Mayall picked him up and featured him and blew the world away! So, you can imagine how cool it was to get a call out of the blue from Mayall asking me to play guitar with him. It was as if life was coming full circle musically for me.

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Cream, Wheels of Fire

After I heard “White Room” for the first time, something just clicked inside me. All of my focus up to that point was about being the best guitarist I could be. Suddenly I knew there was so much more for me to conquer. I needed to up my game and try to write my own songs of this caliber. Also, Eric Clapton’s version of “Crossroads” is the very finest example of impeccably executed lead work.

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Freddie King, Texas Cannonball

Freddie played guitar like no one else. He played with fire and his songs were very well written, filled with great melodies. Freddie showed me that you should play blues within a great song structure instead of just jamming three chords all night. Great songwriting was essential. He influenced me so much that I wrote a tribute to him with Buddy Miles called “Texas Cannonball.”

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Fleetwood Mac, Then Play On

Let’s talk about the first time I heard Peter Green play “Oh Well.” Oh my God!I still get chills when I hear that song. The acoustic opening riff followed with the Strat or Tele on the back pickup together is just the perfect marriage of tones. Sonic perfection! I stop in my steps if that song comes on to give it the respect it deserves. Absolute perfection in songwriting and guitar execution.

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The Beatles, Rubber Soul

The Beatles were the pivotal band in my development as a musician. It’s almost impossible to pick one Beatles album that influenced me but if I have to, then Rubber Soul. The art of brilliant songwriting is on complete display and obviously the best in the world. I knew then, that writing good songs was key to my future. Plus, could they look any cooler than they did on that album cover?

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Mountain, Climbing!

Seriously, this has to be the most torqued out band I ever heard. First, let’s talk power! “Mississippi Queen”’s brilliant opening riff still pins me to the wall. Second, Leslie West had the best guitar tone and vibrato of them all. His lead solos would sing like a great vocalist full of melody.

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Trapeze, You Are the Music...We’re Just the Band

Glenn Hughes is called The Voice of Rock for a reason! He has the best rock voice I have ever heard and his bass playing is brilliant. Just listen to “Coast to Coast” and be mesmerized by him. This power trio defined great musicianship. In another six degrees of separation, I collaborated with Glenn Hughes for the Tommy Bolin Tribute and we became fast friends.

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Nazz, Nazz

Growing up I was good friends with Stevie Ray Vaughan. We compared notes about new guitar players on the phone at night and at lunch period in school. It was Stevie who told me to check out Nazz because of Todd Rundgren. It wasn’t the band so much as Todd’s playing especially on “Kiddie Boy,” that was a very influential lead solo. Plus, do you remember the really cool red vinyl?

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Jimi Hendrix, Band of Gypsys

We have to remember that this is a live album with only three people making these amazing sounds. I love Jimi’s guitar playing to the max on this album. Hendrix set the bar so high for guitar players everywhere to aspire to. He was doing groundbreaking stuff on guitar that no one had even conceived or seen before. Also, Buddy Miles drumming is so solid that a trio can sound so full and complete.

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