John Boston | My All-Time Great Rock Band List

John Boston

There are many civilization-ending issues this Opinion Page of Earth’s last great newspaper must address. War. Open borders. Who leads in a lesbian ballroom dance class. Democrats walking brazenly about without restraining plastic dog cones.

These problems aside, a vital question must be answered in finality. Who would be the greatest rock ’n’ roll band of all time? This is a question for serious grown-ups only. Fans of Bernie Sanders (who believes he played at Woodstock), Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus or Insane Clown Posse (sorry, Cam Smyth) may not apply.

Certainly there’s no shortage of nominees. Enlightened rock aficionados can quickly rattle off dozens of immortal musicians who deserve to make the starting squad.

There are problems building such a lineup. 

Take Janis Joplin, the haunted raspy singer of Big Brother & The Holding Company. JJ had more soul than 10,000 neophytes at a Saturday midnight meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Janis left nothing on stage. Her voice was a contrite mourning of regrets and the sins of selling her soul for the attention of a disinterested man. But could Joplin be a cog in an all-star group that created perfect, blended or cacophonic sound? Could she actually complete a set without a heroin overdose? 

Here’s My List. Learn it. Live it. Memorize it. Don’t roll your eyes nor complain to your butthead junior high friends on Facebook if you’ve a different opinion . . .

LEAD GUITAR: No brainer. I’m not referring to the obscure underground British punk strummer, Lenny Nobrainer. Best lead? Easy-peezy. Eric Clapton. Guitar legend himself, B.B. King, said it best. At a concert featuring some of rock’s greatest pickers, Clapton reeled off an impossible, effortless solo. B.B. just stared at the deity from rock’s best power trio, Cream, and shook his head. B.B. lamented: “You shoulda left a little somethin’ for the rest of us…”

MALE SINGER: Who else? Farrokh Bulsara. You might know him better by his stage name — Freddie Mercury. Roger Daltry of The Who once said that FM was: “…the best virtuoso rock ’n’ roll singer of all time. He could sing anything in any style. He could change his style from line to line and, God, that’s art.” Mercury had an almost inhuman vocal range, about four octaves, being able to fall to an F2 bass and up to a soprano high of F5.

FEMALE SINGER: Grace Slick, the legendary singer for Jefferson Airplane. There are better virtuosas, but Grace was simply rock, wild, caustic and sexy. On stage, she once angrily chastised Germany for losing World War II. Top that one, you angry garage band wannabes. I’m surprised Grace is still alive. So, in the wings, I’d have the amazing Finnish singer no one’s heard of, Tarja. Three-octave range, haunting phrasing and proficient in all styles of music. She and Fred would kick serious butt.

BACK-UP SINGERS: Margie Hendrix and the Raelettes, those untouchably saucy crooner girls behind Ray Charles. If you don’t like this nomination, hit the road — Jack…

BASS: First, apologies to one of my best friends, Curtis Stone, for not making the list. It was also hard to pass up the father of rock-&-soul bassists, James Jamerson. Ditto with the Beatles’ Paul McCartney. But, I’m going with another Cream alum, Jack Bruce. Besides being a deadly pure rock bass player, his vocals would complement this band nicely.

DRUMS: We’re passing up dozens of nut-job psycho rock drummers and headed back to Swing. Banging the skins vehemently will be The Wildman, Gene Krupa. He dominated music from the 1920s to 1970s, before rock was born. His madness and ability to blend and lead with rock giants would forever be stuck in our brains and tapping feet.

RHYTHM GUITAR: Without rhythm, there’s no band. I came so close to picking Pete Townshend of The Who. The guitar-thrasher knows how to drive the song, but can throw in surprises or simple licks that knock audiences out cold, whether they’re high, drunk or sober. But, sorry, Pete. I picked Steven Stills, of Buffalo Springfield. With a nod toward vocals, Stills is a superstar on strings, bringing in the right spice of country. 

SAX: That’s right. Saxophone. In a rock band. Charlie Parker, THE Man. A virtuoso, able to blend and command, Parker was called the “Mozart of our time” by many music critics.

VIOLINIST: Electrify your strings with Sugarcane Harris, who played with Frank Zappa and a band you’d kill to have the poster for your rec room, Tupelo Chain Sex.

KEYBOARD: Well duh and damn you for asking. Ray Charles. Might use him on vocals, too…

These are mine. Would it not be heaven on Earth to pick your all-time band, sit dumbfounded and in peace in perfect seats and listen for hours under the stars?

John Boston is a satirist and maybe next lifetime will invent a time machine and become a concert producer for himself and a few friends.

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