June 7, 2013 – Who "invented" the electric guitar solo? Have you ever thought about that? Who was the first person to "shred" the electric guitar and pave the way for all the greats we know of today like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and others? The electric guitar when it first came out was mainly just rhythm, in the background. Around 1939 "bebop" and "cool jazz" started coming out and becoming popular. One musician, who was playing with Benny Goodman's Sextet and Orchestra, stepped out and started playing "solos" on the electric guitar and paved the way for all the guitar shredding we enjoy today. That man is Charlie Christian. Some argue he wasn't the first, but in many people's opinions (including mine) he made the electric guitar lead solo "popular", and in essence "invented" it.
Charlie Christian was born in Bonham, Texas in 1916 to a musical family, and they soon moved to Oklahoma. He inherited his musical talent from his father, who lost his sight due to a fever, and had to turn to "busking" to support the family even involving the children. He eventually became very popular in the Oklahoma City area, and in 1939 caught the attention of John Hammond, who told Benny Goodman about him. He quickly became part of Benny's new sextet. Charlie's "tension and release" technique on the guitar was groundbreaking, and he started a whole new way of playing the electric guitar, bringing it out of the shadows of a rhythm guitar, to lead solos out in front. He first played a Gibson ES-150, and the special electric pickup was eventually named after him.
Charlie had contracted tuberculosis in the 1930s, and in the 1940s it flared up again and his health declined, and the late night jam sessions in Harlem, NY didn't help. He died March 2, 1942 at the very young age of 25. Sadly, he was buried in Bonham, Texas in an unmarked grave. It wasn't until 1994 till people attempted to locate his burial place in Gates Hill Cemetery. A headstone and historical marker was placed to honor this pioneering musician, who led the way for Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Buddy Guy, Eddie Van Halen and all the great guitar shredders. Watch a video below of him, with a good representation of what he pioneered in the song "Stompin' at the Savoy" from wilson mcphert on YouTube.