Watching documentaries about music and musicians is a great way to entertain yourself and learn new things, especially in light of the pandemic restrictions that have grounded the music industry of Ireland and left musicians (and fans) without live music. Remember: behind the music is a narrative that creates a connection between artist and audience. And filmmakers have been documenting these stories about musical geniuses, underappreciated visionaries, and signature moments — and turning them into must-watch documentaries.
There are so many of these documentaries, so choosing which ones to watch first can be challenging. That’s where this list comes in as it compiles six of the most iconic documentaries about compelling guitarists, and their stories.
Take a look:
Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher (2010)
Rory Gallagher is Ireland’s first guitar hero, described by Guitar as someone who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as legends Stephen Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. He is an Irish trailblazer on the strings, inspiring music icons like Bryan May of Queen and Slash of Guns ‘N’ Roses. He gets his due in Ian Thuillier’s Ghost Blues: The Story of Rory Gallagher, an in-depth portrait of the gentleman of rock and roll and the music that made him a legend. It features rare tracks from Gallagher’s career, and footage of what made him legendary in the first place: Him playing the guitar.
A Film about Jimi Hendrix (1973)
Jimi Hendrix is number 1 on the ‘100 Greatest Guitarist’ list of Rolling Stone. He was a virtuoso who pushed musical boundaries with his iconic Fender Stratocaster. That’s why guitar players and music lovers in general must watch Joe Boyd’s 1973 rockumentary A Film about Jimi Hendrix. The interviews about Hendrix are illuminating, but it is the music that truly stands out. Even though it was made soon after his death it shows why Hendrix’s legacy continues to be alive and well today.
It Might Get Loud (2008)
Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White represent three generations of innovative guitarists. And they are featured in this Davis Guggenheim-helmed documentary. That alone is reason enough to watch it. However, the true star of this documentary is the guitar. All three discuss this instrument, as well as their approach to playing it. The documentary even features a jam session as a culmination. The three masters deliver sonic nirvana, which is a fitting climax to Guggenheim’s sharp filmmaking. But the real pleasure of watching this film is hearing Page, Edge, and White talk about the guitar, and how it can be liberating in the hands of great players.
Mr. Jimmy (2019)
Japanese guitarist Akio Sakurai is a lifelong fan of Page, and this fandom is the topic of Peter Michael Dowd’s Mr. Jimmy. It chronicles Sakurai’s life from his club-playing days in Tokyo to being in a Led Zeppelin tribute band. Its release is culturally significant, too, as it reflects the growing interest in Japanese music in the Western world, with songs like Mondo Grosso’s “Labyrinth” and Foodman’s “Ez Minzoku” becoming popular in the West. This interest shows how more outlets are helping people discover Japanese culture. Expatbets has a number of articles on Japanese culture that cover the country’s entertainment scene and how it is now globally recognised. This is why Mr. Jimmy’s is so interesting, it shows how this cultural appreciation goes both ways. And it demonstrates how no matter where you are from, musical genius transcends boundaries.
The Wrecking Crew (2008)
In The Guardian’s list of best music documentaries as chosen by musicians, the The Wrecking Crew is described as one of the best films about music-making. Here, filmmaker Danny Tedesco pays tribute to the talented studio musicians of Los Angeles who “helped revolutionise the sound of pop and rock in the 1960s.” The Wrecking Crew is an enlightening look at the life and music of unknown and underappreciated musicians. It is also a reminder that making music isn’t always all glitz and glamour, but is often a grind. However, if musicians are truly passionate about their music, there’s no reason for them not to be unsung heroes themselves.
Carmine Street Guitars (2019)
Carmine Street Guitars follows the life of Rick Kelly, a custom guitar maker who makes and sells guitars. It delves into Kelly’s artisanal magic by showing how he crafts his guitars by hand. The guitars are inspired by the original solid-body Fender Telecaster, and sound as good as they look. Ron Mann, as always, is magnificent, as he allows Kelly and his guitar-making process to shine through in his documentary. But the true stars here are the guitars that Kelly painstakingly makes, sometimes for up to a full year. This is a film that will give you a better appreciation of one of music’s most popular instruments.
Feature Image: Pexels