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You may consider influence on rock, song writing, guitar playing right now or over time.
Tough call as there are so many great guitarists out there. For me it has to be jimmy Page, the man who (if you believe what you read) inspired many of todays guitar players.
for me for guitar virtuosity and stage presence it has to be Rory Gallagher. saw him at Leeds university in my first term and then 6 more times during my 6 years there. Superb crowd entertainer and always put 110% in to every show. wrote some belting blues and blues- rock songs as well.
There are so many great guitarists to choose from with great playing techniques. My favourite would be Eddie Van Halen, he revolutionised guitar playing when he appeared using the finger tapping skills he has. I also like him because we are sharing our birthdays on Friday lol.
For me, in terms of long term impact, songwriting, sheer verve and versatility and for the biggest single influence on the art of the rock riff, it has to be the Man in Black, Mr Ritchie Blackmore. Think about it- Deep Purple, Rainbow, Blackmore's Night- all at the top of the tree in their respective fields. In Rock, Rising, Burn, Long Live Rock & Roll, On Stage, Made in Japan. The list goes on and on. Child in Time, Stargazer, Highway Star, Burn, Tarot Woman, Gates of Babylon, All Night Long and with Smoke on the Water, the blueprint of the riff-oriented rock song....
So stand up and take a bow Ritchie!