Instrumental rock

Instrumental rock

Instrumental rock is a type of rock music which emphasizes musical instruments, and which features no or very little singing.

Examples of instrumental rock can be found in practically every subgenre of rock, often from musicians who specialize in the style, like Buckethead, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Shadows, Paul Gilbert, Jean Pierre Danel, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Eric Johnson, Booker T and the MGs and The Champs.

While many rock bands perform occasional instrumental pieces, those whose music predominantly features vocals are not typically classified as instrumental rock. However, many successful mainstream bands like Metallica, Rush, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac and The Allman Brothers Band are noted for instrumentals.

Partly as a result of the post-rock movement in the 1990's, and partly because of the scarcity of instrumentals in mainstream rock, there is much crossover between instrumental rock and experimental rock.

Early history

Instrumental rock was most popular during rock and roll's first decade (mid-1950s to mid-1960s), before the British Invasion.

One notable early instrumental was "Honky Tonk" by the Bill Doggett Combo, with its slinky beat and sinuous saxophone-organ lead. And bluesman Jimmy Reed charted with "Boogie in the Dark" and "Roll and Rhumba".

Jazz saxophonist Earl Bostic revived his career with instrumentals like "Harlem Nocturne" and "Earl's Rhumboogie". (Other jazz musicians who scored pop hits include Tab Smith and Arnett Cobb). Several rhythm and blues sax players had hit instrumental songs, including Big Jay MacNeeley, Red Prysock, and Lee Allen, whose "Walking with Mr. Lee" was quite popular.

There were several notable blues instrumental songs during the 1950s; Little Walter's rollicking "Juke" was a major hit.

Instrumental hit songs could emphasize electronic organ (The Tornados' "Telstar", Dave "Baby" Cortez's "The Happy Organ") or the saxophone (The Champs' "Tequila"), but the guitar was most prominent.Duane Eddy scored several hits (his best known probably being "Rebel 'Rouser"). Eddy was the first rock & roll artist to release an album in stereo. Link Wray's ominous "Rumble" might be only instrumental rock hit ever banned from some radio stations.

The Fireballs, featuring the distinctive guitar work of George Tomsco, began their career in the late 50's with instrumental hits such as "Torquay" and "Bulldog." The band pioneered the guitar/guitar/bass/drums configuration, paving the way for The Ventures, The Shadows, and the surf music scene. The Fireballs were one of a few instrumental bands that successfully transitioned into vocal music, going as far as having the biggest hit record of 1963 ("Sugar Shack").

The Ventures' precise guitar work was a major influence on many later rock guitarists; they also helped shape surf music, which at this stage consisted almost entirely of heavily reverbed guitar instrumentals.

Surf music was quite popular in the early 1960s, and was generally rather simple and melodic--one exception being Dick Dale, who gained fame for his quick playing, often influenced by the music of the Middle East, and frequently using exotic scales.

Following the British Invasion, rock changed appreciably, and instrumental hits came mostly from the R&B world. Notable artists include Booker T. & the MG's and saxophonist Junior Walker.

The early incarnation of Fleetwood Mac with band leader Peter Green achieved number one chart positions with guitar-based instrumental Albatross (composition) in February 1969.

Steve Cropper of the MG's asserts::"We had trouble getting airplay because disc jockeys did not like playing songs without vocals on them. It got worse and worse and worse until they finally pushed every instrumental band in the country out of business." Fact|date=February 2007

The last important development in instrumental rock before the British Invasion was Lonnie Mack's version of Chuck Berry's "Memphis", which soared to #5 on the Billboard Pop chart in June, 1963. A full-length virtuoso guitar showpiece employing both the blues scale and distortion, Mack's "Memphis" ushered in the era of blues-rock guitar, a genre which reached its zenith in the later recordings of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Previously, only two other rock guitar instrumentals had cracked Billboard's top 5, both in 1960: Duane Eddy's "Because They're Young" and The Ventures' "Walk, Don't Run".

In August 1964, Checker Records released the album "Two Great Guitars" recorded by rock and roll pioneers Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley which is one of rock music's first recorded guitar jam sessions.


Funk and disco produced several instrumental hit singles during the 1970s.

The jazz fusion of the 1970s often had considerable stylistic cross-over with rock, and groups like Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report had sizable followings among rock fans.

The Allman Brothers Band is often not considered an instrumental rock band but they have many instrumentals and make longer versions of their songs. A good example is the 22-minute version of Whipping Post in "At Fillmore East" LP. Their instrumentals, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "Jessica" are popular, with "Jessica" being featured as theme for both formats of "Top Gear".

Jeff Beck also recorded two entirely instrumental albums in the '70s: "Blow by Blow" and "Wired". Successful among mainstream audiences, both have strong jazz influences, the latter featuring a cover of Charles Mingus' jazz standard "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat".

Progressive rock and art rock performers of the 1960s and 1970s deserve some mention. Many of these musicians featured virtuosic instrumental performances (and occasional instrumental songs), but many of their compositions also featured vocals. King Crimson gained a massive cult following in the late-1960's and 1970's with their explosive instrumental output that merged rock, jazz, classical and heavy metal styles. "Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield, a progressive rock album, was all-instrumental (save for some brief spoken words) released in 1973 and is one of the best-selling instrumental albums ever with 16 millions copies sold. The Dutch band Finch recorded three all-instrumental albums of progressive rock of continuing interest.

Surf music's "2nd Wave" began in 1979 with the release of the first Jon & the Nightriders record.


During the 1980s, the instrumental rock genre was dominated by several guitar soloists.

Swedish virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen made a name for himself in 1984 by playing in the popular band Alcatrazz, and then by releasing his debut solo album "Rising Force" later that year, which made it to #60 on the Billboard Charts. Joe Satriani's 1987 album "Surfing With The Alien" was a surprise hit, containing the ever-popular instrumental ballad "Always With Me, Always With You", and the blues boogie infected "Satch Boogie"—both staples for guitarists learning their craft. Two years later came Satriani's follow-up album "Flying in a Blue Dream".

After Malmsteen left Alcatrazz, he was replaced by the extravagant Steve Vai, who had previously been playing with the Frank Zappa band. Continuing the tradition (and following a brief stint in David Lee Roth's band from 1986 to 1988), Vai went on to release a number of highly acclaimed solo albums. Arguably the best-known of these was his 1990 release, "Passion and Warfare".

Jason Becker was also considered by many to be a great player, who released two albums with Cacophony. Cacophony were a primarily instrumental group featuring Becker and Marty Friedman (the latter of whom went on to play with the legendary thrash metal band Megadeth). After the release of Cacophony's second album "Go Off!" in 1988, Becker released two solo albums before being diagnosed with ALS. He is now confined to a wheelchair and is completely unable to play.


In 1990, Steve Vai released "Passion and Warfare". A fusion of rock, jazz, classical and Eastern tonalities, "Passion and Warfare" was a technical break-through in regards to what could be achieved in the field of guitar composition and technical performance. This was followed up by the 1995 trio album "Alien Love Secrets", and what some regard as Vai's most epic and complex album to date, "Fire Garden", released a year after.

In 1995, Michael Angelo Batio of Nitro fame released his CD, "No Boundaries" which began his solo career. His albums predominantly feature instrumental rock, but have occasionally featured vocals by himself and other vocalists. So far Batio has released eight solo albums. [ [ What's New ] ]

During the 1990s, instrumental music flourished among indie-rock groups and with the popularity of so-called "post rock" groups like Tortoise, Mogwai and Cul de Sac.

Don Caballero gained notice for their music as did neo-surf-rockers The Mermen and Man or Astro-man?.

Quentin Tarantino's smash hit film "Pulp Fiction" made heavy use of rock instrumentals on its soundtrack, spurring some interest in classic instrumentals, and revitalizing Dick Dale's career.

With the rise of grunge music, guitar-orientated instrumental rock of the type popular in the 1980s became less popular, and there were few artists who continued to thrive in that style.


Steve Vai performs Ichiro Nodaira's contemporary symphony "Fire Strings", written for one electric guitar and a 100-piece orchestra. Previously thought impossible to play, Steve Vai was contacted and asked if he could perform. Steve completed the task bestowed upon him and gave excellent performances, even receiving a standing ovation from the classical orchestra.

A few years later, Steve Vai composes a two-hour contemporary classical concert entitled "The Aching Hunger", composed for a rock band (three guitars, drums, bass, etc.), a synthesizer and a 50-piece orchestra. The concert consisted of half guitar instrumental with classical instrumentation, and half consisted of mostly classical instrumentation pieces without guitar.

Over the past few years there have been many new releases of instrumental rock albums. The majority of the popular guitar heroes from the 1980s have made rejuvenated and generally well-received comebacks, thanks largely to the revitalized sound apparent on their recent releases. Artists such as Steve Morse, Marty Friedman, Paul Gilbert, Ron Jarzombek, Joe Satriani and Malmsteen have continued releasing instrumental rock music and touring with great success. However, it is still extremely rare to hear an instrumental rock tune on the radio, or see one on the music charts. Les Fradkin has popularized The Beatles music catalog as guitar based Instrumental rock on the Apple iTunes music download service.

The 2000s gave way for a new style of performer. John Lowery (aka John 5), released a solo instrumental album after leaving Marilyn Manson in 2003. "Vertigo" comprised of a twisted fusion of metal, rockabilly, rock and roll, and bluegrass musical styles. No one really expected this from his stage persona (make-up, goth boots, and bleach blonde hair) and his work before this (Marilyn Manson, David Lee Roth, Rob Halford). The album was a success, and the album after that, Songs For Sanity, which features guest appearances by Steve Vai and Albert Lee, was even bigger (one of the top selling records on the record label Shrapnel). He followed this in 2007 with The Devil Knows My Name, which features Joe Satriani, Jim Root, and Eric Johnson. After this, he followed with a DVD of the same title. The DVD is revolutionary in it being the first R-Rated instructional DVD. In 2008, he followed with Requiem.

The 2000s have seen a rise in the popularity of bands that have been labeled post-rock; many of these bands have created instrumental rock songs. Constellation Records has released some of the best-known examples of instrumental post-rock, such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Do Make Say Think. Mogwai, God Is An Astronaut, Russian Circles and Explosions in the Sky are other examples of instrumental post-rock.

In Europe, French award-winning guitarist Jean-Pierre Danel has a string of smash hits, starting with the #1 album "Guitar Connection" (double gold disc) et the Top 10 and Top 20 albums, "Guitar Connection 2 " and "Guitar Connection 3". Danel scores 8 instrumental hit singles, including 3 top 10. He duets with British legend Hank Marvin.

It should be noted that children's television programs often feature instrumental rock theme songs. This fact has been capitalized upon by Black Moth Super Rainbow, an instrumental drums/bass/synth trio, who take a great deal of inspiration from the Moog synthesizer-heavy sound of 1970's PBS programming.

Instrumental rock and roll bands

:"Also see List of instrumental bands"
*The 440 Alliance
*The Album Leaf
*Davie Allan & the Arrows
*The Bel-Airs
*Billy Mahonie
*The Black Mages
*Bozzio Levin Stevens
*Break of Reality
*The Challengers
*The Champs
*The Chantays
*Dirty Three
*Do Make Say Think
*Don Caballero
*Explosions in the Sky
*Jon Finn Group
*The Fireballs
*Friends of Dean Martinez
*The Fucking Champs
*God is an Astronaut
*Godspeed You! Black Emperor
*Jethro Tull
*Karma To Burn
*Les Fradkin & Get Wet
*Liquid Tension Experiment
*The Lively Ones
*The Mercury Program
*The Mermen
*The Minibosses
*The Octopus Project
*The Outlaws
*Ozric Tentacles
*Red Sparowes
*The Redneck Manifesto
*The Roots of Orchis
*Russian Circles
*Satellites LV
*The Shadows
*Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet
*The Six Parts Seven
*Los Straitjackets
*SubArachnoid Space
*The Surf Coasters
*The Surfaris
*This Will Destroy You
*Tribal Tech
*Unwed Sailor
*The Ventures
*We Be the Echo
*Weather Report
*Yawning Man

Instrumental rock and roll guitarists

*Adrian Belew
*Al Di Meola
*Allan Holdsworth
*Blues Saraceno
*Bruce Bouillet
*Bruce Welch
*Carlos Santana
*Chuck Berry
*Dave Weiner
*Davie Allan
*Dick Dale
*Duane Eddy
*Les Fradkin
*Eric Johnson
*Frank Gambale
*Gonçalo Pereira
*Graeme Nicholls
*Greg Ginn
*Greg Howe
*Hank Marvin
*Ian Williams
*Jaco Pastorius
*Jason Becker
*Jeff Beck
*Jean-Pierre Danel
*Jeff Buckley
*Jennifer Batten
*Jim Thomas
*Joe Satriani
*John Farrar
*John Kline
*John Lowery
*John Mclaughlin
*John Petrucci
*Jon Finn
*Kaki King
*Kazumi Watanabe
*Larry Carlton
*Les Fradkin
*Link Wray
*Lonnie Mack
*Marc Bonilla
*Mario Parga
*Marty Friedman
*Mason Williams
*Mattias Eklundh
*Michael Angelo Batio
*Mike Keneally
*Mike Oldfield
*Neil Zaza
*Nokie Edwards
*Patrick Rondat
*Paul Gilbert
*Pepeu Gomes
*Robert Fripp
*Ronnie Montrose
*Scott Henderson
*Shawn Lane
*Steve Morse
*Steve Vai
*Steve Winwood
*Stuart Hamm
*Tak Matsumoto
*Tony Macalpine
*Tsuyoshi Sekito
*Vernon Reid
*Vinnie Moore
*Yngwie Malmsteen
*Frank Zappa


External links

* [ Every instrumental top 20 hit song from 1960 to 2004] from with a sample of each
* [ Rock & Roll Instrumentals - by Dr. Frank Hoffmann]

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