It was an unlikely event in an unlikely setting, but for five days last month, Seville, Spain, forgot flamenco and focused on rock guitar, and the result was unlike anything the world has ever seen or heard. ”Guitar Legends” was sponsored by Seville’s Expo ’92 arts festival and Gibson Guitars and gave the stage to virtually every six-string virtuoso extant, some 32 in all. The event was both a kickoff for Expo ’92 and a way to peddle a lot of worldwide TV rights (a three-hour version aired in the U.S. on pay-per-view).
Bringing together music’s finest — including Larry Coryell, Robert Cray, Steve Cropper, Bo Diddley, Dave Edmunds, B.B. King, Les Paul, Robbie Robertson, Richard Thompson, and Steve Vai — the maestrothon was rock at its splashiest, if not always at its greatest. Roger Waters plodded through old Pink Floyd favorites like the star of a Spinal Tap parody. Black-clad Bob Dylan was the week’s biggest disappointment, scowling and wandering the stage in a fog.
The sold-out shows (over 6,000 fans nightly) were most moving during the tributes — Keith Richards, in skintight jeans and leather jacket, whiskey in hand, dedicating ”Going Down” to Freddy King, or John McLaughlin performing ”In a Silent Way” in memory of Miles Davis. It was somehow ironic that in these moments of eulogy, rather than in the celebratory jams onstage, the event approached the legendary.