Several years ago, Rolling Stone magazine asked a panel of famous musicians to rate the top guitarists of all time and that list included all the usual, familiar names. But how many women were on the list? Just two — Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt. The panel of accomplished musicians who compiled the list included names like Trey Anastasio, Ritchie Blackmore, Carlos Santana, Derek Trucks and over 45 more. How many women were on that panel? Four — Marnie Stern, Melissa Etheridge, Susan Tedeschi and Nancy Wilson.
One player who should have been in that guitar article is Carolyn Wonderland. For some reason, women guitarists are either ignored or underrated. But it is also true that, per capita, the amount of female lead guitarists compared to their male counterparts is overwhelmingly low. About 12 years ago, I asked Cincinnati legend Katie Laur about the lack of female lead guitarists and she didn’t duck it. “I think it takes a lot of encouragement,” Laur said. “I know (Bluegrass artist) Laurie Lewis has said that upper body strength is part of it, but I don’t think that’s it. You have to be aggressive. You have to have balls. It’s just hard for a woman. It’s damn competitive. It takes a lot to sing right, to remember the lyrics and run the band and everything. I guess I just wasn’t inclined to add lead guitar to it. Mother Maybelle Carter, however, she was a fine guitar player.”
I first heard Carolyn Wonderland sing and play guitar when she appeared on an episode of Austin City Limits. This fiery Austin-based redhead can rip the Blues on the six-string, and I mean hard-as-hell lead licks and everything that goes with it. Wonderland’s latest album is called Live Texas Trio, a fired-up concert album that has her singing and riffing on songs like Blind Willie Johnson’s “Samson and Delilah” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” Doug Sahm’s “At The Crossroads” and her own compositions like “Money In The Game,” “Walk On” and “Only God Knows When.”
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