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Mad Geniuses: 10 Brilliantly Eccentric Musicians

By Russell Hall, Gibson

Every field of artistic endeavor has its share of eccentric geniuses – people such as J.D. Salinger in the literary world, Glenn Gould in classical music and Vincent Van Gogh in the art world, each of whom left behind rich legacies despite sometimes bizarre quirks of character. Rock and roll is no exception. In its relatively brief history, rock has produced a clutch of brilliant songwriters and musicians who seem wired differently from the rest of us, sometimes radically so. Below are 10 of the very best.

Roky Erickson
No less a figure than Billy Gibbons has cited Texas guitarist Roky Erickson – particularly Erickson’s work in the pioneering psychedelic band, the 13th Floor Elevators – as a profound influence. Erickson’s work in that genre was the real deal, it turns out, as his grip on reality began slipping by 1970, sending him into a long downward spiral. During the ’70s and ’80s, Erickson asserted he was inhabited by a Martian, was jailed for stealing his neighbors’ mail and wrote letters to dead celebrities. His apparent full recovery in recent years is one of rock’s most inspiring stories.

Peter Green
Some have called founding Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green the greatest white blues guitarist who ever lived. Playing a 1959 Les Paul Sunburst, Green forged a style that impacted the likes of Jimmy Page, Gary Moore and the Black Crowes’ Rich Robinson. Green began behaving erratically in the late ’60s, appearing on stage in long robes and wearing a crucifix, and encouraging his Fleetwood Mac bandmates to donate the bulk of their earnings to charity. He spent much of the ’70s in and out of psychiatric hospitals before re-emerging and resuming his recording career.

Brian Wilson
Anyone who could compose such pop masterpieces as “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows” – as Brian Wilson did – obviously has been touched by a special muse. Unfortunately, for long stretches of time, psychological demons have haunted Wilson as well. In the wake of his father’s death in 1973, he spent the better part of two years in his bedroom – sleeping, overeating and chain-smoking. His re-emergence as a recording artist in the late ’70s constitutes one of rock’s most amazing comebacks.

Phil Spector
Phil Spector’s life could be read as a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Known for years for his eccentric and temperamental behavior, Spector’s fascination with the dark side had horrific consequences in 2003, and he’s since been incarcerated. Spector’s monumental achievements – in particular, the development of his symphony-like, “wall of sound” productions – continue to have a profound impact on producers and musicians alike.

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