Best Unknown Musical Genius

Best: Danny Gatton
2nd Best: Joe Barden
Guitar great Danny Gatton, who died in 1994, is the best known of all the D.C. area’s unknown musical geniuses. But the silver medalist of our most-unheralded clique would be Joe Barden. Barden was Gatton’s amplifier and guitar tech: He’s the man who helped Gatton sound like Gatton. His greatest contribution to Gatton’s tone, and to the music world, came in the pickups that Barden built and installed in the Humbler’s Fender Telecasters. Barden invented a new kind of single-coil-sized pickup just for the occasion, hand-wiring the transducers in his Vienna basement. Soon enough the world’s greatest unheralded players came begging for Barden to hook them up with this better mousetrap. Every Telecaster Bruce Springsteen uses onstage, to name just one superstar patron among dozens, is equipped with Barden’s double-railed pickups. Yet Barden, like many super savants (and, as anybody who’s ear-witnessed an A/B test between Barden’s pickups and the best Fender has to offer knows, he’s goddamn brilliant) lacks the skills necessary to turn his brainchildren into bucks. So not only is Barden borderline unknown outside of hardcore guitar circles, he’s borderline destitute.