Born at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, his parents were Easton Joseph Guillory, an American sailor who was from a Jewish American family, and Victoria Ojalvo, of Jewish, Spanish and Turkish origin. His maternal grandparents were Turkish immigrants who met and married by arrangement only 10 days before they sailed for Cuba.
He attended the Conservatory of Music, Havana, where he studied classical piano at the age of six. Guillory’s mother, a professional musician taught him to play guitar. When he was 11, Guillory moved to Tallahassee, Florida. At age 14, he moved again to Gainesville, then finally settled in Palatka.
By age 14, after enroling in University of Florida’s swimming program, he became an assistant swimming intructor. He was a student at St. Johns River State College, at the time named St. Johns River Junior College, in Palatka, Florida. There he studied the cello and saxophone.
He married twice, first to the English model Tina Thompson (divorced 1990), mother of Jace and British actress and model Sienna Guillory, then in 1993, to Victoria McMillan, mother of Jacob and Ellie.
Guillory died on New Year’s Eve 2000. His death was attributed to complications from cancer that had gone undetected for some time.
Isaac first began performing in 1965, while still attending St. John’s River Junior College where he became a member of ‘The Illusions’, eventually becoming lead guitarist.
While studying music at Roosevelt University in Chicago during 1965 to 1969, he recorded two albums with The Cryan’ Shames as bass player.
Towards the end of 1965, Guillory moved to Chicago where he studied guitar at the Chicago School of Music.
He then attended Wright Junior College for three years where he played with ‘The Revelles. The group played with Chicago DJ, Art Roberts, of WLS. He then played with ‘The Flock’, and The Cryan’ Shames.
During 1970 to 1976 Guillory performed at the Shakespeare’s Head Folk Club in Carnaby Street, London.
After active resistance to the Vietnam War, Guillory left the USA in November 1970, acquired a Martin D-35 and lived throughout Europe. He worked as an acoustic solo performer and settled in the United Kingdom. Guillory came to earn the reputation as one of the best guitarists ever. Many guitarists today emulate techniques Guillory evolved in the early 70’s while living in the south of Spain. A particular signature technique that he developed was ‘hybrid picking’, where he would sustain a bass line with a plectrum held between his thumb and first finger, whilst picking chord and melody lines with his second and third fingers.
Having studied Classical Guitar in his younger years, Guillory would often incorporate quasi-classical techniques into his playing and on occasions would even throw in some pure classical guitar pieces, merging them into various songs as a medley.
His soft American accent always went down well with British audiences and Guillory would exploit this with his witty on-stage bantor between songs. Throughout his career, Guillory sought to encourage younger musicians at every opportunity and would often allow them to play as a ‘floor-act’ before he came on stage.
He was widely known for insisting on carrying his own PA sound system with him from gig to gig. This allowed him to reproduce the exact sound he wanted night after night regardless of the venue. This was quite rare at the time with solo singer/guitarists on the folk circuit and certainly helped him to communicate his renowned performing skills to his audiences without having to fear the usual technical blips that can occur using a venue’s house PA.
He always concentrated on live solo performances (which put him up-close with more intimate small audiences) and sharing his understanding of music; touring, creating his own online guitar school. After an initial recording deal with Atlantic Records published five more CDs on his own independent label, Personal Records. As a performer he was dedicated to sharing his gift with both audience and fellow musicians, and as a teacher he never hesitated to share in a manner that others could understand.
He performed frequently as a guest artist for recordings and films with, among many others, Al Stewart, Donovan, Mick Jagger, Buggles, Barbara Dickson, Nick Heyward and Elkie Brooks. Guillory released Isaac Guillory, a self-titled album in 1974. For a while he delved into jazz fusion and recorded with Pacific Eardrum. Isaac lectured at the Guildhall School of Music in London. His music can be heard on ‘A’ Net Station, a web radio station that he helped found, where his website continues to be available.
He also wrote The Guitar Hand Book with friend, Ralph Denyer, which became the foundation for the BBC TV series Rock School.
In his later years, he performed on the folk club circuit in Great Britain. His virtuoso guitar playing made him popular with audiences and ensured a steady stream of work as a performer and teacher. His final album, The Days of ’49, recorded on tour during late 1999 and released in early 2000, included a number of solo compositions as well as arrangements of some folk standards. His tribute to the British guitarist John Renbourn, “Dear John”, is one of the highlights of an outstanding album.