Blues Guitarists: 10 Most Popular Of All Time

The blues and blues guitarists are a central part of the great American musical tradition. Although popular music over the years cycles though innumerable musical styles and genres, the blues always has a seat at the table; a permanent part of the American musical pallet. The lasting power of the blues is simple. People can relate to it. The blues speaks to us of the hard times, love, and the struggles and joy we all encounter going through life. The term "blues" has become a permanent part of our American lexicon.

When B.B. King sings "Every Day I Have The Blues" he is referring not just to the musical genre, but also to a state of mind. The popularity of the blues, and particularity the blues guitarists, keeps the genre from fading into obscurity. Every generation has it blues guitar heros. Today's artists like John Mayer, Joe Bonamassa, Susan Tedeschi, and a host of others carry on the traditions began by Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and others too numerous to name.

Where Did the Blues Originate?

History Of Blues

Historians trace the origins of the blues to African American slaves on the plantations of early America. One of the earliest forms of expression in the blues tradition are the shouts and hollers, performed in the fields by African American slaves as they labored. These shouts and hollers had a loose format with no accompaniment, performed in a call and response style, the roots of which can be traced back to West African musical styles.

Spirituals​​​​

Blues Troubadours and Juke Joints

Mississippi Delta

Chicago Blues

The 1950's

The 1960s

70s - present

Are There Blues Legends Still Alive Today?

Blues Legends

Unfortunately, many of the blues legends are gone. Every year there seems to be fewer and fewer. There are some and most are still performing. Here's a partial list:

  • Buddy Guy - Still outrageous and still performing. He's been through it all and can still bring it.
  • John Mayall - John Mayall is the iconic English bandleader whose band has included Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
  • Taj Mahal - Taj Mahal is another great bluesman who got his start in the 1960's. A great song writer and performer.
  • Eric Clapton - Everyone knows Clapton. Although retired, he still shows up now and then to perform.
  • Charlie Musselwhite - A harmonica player that also got his start in the 1960's, he is a harp legend that is still out there.
  • Bonnie Raitt - Bonnie Raitt's slide guitar work is a wonder to witness. She's a fantastic guitar player and vocalist.

The Most Popular Blues Guitarists of All Time


B.B. King

B.B. King

B.B. King is the blues. Born Riley B. King in 1925 near Indianola Mississippi, B.B. took to music at an early age singing in his church where his minister taught him his first chords. He would later work as a radio performer and disc jockey, where he became know as Beale Street Blues Boy, which later was shortened to Blues Boy, and then finally just "B.B." B.B. King enjoyed a long career of recording and performing. B.B. is best known for the songs The Thrill Is GoneSweet 16, Every Day I Have The Blues, among others.



Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray

A fiery guitarist from Austin Texas, Stevie Ray with his band Double Trouble exploded onto the blues scene in the 1980s, contributing to a resurgence in the popularity of the blues. His hits Couldn't Stand the Weather and Scuttle Buttin' showed off his technical abilities while songs such as Lenny revealed the deft touch he brought to his music.



Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy is a true blues warrior. His playing has been an influence on the work many other blues guitarist such as Clapton, Hendrix, and Jimmy Page. Coming out of the Chicago blues scene of the 40s and 50s, Buddy Guy is known for his flamboyant performance style.



Albert King

Albert King

Albert King's 1967s Born Under A Bad Sign is a classic blues album that influenced many modern players.


Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is one of the most successful blues guitarist of all time. He began his rise to stardom as the lead guitar player for the John Mayall band. His playing became so popular during his tenure that he was referred to as "God" by is adoring fans. Although Clapton has had many rock and pop hits, he always returns to the blues music, as he did for his albums From The Cradle and Me And Mr Johnson.



Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters

One of the major blues guitarists to come out of the Chicago blues scene, Muddy Waters's powerful vocals and electric guitars defined what is called Chicago blues. His influence was pervasive in the world of blues guitarists. Songs like Hoochie Coochie Man (a song from which the Rolling Stones took their name), demonstrated the power of Muddy's electric blues.



Jimi Hendrix

​Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix's playing was unique among blues guitarists. His hits such as Red House and Hey Joe are a testament to how the blues was a powerful component of his music.



Hubert Sumlin

​Hubert Sumlin

You may not recognize the name right away, but you've heard his music. As a sideman for Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf, Hubert Sumlin's guitar work helped to define Chicago Blues



Robert Johnson

​​Robert Johnson

You cannot have a list of great blues guitarists without mentioning Robert Johnson. His extensive catalog of music is still being drawn upon today. Legendary songs like Love in Vain and Crossroads are just a sample of his legacy.

Conclusion

Making a list of the top 10 most popular blues guitarist is a daunting task at best. There are so many great blues guitarists, each with their own special attributes. Should you get a chance to see a legend, by all means do so. Better yet, support blues music in your area. There are many up-and-coming blues guitarists that deserve to be heard. The blues are continuing to evolve and new talent is emerging every day. Who knows? The next blues guitar legend may be playing in your town tonight.

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