The 10 best blues guitarists of all time

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The 10 best blues guitarists of all time

The 10 best blues guitarists of all time

It’s indisputable that the world would be a boring place without the blues.

As the most important genre of the 20th century, the blues paved the way for the emergence of everything from rock’n’roll and RnB to funk and hip-hop, enshrining the importance of authenticity and perseverance for artists within the turbulent world of music.

Most importantly, however, the blues totally revolutionized the role of the guitar in modern music, bringing a new level of excitement to the instrument and expanding the traditional parameters of the guitar beyond just the fretboard. With the intentional omission of Jimi Hendrix – we all know he’s the greatest, let’s not have another list remind us – we’ve compiled a list of ten of the finest blues guitarists to have shaped the face of music today.

Blind Lemon Jefferson

Dubbed the ‘Father of the Texas Blues,’ Blind Lemon Jefferson’s rapid-fire finger-picking and high-pitched voice starkly contrasted his contemporaries in the country blues scene of the 1920s, with the likes of ‘Matchbox Blues’ and ‘Blacksnake Moan’ setting the standard for what a bluesman should be in the South. For any budding guitarists out there looking to finesse your fingerpicking, Jefferson’s back catalogue is a no-brainer for instant inspiration.

Muddy Waters

Revered for his creative output with bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon in the ‘50s, Muddy Waters is one of the blues’ most iconic figures, boasting an influence which has touched multiple genres and lasted long into the 21st century. Waters is also credited for spearheading Britain’s interest in the blues in the 1960s, with The Rolling Stones even naming themselves after one of his songs. His 1960 album Live At Newport is about as good as live albums get and a testament to his talent.

Robert Johnson

Supposedly gaining his supernatural guitar talent from a deal with the Devil, Robert Johnson perfectly embodies the voodoo that shrouds Mississippi Delta blues. Although he didn’t live to see the fruits of his labour – he was poisoned at the age of 27 by an unknown assailant – Johnson’s simultaneous rhythm and lead picking technique was incredibly influential for the likes of Eric Clapton and Keith Richards in the ‘60s, and still manages to stump even the finest of bluesmen today.

Howlin’ Wolf

The master of the Chicago Blues, Howlin’ Wolf was a figure larger than life and music itself, with his booming baritone voice and imposing stature supposedly intimidating even the hardest of his contemporaries. The mind behind ‘Smokestack Lightning,’ ‘Killing Floor’ and ‘Spoonful,’ Wolf boasted a passion and talent for the blues so great that many consider him one of the most pioneering artists of all time.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Quite possibly one of the best guitarists to have ever lived, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s fretboard chops are beyond untouchable. Cutting his teeth on the Texas blues circuit as a youngster, SRV rose to international fame throughout the ‘80s, with his raw talent and unique Hendrix-esque guitar playing breathing new life into the guitar amidst a plastic era of new wave and hair metal. Although his life was tragically cut short at the age of 35 in a helicopter crash, Vaughan’s influence has lingered long into the modern age, with new guitar greats like John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. continuing his legacy almost thirty years after his death.

B.B. King

It’s a hard decision to not include Freddie and Albert in this list, but as far as his influence goes, you can’t deny that B.B. is the king of Kings. Adored by blues enthusiasts for his intuitive use of vibrato and uncanny string bends, B.B. King brought a new level of expression to the blues with his trusted guitar Lucille, and was renowned for his tireless work ethic, recording over 40 albums and touring relentlessly up until his death in 2015.

Eric Clapton

Ah, Slowhand… where do we begin? Whether it was his shredding with early blues-rock units like John Mayall and The Yardbirds to the pioneering blues psychedelia of Cream and Blind Faith, Eric Clapton’s impact in the ‘60s alone overshadows most of his peers, and that was him just getting started. Clapton’s solo career is also one not to be sneezed at, with hits like ‘Tears In Heaven,’ ‘Wonderful Tonight,’ and his shred-heavy ode to George Harrison’s wife ‘Layla’ further demonstrating precisely how influential his playing has been to just about every guitarist to pick up the instrument since.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

It’s undeniable that the blues often appears to be a bit of a boys club, which makes figures like Sister Rosetta Tharpe even more important to the genre. An absolute giant in the world of gospel, Tharpe’s lightning fast left-hand chops and use of an overdriven electric guitar basically set the blueprint for the explosion of electric blues in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with everyone from Johnny Cash to Little Richard singing her praises long after her passing in 1970. Tharpe was recently, and rightfully, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Hailing from Louisiana, Kenny Wayne Shepherd rose to prominence as somewhat of a teen prodigy in the ‘90s, inking a major label deal, opening for The Eagles and Aerosmith and releasing his debut album Ledbetter Heights at the tender age of 18. Heavily inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Shepherd’s work ethic and devotion to the genre has earned him the praise of several original bluesmen, with his 2007 film 10 Days Out deemed as essential viewing for any blues enthusiast.

Derek Trucks

Similar to that of Shepherd, Trucks emerged in the ‘90s as a child wunderkind who played with the likes of Buddy Guy and Bob Dylan before joining the legendary Allman Brothers Band at the age of 20. A phenomenal slide player with a ‘less is more’ attitude to soloing, Trucks’ guitar playing is simply jaw-dropping to witness — completely defying his fretboard to make his instrument sing like an RnB songstress of an era long gone.