Blues Guitarists You Need To Listen To (right now!)
If you’re into guitar music, then you have to be into the blues. It takes everything a guitarist can do, every rundown, trick, riff and phrase to make a great blues guitarist. Plus it takes feeling, soul and every ounce of musical feeling and emotion to make a great blues artist. Someone once said, anyone can play guitar, but it takes a special someone to play the blues.
There are many types of blues, which means it never gets boring, blues guitarists come from all over the world, and cross the gender divide as well. So come with us on the blues journey of a lifetime and meet the best blues guitarists you need to listen to.
Samuel John “Lightnin'” Hopkins was an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and sometimes pianist specialising in country blues. When he was 8 years old he met Blind Lemon Jefferson and that was the start of his blues career. As time went on Jefferson allowed Hopkins to accompany him at informal church picnics (an honour as Jefferson never let anyone play guitar with him).
Lightnin’ learned the blues beside one of the masters, added to which Hopkins had a cousin by the name of Frankie Lee Sims who played electric Texas blues guitar who also influenced his playing. He was discovered by a scout from Aladdin Records who paired Hopkins with the piano player Wilson Smith. An executive from the record company decided they needed something more dynamic to their names.
Smith became Thunder Smith and Hopkins became Lightnin’, a nickname he kept for the rest of his life. Hopkins recorded nearly 50 albums over his career and featured in at least 5 films. His style of playing was reminiscent of a one man band, he played bass, rhythm, lead, and percussion all at the same time.
Eric Patrick Clapton has been rightly described as one of the most influential guitarists of all time. For his 13th birthday he was given an acoustic Hoyer guitar which he found difficult to play due to its steel strings and put the guitar aside. 2 years later he picked it up again and started to learn the blues. By the time Eric was 16 he played the guitar so well that he was earning a few bob busking.
Eric was 17 when he first started playing in a band called the Roosters. The following year he joined the Yardbirds, a blues based rock and roll band, it was here that he received his nickname Slowhand. Whenever he broke a string on stage, he used to take a long while to change it, so long that the audiences used to give him a slow clap, the band’s manager started calling him Slowhand and it stuck.
Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Lee Clark Jr. has always been a prolific live performer which makes all of his performances that much better, more edgy. He began playing the guitar at the age of 12 and by the time he was 18 he was playing at Antone’s music club in Austin Texas. Playing alongside some of the greats including Jimmy Vaughan, he learned his craft well and has gone on to play guitar with many great artists including;
- Michael Jackson
- Alicia Keys
- Sheryl Crow
- Foo Fighters
- Childish Gambino
- Tom Morello
- BB King
- Buddy Guy
- Mick Jagger
- Jeff Beck
- The Dave Matthews Band
- The Rolling Stones
- Dave Grohl
- Joe Walsh
- And many more
Many of Gary’s songs have been used in film soundtracks,TV series and commercials. Gary has had many awards and accolades including at the age of 17 when the mayor of Austin Texas (Gary’s home town) declared May the 3rd 2001 to be Gary Clark Jr. Day. He has also won 4 Grammy awards to date.
No Blues guitarist list would be complete without Rory Gallagher. William Rory Gallagher was an Irish Blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer. His albums have sold over 30 million copies worldwide, not bad for a self-taught guitarist who first picked up the guitar when he was 9 years old.
When he was 12, he won a prize in a talent show and he bought his Fender Stratocaster for which he became famous 3 years later. His early influences include; Lonnie Donegan, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Lead Belly, Big Bill Broonzy, Woody Guthry and Muddy Waters.
Joseph Leonard Bonamassa started his musical career at the age of 12 by opening the show for BB King. he actually started to learn the guitar when he was 4 years old with his early influences being Eric Clapton and Jeff beck. In 2009 Joe played at the Royal Albert Hall with his long time idol, Eric Clapton playing a duet on Joe’s show.
Many of Joe’s influences were British Guitarists, we mentioned Clapton and Beck earlier, others include Paul Kossoff, Humble Pie, Gary Moore, Peter Green, Rory Gallagher, and Jimmy Page. He also was inspired by Robert Johnson, BB King, Muddy Waters and T Bone Walker. Joe is one of the founders of Keeping the Blues Alive Records which is dedicated to showcasing blues musicians.
Freddie King was associated with the 3 kings of the blues guitar, the other 2 being BB King and Albert King – none of whom were related. Freddie is one of the main electric blues guitar influencers ever. He started to learn guitar when he was 6 years old and when he was 15 he was sneaking into clubs and listening to blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, and Sonny Boy Williamson.
Freddie’s blues style was a combination of Texas blues and Chicago blues. He was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2012.
Robert Leroy Johnson was a blues and Delta blues artist born in Mississippi in 1911. He died at the age of 27 and as such there is not much known about his early life (or his life in general). Which is a contributing factor to the legend of him selling his soul to the devil, apparently he wasn’t that good a guitar player, and when he went away for a short time and came back playing the blues so well, the only explanation was he traded his soul for musical ability.
William Frederick Gibbons, is a founder member,guitarist and vocalist with ZZ Top since 1969 and has appeared on many tracks by top artists ever since. Billy has performed with so many top artists it would be a shorter list for those he hasn’t performed with. He has performed with;
- Def Leppard
- Queens of the Stoneage
- Rick Nielsen
- Eric Johnson
- Lou Reed
- Les Paul
- Hank Williams III
- John Mayall
- Kid Rock
- Sammy Hagar
- The Animals
- Jeff Beck
- Jimi Hendrix
- Gov’t Mule
- John Fogarty
- And many more
Billy started out as a drummer, he was 13 before he got his first electric guitar.
Derek Trucks bought his first guitar from a yard sale when he was 9 for $5.00. 2 years later at the age of 11 he played his first paid gig. By the time he was 13 he’d played with Buddy Guy and toured with the band Thunderhawk. He first started working with his wife Susan Tedeschi in 2007 forming the band Soul Stew Revival, 3 years later they formed the Tedeschi Trucks band.
His influences include;
- Duane Allman
- Elmore James
- John Lee Hooker
- Freddie King
- Bb King
- Johnny Winter
- Albert King
- John Coltrane
- Howlin’ Wolf
- Miles Davis
- Ali Akbar Khan
- Sun Ra
- Charlie Parker
- Django Reinhardt
He has won 3 Grammy awards and played at the Whitehouse along with his wife and other blues artists for President Obama.
George “Buddy” Guy was a Chicago blues player extraordinaire, but his style was unique and saying he was a Chicago bluesman doesn’t really do him justice. Eric Clapton once described him as “the best guitar player alive”. He won 8 Grammy awards, 23 W C Handy awards and was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Born in Dallas Texas, Stevie started playing the guitar at the age of 7 at the inspiration of his older brother Jimmy. In 1978 he formed the band Double Trouble and in 1982 David Bowie contracted Stevie for a studio gig for the album Let’s Dance. He was influenced by some of the greatest blues artists of all time including;
- Jimi Hendrix
- Otis Rush
- Lonnie Mack
- Albert King
- BB King
- Albert Collins
- Freddie King
- Johnny Guitar Watson
- Buddy Guy
- Howlin’ Wolf
- Muddy Waters
- Chuck Berry
- Guitar Slim
SRV won 5 W C Handy awards, one Grammy and was inducted into the blues hall of fame and the rock and roll hall of fame.
At the age of 15 Johnny and his band, Johnny and the jammers released their first single – School Day Blues. Johnny went on to become a rhythm and blues legend. In 2008 Gibson issued a custom Johnny Winter Firebird V, which was presented to Johnny by Slash.
Also known as Raw Dawg, Eric Gales first started on the guitar when he was 4 years old. Although he’s right handed, he was taught to play guitar by his left handed brother, so he plays the guitar upside down, with the bass E string at the bottom. Eric has recorded more than 20 albums and has won blues rock artist of the year two years running.
John has worked with artists such as Buddy Guy, BB King, and Eric Clapton. It was watching Michael J Fox’s performance on Back to the Future that inspired John to learn guitar. He has won 7 Grammy awards.
Robben Lee Ford has collaborated with many great artists including;
- George Harrison
- John Mayall
- The Greg Allman Band
- Miles Davis
- Rick Springfield
- Larry Carlton
- Joni Mitchell
- Little Feat
He started playing the saxophone when he was 10 and the guitar at 14 . He is also an accomplished guitar teacher , he runs a series of workshops and has many instructional videos too.
Clide Vernon “Sonny” Landreth is famous for his slide guitar work. Sonny has released around 20 albums of his own and appeared as a guest artist on many more. He uses many techniques including slapping, tapping and string picking.
Kirk has released 5 albums and played with many great artists including; Joe Bonnamassa and Eros Ramazzotti. He has also been a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and the Mannish Boys.
Walter has worked with artists such as John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Percy Mayfield, Joe Tex and many more. He was also lead guitarist in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and Canned Heat.
This English vocalist and guitarist who found fame with the band Procol Harum and then with his own band The Robin Trower Band, has produced many albums and worked with Jack Bruce and Bryan Ferry.
This Israeli born blues and jazz guitarist started playing the guitar at 13 and has played a mix of Chicago blues and jazz since going solo in 2006.
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Kingfish has played with many artists including;
- Keb Mo
- Buddy Guy
- Eric Gales
- Samantha Fish
- Tedeschi Trucks Band
- Rick Derringer
- Guitar Shorty
- Bob Margolin
He has so far released 2 albums, Kingfish and 662.
Kevin Roosevelt Moore known as Keb Mo is a 5 times grammy award winning blues guitarist who specialises in the Delta Blues.
Matt Schofield is an English blues guitarist and singer who plays a fusion of blues, jazz and funk. He has released 9 albums and appeared on numerous albums by other artists.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
This blues guitarist, singer, songwriter, from Louisiana plays in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan.
He has played with many great blues artists including; Buddy Guy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Howlin’ Wolf. Van Halen, Etta Baker, Muddy Waters, and many more.
Heavily influenced by Robert Johnson, Elmore has in turn influenced many blues slide guitarists. He began playing a one-string Diddley Bow before learning guitar.
Big Bill Broonzy
Big Bill Broonzy was an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. He played traditional folk and blues and wrote his own compositions.
Blind Lemon Jefferson
One of the most popular blues artists of the 1920s, Lemon has been called the father of Texas blues. His songs have been covered by many artists including;
- Canned Heat (living the Blues and One Kind Favour)
- Bob Dylan (See That My Grave Is Kept Clean)
- BB King (See That My Grave Is Kept Clean)
- Counting Crows (Mean Jumper Blues)
- And many more
Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker was an American blues songwriter, guitarist and composer who pioneered jump blues and electric blues.
Edward James “Son” House Jr. was an American delta blues guitarist and singer who began his working life as a preacher and pastor. He became so proficient in the delta blues that Charley Patton the number one delta blues artist invited him to record with him in 1930.
Known as the father of delta blues Charley released more than 70 recordings during his career and in 2021 he was inducted to the rock and roll hall of fame 2021 class as an early influencer.
Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter
Lead Belly was an American blues and folk singer, songwriter and guitarist who specialised in 12-string guitar – blues guitar playing.
This award winning Serbian blues guitarist is among the best female blues guitarists in the world. And has performed with many great blues artists like Eric Gales and Double Trouble.
Shannon released her first album when she was 14 years of age. Since then she’s performed with some of the great blues artists like Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and Joe Bonnamassa.
John Lee Hooker
No blues list would be complete without including John Lee Hooker. He mixed Delta blues, Mississippi hill country blues and talking blues. One of his numerous awards was the induction into the blues hall of fame in 1980.
Inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 1987, BB King has earned his nickname as the king of the blues. Along with Albert King and Freddie King (no relation) they are known as the 3 kings of the blues.
Once nicknamed the velvet bulldozer due to his large size and smooth singing voice, he was inducted into the blues hall of fame in 1983 and into the rock and roll hall of fame in 2013.
McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy Waters is often called the father of modern Chicago blues. By the time he was 17 he was playing the guitar and harmonica in the style of Robert Johnson and Son House.
Peter Green was an English Blues/rock guitarist, singer and songwriter. He was inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame in 1998, his songs include Albatross, Black Magic Woman and Oh Well. BB King said of Green, “He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Rosetta Tharpe mixed gospel, blues and popular music; she has often been cited as the Godmother of rock and roll. She was one of the first popular recording artists to use distortion on her guitar.
Best known as the guitarist and lead vocals for the band White Stripes, Jack is an accomplished blues guitarist. He was reported as saying that Son House’s Grinnin’ in Your Face is his favorite song of all time.
Blind Willie McTell
William Samuel McTier AKA Blind Willie McTell was an American Piedmont blues and ragtime guitarist and singer. He played a 12-string acoustic guitar exclusively. He also played slide guitar.
Often cited as the hardest working guitarist in the business, Carolyn has released 12 albums to date, and is always touring. In 2018 she joined John Mayall’s band as the first female lead guitarist in his career which spans more than 60 years.
Famous as the guitarist for Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page has always been a blues guitarist. His early Zeppelin songs were all blues riffs. His early influences include Elmore James, Buddy Guy, BB King, Hubert Sumlin and Otis Rush.
His guitar work is instantly recognisable for it’s long bending notes and slow style. You can hear his influence in many blues artists over the years. Otis played his guitar upside down as he was left handed, and his sound is now known as West Side Chicago Blues.
Samuel Gene Maghett was an American Chicago blues musician. He carried harmony along with chords in a way not many other contemporary blues artists did.
Morris Holt aka Magic Slim was an American blues guitarist and singer specialising in his own style of Chicago blues. Forced to give up piano playing after losing his little finger, Magic Slim first found work as a bassist for Magic Sam who incidentally gave slim his nickname.
Samantha is a guitarist, singer, songwriter and performer. She plays many genres of music including the blues. With her soulful voice and guitar skills, she’s making sure the blues is alive and well.
Albert Gene Drewery, known as Albert Collins and also known as the Iceman, was an American blues singer and guitarist and was cited as the master of the telecaster. During his live shows, Albert would often leave the stage and go engage with the audience. It is reported that at one show, he left the building, followed by the audience and went to the shop next door to buy a candy bar.
This American blues guitarist and singer has won 5 Grammy awards. Fender has produced 2 Robert Cray signature guitars one, The Robert Cray Custom Shop Stratocaster which is made in the U.S and is an exact copy of the guitar Robert plays. The other is the Robert Cray Standard Stratocaster and is a less-expensive model which is made in Fender’s Ensenada, Mexico plant.
Ronald David Wood is a British guitarist, songwriter and author best known for his work in the Rolling Stones, The Faces, The Birds and The Jeff Beck Group. His first solo album released in 1974 entitled I’ve Got My Own Album to Do, was reported to be a dig at Rod Stewart who was concentrating too much on his solo career at the detriment to the band The Faces that they were both members of at that time.
This Canadian blues guitarist and singer has released 15 albums and said her biggest blues influence was The Rolling Stones.
Paul Francis Kossoff was an English blues guitarist best remembered for his work in the bands Free and Back Street Crawler. He started learning classical guitar at the age of 9, he joined the Chicago style blues band Black Cat Bones in 1966 often supporting Fleetwood Mac on tour.
Originally from Lexington Kentucky, Kelley now lives in Cincinnati Ohio. This singer, songwriter and blues guitarist has played with Albert King at the Cuckoo club in Nashville.
Leroy “Roy” Buchanan was an American guitarist and blues player. Roy became far more popular after a 1971 documentary on PBS TV which was called Introducing Roy Buchannon. Off the back of that program, Polydor records offered him a recording contract, and his second album went gold.
Not strictly a blues guitarist, Jimi is probably the most influential guitarist ever. Quoted as an inspiration to many blues guitarists, we couldn’t leave him off our list.
Best known as a member of Howlin’ Wolf’s band, Hubert was a Chicago blues guitarist from Mississippi. He got his first guitar when he was 8, and met Howlin’ Wolf sneaking into a show. After the death of Wolf, Sumlin continued playing with other members of the band under the name, The Wolf Gang.
A female blues guitarist from down under, Fiona has been recording for more than 25 years and plays both electric and acoustic blues guitar.
How Many More Can You Think Of?
That’s our top list of blues guitarists, how did we do? Are there any we’ve missed? What order would you have them in? Let us know in the comments.