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Best Blues Guitarists

Updated on August 19, 2014

Who Are the Best Blues Guitarists?

Who are the best blues guitarists? That is a question, which obviously has many different answers, because everyone has their own likes and dislikes.

However, there are a number of blues musicians, who have been truly influential in the blues genre. These are the artists whose music will live on for years to come, and will continue to be major influences of the many generations of blues guitarists that follow.

It is on this lens that I present some of the blues artists that contributed and helped to develop blues and rock music to what it is today.

Photo Credit: Magnus Manske

Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson

Robert Johnson

Robert Leroy Johnson was born on the 8th of May, 1911. During his short life, Robert received very little commercial success. In fact, most of his time was spent playing in small clubs, juke joints and on street corners. Nonetheless, the music that he left behind has influenced hundreds of musicians.

Unfortunately, there is very little known about Robert's actual life other than he was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi and a few other mixed tidbits about his family life. According to most sources, Robert had a fairly traumatic childhood. This was partially because when Robert was young, his father got into a dispute with other landowners and the family was forced to leave their home and change their names to avoid being found. Records show that Robert registered at Tunica's Indian Creek School under the false name of Robert Spencer.

One of the strangest things about Robert is the myth about him having traded his soul to the Devil. Most believe this was due to his incredible guitar talent, which seemed to have developed over night. In about 1930, Son Hose described Robert as being a "competent harmonica player but an embarrassingly bad guitarist." Yet, after disappearing for only a few short years, he resurfaced as a truly accomplished player.

Sadly, Robert died at the young age of 27 in Greenwood, Mississippi. The exact cause of his death is riddled with rumor and speculation. Many believe that he was poisoned with Strychnine by a jealous husband. However, in recent years, this version has been discarded by some researchers.

Whatever the case may be, what is known is that Robert became ill with an unknown mysterious illness and died three days later. He was then buried in an unknown pauper's grave.

During his short lifetime, Robert recorded 41 tracks, which consisted of 29 different songs with some of them having alternative versions.

Some of the more notable songs that Robert recorded are:

  • Sweet Home Chicago
  • Cross Road Blues
  • Hellhound on My Trail
  • Love in Vain
  • Drunken Hearted Man
  • Rambling On My Mind

Robert Johnson Videos

Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

Eric Patrick Clapton was born on the 30th of March 1945 in Ripley, England. At the age of thirteen, Eric was given a guitar for his birthday, but he would not take real interest in the instrument for another two years. Nevertheless, by the time he was 16, he was busking on the street.

Eric's first band was called The Roosters. However, it wasn't until 1963 when he joined the Yardbirds with Ben King and Jim McCartney that his distinctive style and phrasing lead to him becoming known as one of the best guitarists in Britain.

Since that time, Eric has gone on to play with a number of different bands including Cream, The Bluesbreakers and Blind Faith. He is the first person to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times and he has won numerous Grammy Awards. Rolling Stone lists him as second on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

Some of Clapton's hits include:

  • Motherless Child
  • Badge
  • I Shot the Sheriff
  • White Room
  • Crossroads
  • Layla
  • Tears in Heaven

Eric Clapton Videos

B.B.King
B.B.King

B.B. King (Riley B. King)

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Riley B. King was born on the 16th of September 1925 in Mississippi.

B. B. King has been married twice, with both marriages ending because of his demanding career. He has fathered fifteen children and has over fifty grandchildren.

King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Dubbed by many as "The King of Blues", he is also considered to be one of the "Three Kings of Blues Guitar". The other two being Albert King and Freddie King.

King is still fairly active in the music business. In 2012, he performed a concert in Lebanon at a music festival. He also appeared in Chicago at the House of Blues in March of the same year. To date, King's career has spanned sixty-four years and has seen him on stage over 15, 000 times.

B.B .King fan favorites include:

  • Guess Who
  • Take It Home
  • Singin' the Blues
  • My Kind of Blues

B. B . King Videos

Leadbelly
Leadbelly

Lead Belly (Huddie William Ledbetter)

Huddie Ledbetter (January 20, 1888 - December 6, 1949)

Lead Belly was best known for his twelve-string guitar and his superior vocals. Although, these were his foremost talents, he could also play the piano, mandolin and harp. His songs covered everything from prison life to racism.

Besides music, Huddie was also known for his hot temper and he was incarcerated a number of different times throughout his life. The second time he was sent to prison was for killing one of his relatives. However, Lead Belly was able to gain an early release to due to his good behavior and his musical appeal to the governor. It was during his third prison stint for attempted homicide that he was "discovered" by John Lomax.

John not only initiated action to get Lead Belly out of prison, he was instrumental in getting him noticed by recording studios.

Lead Belly passed away in 1949 in New York City.

Some of Lead Belly's best recordings include:

  • Midnight Special
  • The Titanic
  • Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
  • Let It Shine on Me
  • Bourgeois Blues
  • Shout On

Lead Belly Videos

Elmore James

Elmore James (January 27, 1918 - May 24, 1963)

One of the early pioneers of American Blues and a gifted singer and songwriter, Elmore James is often referred to as the "King of the Slide Guitar".

Elmore started playing music at the age of 12 in his home state of Mississippi. During the war years, James was a coxswain in the United States Navy. After being discharged, he returned home to work in his brother's electrical shop. This is where he designed his unique musical sound by using various items around the shop to customize his guitar.

James first recording contract was with Trumpet Records where he recorded his first hit "Dust My Broom". The song became quite popular and was his ticket to stardom. He even named his band after the hit, calling them the Broomdusters.

James had known for much of his life that he had a bad heart. In 1963, he passed away after suffering his third heart attack at the young age of 45.

Some Elmore's best recordings include:

  • Dust My Broom
  • Baby, What's Wrong
  • Hand in Hand
  • Sunny Land
  • Please Find My Baby
  • Dark and Dreary

Elmore James Videos

Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry (Charles Edward Anderson Berry)

Chuck Berry (October 18, 1926)

Chuck is considered a pioneer of both the blues and rock genres. He helped to develop not only the sound, but also the attitude with his lyrics mostly penned for the teen market. Rather than sticking with the traditional lyrics and themes of the time, many of his songs related to fast cars, life as a teenager and the things that appealed to them. Chuck took music to a new level where he combined true showmanship with a great sound.

Berry has contributed much to music and how it has evolved. There can be no greater proof of his influence than the many greats who claim to have been influenced by his style. These artists include Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and John Lennon.

Honors and awards have made up a large part of Chuck's illustrious career. To his credit, he has been given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Kennedy Center Honors. Currently, he is ranked number 6 on the Rolling Stone Magazine's list of best guitarists.

Some of Chuck Berry biggest hits include:

  • Maybellene
  • Roll Over Beethoven
  • School Day
  • Rock and Roll Music
  • Johnny B. Goode

Chuck Berry Videos

T-Bone Walker
T-Bone Walker

T- Bone Walker

T-Bone, Aaron Thibeaux Walker, was born in Texas in 1910. He began playing guitar when he was very young and by the time he was fifteen, he was on stage performing. At the start of his career, the great Blind Lemon Jefferson guided T-Bone. Jefferson actually took T-Bone to his gigs and acted as a kind of mentor.

T-Bone died in 1974, at the age of 64. His death was the result of bronchial pneumonia. He is buried in Inglewood, California.

According to Rolling Stone Magazine, T-Bone ranks number 57 on their list of all time great guitarists.

T-Bone's musical hits include:

  • Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad)
  • Blue Rocks
  • Funky Town
  • Every day I have The Blues
  • Well Done

T-Bone Walker Videos

Favorite Blues Artist Poll

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      anonymous 3 years ago

      I've seen BB multiple times and still consider him the best.