Blues guitar legends.
There has only been a few examples of how the blues can live in a person and manifest itself to something pure.
10. Elmore James (1918 — 1963)
Elmore was something else, He wasn’t known as the ‘King of Slide’ for nothing. With his hollow, piercing slide guitar and dramatic, dark tones… Elmore solidified his role as a pioneer of the Chicago blues movement. but not before he released a myriad of songs that will forever be in the blues ether. Songs including; ‘The sky is crying’, ‘It hurts me too’ and the heavily disputed* ‘Dust my broom’. Elmore would go on to inspire some of the greats British blues guitarists such as; Eric Clapton and John Mayall.
No one actually knows if it was Elmore or R.Johnson who wrote it first*
9. Peter Townshend (born 1945)
The brains behind the rebellious 4 piece, Townshend made over 100 songs and completed more than 11 studio albums with The Who. With his loud and sometimes over-the-edge guitar riffs plus cutting-edge sound production. It’s easy to see why he’s part of many top 10 lists. Townshend is a master at using tones and volume to mask the simple riffs he played. Sometimes not even using melodies, or sophisticated rhythms. Townshend’s epic approach to rock amazed crowds and sealed his place on this list.
8. Stephen Ray Vaughan (1954 — 1990)
A favourite amongst electric blues guitarists SRV’s short lived career was an explosive one too. His synergy of blues, rock and jazz influenced by Jimi Hendrix and Albert King to name a few shook the foundations of blues rock forever. Fast, agile and riddling licks with a melodic Texas blues style. Stevie was one of the only Texas blues players who truly mastered the vibrato and tremolo picking. He really knew how to play from the heart. Here are some classics; ‘Lenny’, ‘Life by the drop’ and the classic ‘Texas Flood’.
7. John Lee Hooker (1912–2001)
Well, what can I say that countless others have not said before about the great, the influential, the ‘King of boogie’ John Lee Hooker. I can say that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have tuned into the blues… maybe even at all. Born in Mississippi, JLH began playing from a young age and copied his style from his uncle William Moore ‘Another early blues musician’. In the 40’s he played in and amongst house parties where he was lucky enough to be spotted and ended up getting his first batch of recordings, which included; ‘Boogie Chillun’ — An instant Jukebox hit. John’s simple rhythmic numbers became favourites in the early 60’s at the pinnacle of the British blues explosion. But it was his hard hitting slow blues that got him his legendary status.
He eventually went on to win a GRAMMY for ‘The Healer’ in 1989… and sold over a million copies. If you want a lesson in the blues there is no other than John Lee Hooker, Hard hitting lyrics and raw, string clattering rhythm guitar mixed with pure emotion… A well deserved 7th.
6. Carlos Santana (born 1947)
Carlos was defiantly going to make the list one way or another, but where? That was a though one. Unlike John Lee Hooker’s, raw rhythmic sound, or SRV’s drilling melodies, Santana is known most of all for his emotion. Santana is one of the a few guitarists who have a whole back catalogue of influences. From the blatantly obvious ‘Latin’ vibes to the not so obvious folk, Jazz and psychedelic. Which allowed him to experiment all through his career to eventually master that ‘Santana’ sound. The Santana sound is loud, full of trills and masterful breaks. — Working with the percussion to create bouncy, dance worthy sounds.
To show you exactly what I mean just watch his Woodstock set… Here’s ‘Soul Sacrifice’.
5. Robert Johnson (1911—1937 or 38)
The man who sold his soul to the devil — or as it’s been told. Robert Johnson is the most influential blues guitarist of all time and as we‘re still waiting on the 2nd blues revival it looks like it’s going to stay that way. His short existence and even shorter career, Johnson created probably the single most influential selection of blues we have—Lucky us. His timings, and use of rhythm and picking at the same time is still seen as impossible. Many greats have tried to copy and dissect his riffs to see how he makes his guitar come to life. Eric Clapton and countless others have spent most of their careers studying Johnson…and still say no one can match his passion.
That’s where this truly great story was born. How could a man disappear from the face of the earth to come back and be so talented, something’s not right. Unfortunately it looks like the devil caught up with Johnson and took away his mojo… for good.
No need to share any favourites, there all great. Here’s what Clapton said about Johnson
“…the most important blues musician who ever lived. He was true, absolutely, to his own vision, and as deep as I have gotten into the music over the last 30 years, I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice, really. … it seemed to echo something I had always felt.’
4. Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970)
From one legend to another, Jimi is and will always be considered the best guitarist of all time. Luckily enough for us he lived when super 8 cameras and festivals were coming to fruit… Jimi was born into stardom at just the right time and became the poster(man) for free love and peace. His songs were very relevant of the times and inadvertently like most songs about peace, became the soundtrack to war.
His experimental sounds, thrashing blues notes and a killer whammy/foot pedal action… left crowds in awe. You find most audiences just shut up and watched on in amazement. You only have to listen to Voodoo Chile to truly appreciated the lengths he went to push rhythm and blues and guitar playing for that matter. Every guitar player is better off because of Jimi Hendrix.
Like all greats his life was cut short because of drink and drugs…
3. Eric Clapton (born 1945)
How’s Jimi not higher than Clapton? Well two things… time and er’ time. Clapton is no way as extravagant or explosive as Jimi or as fast as SRV, but what Clapton lags in he makes up in experience and execution. Ever since joining the Yardbirds in the early 60’s Clapton has been on a stairway to guitar heaven, Gaining cult status early in his career he soon became the ‘hired gun’ guitarist. Whoever he played with it seemed to elevate their status alongside his… and he found himself moving from one band to another just to keep his cult status. Only to eventually land as the guitarist and backing vocals for the worlds first blues rock supergroup ‘Cream’.
This moment on all eyes were on Clapton and boy! did he get it right. With Jack Bruce’ lyrics, Ginger Bakers Jazz percussion and Clapton’s slowhand blues (Some fast… well a lot) Cream became a multi million album selling success within 2/half years. Originally a Jazz/blues jam band they released a handful of songs that became instant classics and are now considered some of the greatest pioneering rock songs of all time; ‘Sunshine of your love’, ‘Crossroad blues’ and ‘Tales of brave Ulysses’.
Here’s what I mean about time… Clapton like all blues guitarists who prevailed throughout the 60’s were strongly influenced by the post war blues guitarists of America. Albert King, Otis Rush and B.B. King to name a few heavily influenced Clapton’s playing style. What excelled Clapton further than all other guitarists was the ability to assimilate styles and fabricate them to the wider audience. Clapton is a true ambassador for the blues and without Clapton artists like Robert Johnson would have never got the appreciation they deserve.
2. B.B. King (1925—2015)
B.B. King is considered one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time… Personally I think it’s because of two reasons 1.his style and 2.his personality. His playing style is the most recognisable of all blues artists, There’s a few sounds in existence that are truly remarkable, Mile’s Trumpet, Baker’s drums but undeniably King’s vibrato and bend are a true work of art. He said it himself—His whole career had been quest of self-improvement and this is even more apparent in how flawless his vibrato and bends really are. You could overlay many songs and play them together and the vibrato or bend would be identical.
To King it’s always been about the blues, the feeling, conveying anguish and making the guitar do the talking… That takes dedication. But also getting his Mojo working, Blues is not all about pain its about money, drink and women. King had his fair share and then some. His more than human personality made him truly liked by everyone…
A true blues legend only surmountable to the legacy he left behind and to the genre of blues. RiP.
1. Peter Green (born 1946)
We’re here… No1. British blues guitarist Peter Green, Front man of Fleetwood Mac and creator of such classics as ‘Black magic women’ and ‘Man of the world’. The greatest asset to blues since Robert Johnson. Like Johnson, Green was also wrapped in personal demons and ultimately ended his career prematurely. But not before he came to critical acclaim and notable success…
Green is not as well known as most on the list but unlike all the rest Green had something only a few guitarists have and that’s soul. True blues soul… which in full showed it in his guitar playing. Feedback, warm tones and the master use of minor chords allowed Green to play out his inner yearnings. Dark, scared vibratos and intricate licks, all added to this lonely, desperate persona. Which actually became true…in 1970 in Munich it all hit tipping point when a bad LSD trip turned his life and career upside down, it would take decades for him to come back out the shadows and play again.
There will never be anyone like Peter Green and his legacy will most likely fade away over time, but like any true enlightenment his songs will etch themselves in time for everyone to see, at least for anyone willing to see…forever.
The blues for most of it’s time was filled with faceless, story-less artists only recognisable by grainy recordings and folk lore. Early influencers like Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson’s stories were wrapped in mystery. The blues had always been a vessel for sadness, Historically it’s been the voice of the oppressed, unfortunate and lost. There had only been a few examples of how the blues can live in a person and manifest itself to something pure.
Peter Green had something pure. lost now but forever recorded.
Il leave you with this… Peter Green’s ‘Jumping at Shadows’.