Guitars play a major role in most styles of music, and the blues is a genre that loves its guitars. Whether they’re playing a raucous celebratory solo, tuning in to a slinky back alley melody during a cheating song or riffing rhythmically for a dance floor burner, guitars have an indispensable role in blues music. Here we salute some of our favorite blues guitarists and tell you a little about each, but be sure to check out their music to hear the rest of the story.
13. Peter Parcek
Parcek put out an album in 2017 called Everybody Wants to go to Heaven, and for many heaven is exactly where Parcek’s guitar work on the album takes them. Fuzzy and swampy on “World Keep on Turning,” understated and mournful on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” and playful and teasing on the instrumental “Shiver,” Everybody… is a solid example of Parcek’s ample talent.
12. Sue Foley
Foley’s nickname is “The Ice Queen” and she released a song with that title this year. The song is slow and sparse in instrumentation; just percussion, Foley’s voice, and guitar work that will send shivers up your spine. Worth checking out is a YouTube clip of Foley playing a hot solo during a live cover of Koko Taylor’s “Don’t Mess with the Messer.”
11. Duke Robillard
A founding member of Roomful of Blues and a former member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Robillard has a voluminous catalog of solo albums, including the 2017 release Duke Robillard and his Dames of Rhythm. That album finds Robillard in a mood for old-timey jazz that mostly downplays the guitar; to really hear him go to town check out his 2006 release Guitar Groove-A-Rama.
10. Joanne Shaw Taylor
Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics discovered Taylor when she was just a teenager; now the British guitarist is in her early 30s and really hitting on all cylinders. Taylor will be releasing a new album called Reckless Heart in early 2019 and fans can hear her play some scorching licks on the album’s first single “In the Mood” which is out now.
9. Peter Green
For many Peter Green is most famous for his work with Fleetwood Mac in their early days, back when they were a blues rock band. Green wrote two of the best-known Fleetwood Mac songs from that era; “Oh Well” and “The Green Manalishi.” But Green has released lots of solo blues albums; hear the stellar guitarist at work on Two Green Make a Blues, Alone with the Blues and Blues by Green.
8. Sonny Landreth
Landreth is a master of the slide guitar and a good entry point for the uninitiated is his 2017 2-CD live GRAMMY Award-nominated set Recorded Live in Lafayette where he slides up a storm on zydeco-flavored blues cuts like “The U.S.S. Zydecoldsmobile” and classics like “Key to the Highway.”
7. Joe Bonamassa
Bonamassa has certainly lived up to the hype he garnered as a teen prodigy, and the most recent of his long list of accomplishments is guesting on the cut “What Have I Done Wrong,” a selection from the latest album by the much-revered John Mayall. Bonamassa is also very active with the charitable organization he founded, Keeping the Blues Alive.
6. Rory Block
Block has demonstrated her prowess in different country blues styles lately; her series of tribute albums feature performances of songs in the style of Bukka White, Son House, Bessie Smith and Mississippi Fred McDowell among others. She is regarded as the world’s best interpreter of country blues and a listen to any of her albums will convince of that.
5. B.B. King
King’s music is perhaps the best-known blues music with the masses; most are familiar with his version of “The Thrill is Gone” and the fact that his guitar was named “Lucille.” A consummate gentleman with a robust stage presence, King was also brought to the forefront with his collaboration with Eric Clapton on the 2000 release Riding with the King.
4. Freddie King
Name-checked by Grand Funk Railroad in their hit “We’re an American Band,” King came up with his playing style after studying greats like Muddy Waters and others on the Chicago blues scene and melding that with what he heard as a youngster in Texas. The late bluesman influenced players like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and he remains one of the all-time giants of blues guitar.
3. Albert King
Along with Freddie and B.B., the late Albert King (no relation) rounds out what blues fans refer to as the “Three Kings” of electric blues guitar. King’s best-known song is a version of “Born Under a Bad Sign” and he is also known for using a Gibson Flying V guitar on stage, long before they gained popularity with metal bands. Any of King’s sides for Stax Records offer a good example of his style.
2. Buddy Guy
Guy has been around for a long time and may be thought of as one of the old blues masters even though he is still active today. Players like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Keith Richards have acknowledged Guy as an influence, and in reality, just about every player working in the electric blues genre owes Guy a debt of gratitude. If you see Guy in concert you’ll most likely catch him plying his trade with a colorful polka dot guitar.
1. Eric Clapton
Eric never encouraged the “Clapton is God” appellation that he earned way back in his days with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers but he has consistently released recordings and played shows that perpetuate the notion. The blues is evident in much of his recorded work, but albums such as Riding with the King, Me and Mr. Johnson and Play the Blues: Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center (with Wynton Marsalis) find him focusing on the genre.