What more can be said about the blues? It is quite simply the foundation to almost all modern guitar playing. Without it, there would be no bands like The Black Keys or Royal Blood using their crunchy riffs and compelling guitar solos. Even classic acts such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin would be lost without the pathway the blues set beforehand.
Today, we will be looking at ten of the best guitarists that could play the blues. The way I am going to rank my lists is that I will look at their influence they left on the blues scene as well as my own opinion on the player. Note: This list will only include guitar players that played electric guitar. Acoustic blues players like Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt will not be on this list. While they were incredible guitarists, their playing style were vastly different from the blues that most people know and love today. Without further ado, let’s jump straight into this list!
10. Albert Collins
Proclaimed as “The Master of the Telecaster”, Albert Collins brought a different aspect of the blues with playing in a much more up-tempo style than his contemporaries. Playing what is now called “Jump Blues”, Collins created fun songs that were easy to dance to and play in the background of a public gathering. It’s no wonder how his fellow Texans, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, were heavily influenced by The Master since his music was so ahead of its time!
9. Eric Clapton
Now, putting Eric Clapton so low on this list could be seen as a controversial decision. However, there is a reason to why he is Number 9 on this list instead of the Top 5. The reason for his placing is that he had all of the opportunities to evolve as a guitar player, yet never did. From listening to his albums from the 1970’s and 1980’s, he never made any significant changes to his style. Look at Jeff Beck (He is not on this list since Beck focused more on rock than blues). Beck constantly made improvements throughout his 50 year career, while Slowhand remained relatively the same. Nevertheless, Eric Clapton is still incredibly talented, and holds a legacy that most guitarists could only dream of.
8. Gary Moore
When most people are asked about Gary Moore, they will have no idea who you’re talking about. Considered a “musicians musician”, Moore was the man that could play just about any style as shown during his time in Colosseum II, Thin Lizzy, and his solo career. Playing a variety between jazz-fusion and hark rock, Gary largely worked in the shadows with the occasional hit in the UK here and there. Yet, it wasn’t until the early nineties, when he was already in his late thirties, when he decided to return to his influences. Moore went back to his roots to play the blues for the rest of his career. And what an impact he left on the blues scene! Listening to modern blues titans, Joe Bonamassa and Kenny Wayne Sheppard, proves how much of an influence to the blues.
7. Peter Green
During the Mid 1960’s, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were going through a time of uncertainty. Eric Clapton had just parted ways with the band to form the British supergroup, Cream. Along with him leaving, that meant his fan base was gone too. What could John Mayall do in a time like this? Why only get the best replacement a man could ever ask for. Peter Green was the saving grace for the band with his guitar playing style which was very different than that of Clapton’s. Green focused more on the feeling of every note by focusing on string bending and vibrato. He used this type of playing to lay down the foundations for his own band, Fleetwood Mac. Even though the tenure in his own band was short lived, the impression he made on guitarists like Gary Moore earns Green the Number 7 spot on this list.
6. Billy Gibbons
This may come as a surprise to most people seeing Billy Gibbons so high on a list like this. Let me tell you that Gibbons is a much better guitar player than most realize. No, he’s not a crazy shredder that can play ten notes per second. No, his technique is not the most complicated in the world. Yet, there is one thing that I noticed during a live recording of a ZZ Top concert. During the entire set, Billy did not play a single bad note. Even for using a simple play style, playing an entire set perfectly is incredibly difficult to manage. That is the sign of truly knowing how to play the guitar. Even today, Billy Gibbons entertains millions of fans without skipping a beat in his playing. It’s no wonder why Jimi Hendrix said Gibbons was his favorite guitar player. He has truly earned the title of the second best Texas blues guitarist (The best will appear on this list later).
5. Rory Gallagher
Look at that Strat! That worn down six-string was the trusty instrument of choice for the greatest blues player Ireland ever produced. During a time when guitar heroes were almost spontaneously appearing from California and England, Ireland was still lagging behind in the music industry. Most of their music acts consisted of showbands, which were basically jazz bands that would create covers of popular music. Rory Gallagher was one of the first people to break the showband chain by forming the blues-rock power trio, Taste. Not only did Rory introduce blues music to the Emerald Isle, he took it one step further when constructing Taste’s final record, On the Boards. Even with all of the guitarists making their presence known, Rory truly was one of the standout players of his time. Even when Taste disbanded, he dazzled fans all over Europe during his tours. His innovation also left his mark on the minds some of the most talented guitarists like Slash and Brian May. He will be missed.
4. Jimi Hendrix
This was a very tough decision to put Jimi at Number 4 since he’s considered to be the greatest guitarist to ever live. He was truly an anomaly that I doubt anyone would be able to replicate again. What can I say about Hendrix that hasn’t already been said? The man was without a doubt the standout guitar player of the 1960’s, and inspired an entire generation after him. I could go on and on about his remarkable musicianship, his innovation, etc. Many of his fans theorize what would Jimi be like if he walked the Earth today. With all of the high production value and new technology the music industry, experts would probably say that his music is too much. There’s else to say other than that he was a true guitar hero. The only setback I actually have for Hendrix was that he died before he had the chance to evolve into something new and innovative once again. Just imagine Hendrix as a veteran guitar player with Rory Gallagher and Billy Gibbons as young bucks playing alongside each other. That could lead to even more exciting experimentation on their part. Make no mistake. Jimi Hendrix is absolutely incredible, but those higher on the list have arguably done more for the blues than Jimi.
3. B.B. King
When you think about the blues, B.B. King has to the first person that comes to mind. With Lucille at his side, The King has entertained generations upon generations of blues fans. The reason as to why B.B. ranks so high on this list is rooted in how many guitarists he inspired over the years. His music has influenced every single person on this list, and probably every electric blues guitarist. While he never had the greatest technical skill like his contemporaries or successors, his sense for the blues was unquestionable. King was one of the first to make his guitar “sing” with his string bending and vibrato. This type of style made every note count when he was playing. There is truly no one that could create history like B.B. King did, and he will be truly missed.
2. Buddy Guy
The very last blues legend of his era. Most of the other great guitarists that emerged around his time have sadly passed on… leaving just Buddy. Guy’s career is an interesting one… His career never truly sat in the limelight, while those he has influenced have soared to new heights in fame. The first album he ever played on didn’t even have his own name on it! (Hoodoo Man Blues is a great album nonetheless) Yet, by no means does that mean he doesn’t deserve the credit where credit is due. Without Buddy Guy, there would be no Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or even Jimi Hendrix. His music was incredibly revolutionary, and he still brings that power in his concerts today. Buddy Guy truly deserves to go down in the history books as a blues legend.
1. Stevie Ray Vaughan
When SRV lost his life in that helicopter crash in 1990, there was a void left in the world of blues that has still not been filled yet. Like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray was an anomaly in which no one had ever seen anything like him before. His revolutionary guitar playing caught everyone’s attention in the best way possible. Vaughan single handedly brought new excitement into the blues that was lost since the early 1970’s. Now, he has left behind a legacy unlike any other blues guitarist before him. It is without question that Stevie Ray Vaughan deserves the Number 1 spot on this list!