The Blues – Greatest Guitarists and Singers – Part One

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A friend of the blog recently asked for something blues-related, and I am happy to comply.

Two distinctive elements of blues music are blues guitar and blues singing. Here are some thoughts on some of the greatest blues singers and guitarists ever. For the guitarists, I am excluding rock guitarists who are blues-influenced – so, no Clapton, Page, Hendrix, etc. And for both guitarists and singers, I’ll split them into old school and new school. Part One of the topic – the guitarists.

OLD SCHOOL GUITARISTS

Jimmy Reed – his biggest hits were in the fifties. He was one of the first to move from acoustic to electric guitar. He also was famous for his harmonica, which he played at the same time as the guitar – Dylan-like.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe – a rare black woman in a male dominated profession, Tharpe used heavy distortion with her guitar, long before Jimi Hendrix did. Her earliest recordings were gospel tunes from the late thirties. Her 1945 hit Strange Things Happening Every Day has been cited by some as the first rock and roll record ever.

Robert Johnson – he passed away in 1938 at the age of 27. He only recorded 29 songs, but his posthumous awards include two songs in the Grammy Hall of Fame (Cross Road Blues and Sweet Home Chicago) plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; and induction into both the Blues and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter – Lead Belly was the first great 12-string guitarist. He was performing at 15 years old in 1903. From 1915 to 1939 he served several prison terms, and his earliest recordings were made while he was in prison. His unique style using finger and thumb picks gave his recordings a piano-like sound.

NEW SCHOOL GUITARISTS

Muddy Waters – the father of Chicago blues, Waters’ song Rollin’ Stone inspired the name of both the magazine and the band. Legendary songs like I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man, Mannish Boy and Got My Mojo Working led to six Grammy awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Buddy Guy – Still performing at 86 years old, Guy won eight Grammy awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, plus the National Medal of Arts and a Kennedy Center Honors award. His custom Fender guitar with Polka-Dot finish is his signature instrument, and he was famous for his on-stage theatrics while performing.

B.B. King – Nicknamed “the King of Blues,” he gave the name “Lucille” to his many guitars over the years. His 43 studio and 16 live albums released over six decades led to 15 Grammy awards plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. He was given four honorary doctorate degrees over the years, as well as many other recognitions for his achievements.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Vaughan started playing guitar at seven years old, and with his band Double Trouble, they became a popular act in Texas. But it wasn’t until he performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 that he began his meteoric rise to blues fame. Sadly, he was killed in a helicopter crash eight years later. His virtuoso technique could make his guitar sound like three at the same time – bass, rhythm and lead.

And…there are some great up-and-coming blues guitarists. Who knows – maybe one of these artists will end up on my list in 25 years! Check out Kingfish Ingram, Samantha Fish and Gary Clark Jr. – all under 40 years old, and all awesomely talented blues guitarists.

Stevie Ray’s Pride and Joy is as famous a blues song that you’ll ever hear. Here he is with his band Double Trouble performing live at Montreux in 1982 – the performance that made him famous!

 

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