The roots of the blues extend deep, deep into the soil of the Mississippi Delta, Texas, the Piedmont and up to Chicago. The influence of the blues on American music is inestimable, and the greatest blues artists and their classic recordings are as timeless as the blues itself.
Here are 50 of the most influential blues artists (in no particular order) and songs featuring some of their greatest performances.
Albert King: southpaw blues slinger who played a right-handed Flying V guitar upside down. His sweet tone was hugely influential on a new crop of blues guitarists, appearing on albums with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore. Recommended: “I’ll Be Doggone,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “Crosscut Saw” and “Laundromat Blues.”
Duane Allman: could have been the greatest player of his generation. In his short 24 years, Allman mastered the bottleneck slide and helped rewrite the book of Southern blues with The Allman Brothers Band. Recommended: “Loan Me A Dime,” “Whipping Post,” “Layla,” “Dreams” and “Statesboro Blues.”
Roy Buchanan: one of many tragic figures in the blues world. Buchanan coaxed notes from his Telecaster like pleas for better days. His gorgeous solos, creativity and speed had a huge impact on Jeff Beck. Recommended: “Roy’s Bluz,” “The Messiah Will Come Again,” “Story Of Isaac,” “After Hours” and “Thank You Lord.”
B.B. King: The master of using one note to say it all, King is the most important blues guitarist of the last half of the 20th century and the most durable. A tireless performer who managed to ride every musical tide of the past five decades and stay on top. Recommended: “The Thrill Is Gone,” “How Blue Can You Get,” “Five Long Years” and “Everyday I Have The Blues.”
Mike Bloomfield first found fame with Paul Butterfield’s band and helped turn a generation of white musicians onto the blues. Bloomfield could play circles around nearly everyone, on slide or otherwise, and his education came directly from blues legends such as Muddy Waters and Big Joe Williams. Recommended: “East-West,” “Albert’s Shuffle,” “Screamin’” and “Shake Your Moneymaker.”
Blind Blake’s pianistic guitar approach mixes ragtime with blues for a “raggin’” romp across the strings. Blake was a tremendously skilled guitarist — a master of alternating bass and treble picking. Recommended: “Diddy Wah Diddy,” “Blind Blake’s Breakdown” and “West Coast Blues.”
Stevie Ray Vaughan resurrected the blues in the 1980s with his soulful playing and tremendous guitar chops. The blues world is still awaiting his successor. Recommended: “Pride And Joy,” “The Sky Is Crying,” “Texas Flood,” “Rude Mood” and “Scuttle Buttin’.”
Blind Lemon Jefferson: Texas songster who struck it big in the 1920s. His moaning vocals, tricky rhythms and lead picking made him perhaps the most influential of the early Lone Star bluesmen. His “Matchbox Blues” was covered by The Beatles and Carl Perkins, among others. Recommended: “Hot Dogs,” “Rabbit Foot’s Blues,” “Matchbox Blues” and “Black Snake Moan.”
Blind Willie Johnson possessed a voice of raw emotion and frightening intensity that could shake a tree from its roots. Johnson’s music is a mix of heartfelt gospel and guttural blues played on the guitar with a bot