10 Essential Blues Guitar Albums
- Guitar Files:
We put together a top 10 collection of the best and most important blues albums out to date. A great collection to have if you dig the blues or you would like to learn the ropes of the blues. Some of the artists include Robert Johnson, Freddy King, BB King, Elmore James, Blind Blake and more.
1. Robert Johnson
King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia)
King of the Delta Blues Singers stands at the crossroads of blues guitar history. Released in 1961 as a compilation of Robert Johnson?s best material, the album summarizes much of the visionary guitar work that occurred in the blues before that year, and predicted just about all that would occur after it. Johnson, the most influential blues guitarist in history, was also the most effective assimilator, digesting styles and riffs he had picked up in his short life (he died when he was just 27) and creating a signature sound that not only stood above all others but was as profound in 1961 as it was in 1936 and ?37, the years Johnson recorded. A generation after Johnson?s time, everyone from Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck to Johnny Winter, Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman and Billy Gibbons were busy learning Johnson licks. They all started their life-long study of Johnson with King of the Delta Blues Singers.
2 . T-Bone Walker
T-Bone Blues (Atlantic)
It's impossible to imagine electric blues without T-Bone Walker. He was the music?s great stylist, a guitarist who could transform single notes or complex chords into spectacular works of art. An incredible understanding of the subtleties of the blues also made T-Bone the master of tones that could dramatically affect the feel of a song. On T-Bone Blues, recorded in the mid 1950s just after his most creative period, Walker re-visited many of his classics that made him a guitar legend, including Why Not, T-Bone Shuffle, Mean Old World, T-Bone Blues and the monumental Call It Stormy Monday. Under the direction of Jerry Wexler and Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, Walker re-cut the songs with sparkling clarity and verve. If ever there was an electric blues guitar listening experience deemed absolutely essential, T-Bone Blues is it.
3. Blind Blake
Ragtime Guitars Foremost Fingerpicker (Yazoo)
Blind Blake's recording career was short: just six years. Yet, from 1926 to 1932 his amazingly complex rag- and jazz-inflected fingerpicking strategies laid the foundation for the East Coast-based Piedmont blues style, as this compilation album so nicely illustrates. Where many Delta blues guitarists of the time played with a slash-and-burn ferocity, sliding and practically ripping notes from their guitars, Blake finessed his way through the blues, creating an emotional resonance with finger-picked riffs rich in rag lines. Had Blake been a better blues singer, his stock in blues history would be much higher. As it is, there could be no Blind Boy Fuller, no Blind Willie McTell and no Rev. Gary Davis without Arthur Blind Blake.
4 . Stevie Ray Vaughan
Texas Flood (Epic)
Stevie Ray Vaughan made such consistently excellent albums that Texas Flood could easily be replaced by Couldn't Stand the Weather, In Step or Soul to Soul, his other studio gems. Texas Flood gets the nod because it not only launched the 1980s blues revival, but includes such masterpieces as the romping Pride and Joy, the heartfelt title track and the ethereal Lenny. Cut in just a couple days during a short tour of California, Texas Flood sounds as if it were recorded at the peak of Vaughan's career as opposed to the beginning.
5. B.B. King
Live at the Regal (MCA)
Routinely called the greatest live blues album of all time, Live at the Regal is also, like King of the Delta Blues Singers, one of the most influential. Virtually every electric blues guitar player in the modern period has used Live at the Regal as a primer, since it showcases King's awesome penchant for bent notes as well as his ability to say so much with so few notes. Recorded at the Regal Theater in Chicago in 1964, Live at the Regal shows B.B. King at the top of his performing talent, as tracks such as Everyday I Have the Blues and Sweet Little Angel so beautifully indicate.
6. Buddy Guy
Stone Crazy! (Alligator)
Stone Crazy! is one of the great, unheralded blues guitar albums of the modern period. Recorded in 1979 in just one day, it was originally released on the French Isabel label as The Blues Giant. It contains only six tracks, but each one is a nuclear explosion of blues pain and power, angst and edginess. Guy quotes Hendrix and Guitar Slim and sets aflame any doubts about his rank among the blues guitar greats. Purists may find Stone Crazy! a bit too heavy and rock-oriented for their tastes, but no one can deny Guy's guitar brilliance on this recording.
7. Elmore James
The Sky Is Crying (Rhino)
Elmore James wasn't the first slide guitar player in the blues, but he might have been the best. By absorbing the acoustic slide guitar styles of Son House and Robert Johnson into his own, James delivered a loud, recklessly thrashing sound that extracted every ounce of energy out of his electric guitar. Dust My Broom, the flagship track on this compilation, contains James signature guitar riff, which he endlessly recycled. But what a riff! You'll hear it in the opening bars of Dust My Broom, and you'll never forget it. Other classic numbers on The Sky Is Crying include the title track, Done Somebody Wrong,It Hurts Me Too and Shake Your Money Maker.
8. Albert King
Born Under a Bad Sign (Mobile Fidelity/Rhino)
The second of the three great kings of the blues, Albert King, like B.B. and Freddy (see below), greatly influenced the evolution of electric blues guitar. Mike Bloomfield, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Louis Walker and Robert Cray all owe something to Albert King. Give a good listen to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and you'll hear more of Albert's commanding guitar influence. One of the most attractive components of Albert's style was the tension and sustain his single-string solos created. He could run the entire emotional gamut in just one song. On this album, which was originally recorded for Stax Records in 1966 and 67, King also proved that hard blues and deep soul were sisters and could live together side by side. Tracks such as the title number, Crosscut Saw, The Hunter and Oh Pretty Woman bear this out in historic fashion.
9. Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters (boxed set) (MCA/Chess)
Muddy Waters had all the goods: a growling, often fierce blues voice, a penchant to pick first-rate musicians to play in his band, a deep understanding of the history of the blues and how it reflected African-American culture and an on stage presence that was as intimidating as it was passionate. One other thing: Muddy could also play a bit of blues guitar. His style wasn't the kind that arched its way over songs with scorching solos, and he didn't deliver clusters of finger picked filigrees. Rather, it was Muddy's carefully calculated, single razor-sharp notes and his stinging slide licks that drove his songs into submission. Study the tunes on this boxed set, which give a great overview of Muddy's amazing career, and you'll learn volumes about blues guitar articulation and dynamics.
10. Freddy King
Hide Away - The Best of Freddy King
Freddy King fills out the king trilogy in blues history. With more pop and, later, rock notions than either B.B. or Albert, Freddy played solos that flow like a steady moving river. Even on songs like his signature number, Hide Away, or the equally alluring Sen-Sa-Shun and San Ho-Zay, the notes King draws from his guitar are both gracefully crafted and remarkably accessible. Master of the blues instrumental, Freddy King was as much at home playing shuffles and slow blues burns as he was on up-tempo rockers and pop ditties with only a touch of blue in them. Eric Clapton is among Freddy King's most ardent disciples.