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Blues Musicians

50 Top Blues Musicians

Click here for Part 1

By T-Bone

Albert King (1923-1992) - Blues Musician

Albert King played a huge role in bringing Memphis-style Soul into the Blues and popularizing the genre among both Blacks and Whites. His relaxed vocal style, coupled with his intense string bending on the guitar, was an intoxicating mixture that would go far in bringing the Blues to a much wider audience. His guitar style on songs such as his earlier "Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong" and later hits on Stax - "Born Under A Bad Sign" and "Cross Cut Saw" - would find its way into the playing of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan, among many others.

Slim Harpo (1924-1970) - Blues Musician

James Moore, better known as Slim Harpo, was one of the most popular Blues artists to cross over into the Rock world. His songs "I'm A King Bee," "Baby, Scratch My Back," "Tip On In," and "Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu" defined the Swamp Blues based out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Jimmy Reed (1925-1976) - Blues Musician

Jimmy Reed had more success in crossing over to the Pop charts than any other Blues musician. His lazy, relaxed songs with their infectious rhythm seemed to hit a nerve in the record-buying public during the late '50s and early '60s. His songs landed on the Pop Top 100 chart 11 times. "Baby, What You Want Me To Do," "Bright Lights, Big City," "Honest I Do," and "Big Boss Man" are just a few of his sides that have become standards of the genre.

Otis Spann (1930-1970) - Blues Musician

Quite simply, Otis Spann is the man that every Blues piano player that has come along since looks to as the standard to live up to. Playing a huge role in helping Muddy Waters define the small Blues combo sound of Chicago in the '50s, Spann's playing was the epitome of how to not only back a singer, but how to add much depth, interest, rhythm and melody to the proceedings. A much-underrated singer in his own right, Otis will nevertheless always be associated with the great songs he recorded with Muddy.   

Albert Collins (1932-1993) - Blues Musician

Known as the "The "Iceman" and "The Master of the Telecaster," Albert Collins was unique, but also epitomized the Texas guitar slinger. Many guitarists have tried hard, many in vain, to duplicate his signature stinging guitar licks. Coming out of the fertile and exciting Blues scene of Houston in the '50s and '60s, Albert would go on to create a fusion of infectious, horn-driven Blues that was always funky. Just about every Blues band has a Collins style instrumental in their repertoire.

John Mayall (b. 1933) - Blues Musician

The elder statesman of British Blues, perhaps no one has done more to further the Blues in England than John Mayall, if only for his pioneering efforts there and the fact that so many premier musicians have made their mark in his many lineups. Many illustrious Mayall alumni have gone on to greater fame after their apprenticeship with John. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, and Mick Taylor all played with Mayall in the '60s, and later, Americans Walter Trout and Carlos Montoya would both hone their chops with the man. 

Freddie King (1934-1976) - Blues Musician

This extremely powerful singer, guitarist, and performer came out of Texas and first made his mark in Chicago in 1961 with his blend of danceable instrumentals and passionate vocal sides. Freddie King probably has done as much as anyone to attract a younger Rock audience to the Blues due to his fiery and energetic style. "Hideaway," "Have You Ever Loved A Woman," and "I'm Tore Down" are just a few of his classic tunes that have become standards of the genre.

Paul Butterfield (1942-1987) - Blues Musician

Paul Butterfieldwas one of the first white musicians to gain acceptance and respect in the Blues scene in Chicago of the '60s. His powerful harp playing anchored his band that also featured Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop, along with ex-Howlin' Wolf sidemen Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay, making the Paul Butterfield Blues Band one of the first integrated bands. Their first two albums proved instrumental in helping bringing the Blues into the mainstream.

Johnny Winter (b. 1944) - Blues Musician

This incredibly talented guitar slinger from Texas was responsible for first exposing a multitude of aspiring young, white guitarists to the Blues in the late '60s. His first album on Columbia featured both Willie Dixon and Walter "Shakey" Horton and brought an authenticity to the Blues that many other white Blues artists had lacked. Johnny Winter went on to explore a more Rock approach, but came back to the Blues in the late '70s. Winter was responsible for producing the albums that put Muddy Waters back in the limelight, garnering the legendary Bluesman his first Grammy awards.

Eric Clapton (b. 1945) - Blues Musician

Perhaps no one has turned more guitarists onto the Blues than Eric Clapton due to his huge, worldwide popularity with The Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream and his own bands. His tone and style during his time with Mayall has become legendary, with hordes of guitarists snatching up the same equipment that he used in an attempt to recreate his sound. His From The Cradle album gave the Blues a huge shot in the arm in 1994 when it was much needed, giving traditional Blues songs a chance to be heard on commercial radio.

Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-1990) - Blues Musician

If there is a person more successful than Clapton in getting the Blues across to the masses, it was Stevie Ray. Vaughan almost single-handedly brought the Blues to the world's consciousness in the '80s. His incredible way of combining Albert King and Jimi Hendrix licks with a fresh fire and attitude spawned countless imitators. He earned the utmost respect from his mentors and his legacy is still felt strongly today.

Well, that concludes my list of what I feel are the 50 Most Influential Blues Musicians of all time. Of course, there are many, many deserving people that were left off this list. Just some of the ones that come to immediate mind are Skip James, Guitar Slim, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy.

Several women that have made their indelible mark in the male-dominated world of the Blues include Memphis Minnie, Ruth Brown, and Koko Taylor, not to mention the more Jazz-oriented Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Sarah Vaughn.

Sax players are certainly under-represented here as well. Big Jay McNeely is the man who perhaps best personifies the term "Blues honker." Then there are the other artists that certainly have a Blues pedigree, but are better known for other styles, such as Ray Charles who pioneered Gospel-Soul and Fats Domino who is better known as one of the fathers of Rock 'n' Roll.

The list has to end somewhere and my list is only one man's humble opinion. Most of all, the making of this list was designed to generate interest in the Blues and the people that created the music, bringing much joy to all of us Blues lovers across the globe for so many years.

Don "T-Bone" Erickson is the founding editor of BluesWax. T-Bone may be contacted at blueswax@visnat.com.

This article appeared in BLUESWAX. Used by permission.

 

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