In the 1920's and 1930's, blues guitar players like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Robert Johnson, and Lonnie Johnson were the influential performers of the day. They used a slide which was often made out of a knife blade or the broken or sawed off neck from a bottle. Most of the music was improvised, and unaccompanied. The form of the songs were loose, and were rarely, if ever, played the same way twice.
As the 1940's came, the jump blues style characterized by big band music sequestered the guitar to the rhythm section primarily. The primary influence of this era on blues guitar is that it heavily influenced the development of what would later be known as rock and roll, or rhythm and blues.
After World War II in the 1950's, blues guitar became electrified and amplified. Starting in Chicago, this new electric blues was characterized by the sounds of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed. All of these players grew up in Mississippi, but migrated to Chicago. The bands typically had, in addition to the electric guitar, harmonica and a rhythm section of bass and drums. Sometimes there would also be a saxophone, though it would be relegated to a rhythmic support role.
B.B. King and Freddie King were also making names for themselves at this time. They were somewhat unique at the time because they did not make use of the slide to play the guitar. B.B. King has long been considered one of the greatest blues guitar players of all time. Freddie King has often been called the King of the Boogie Woogie guitar.
While Chicago had it's own sound in the 1950's, some other artists such as T-Bone Walker and John Lee Hooker were creating what some call the California Blues style. T-Bone Walker was born in Dallas, while Hooker was born in Mississippi. The California Blues Style that they helped to forge was smoother than the Chicago Blues and is somewhat of a melting pot for Chicago Blues, jump blues, and some jazz swing.
Starting in the 1960's, Caucasian audiences gained more interest in blues guitar thanks in part to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and what was later to be called the British Blues Movement. Bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Cream, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the Rolling Stone, and the Yardbirds were performing classic blues tunes in addition to their original tunes. Many of these artists inspired American blues-rock artists like Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, and Johnny Winter.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Luther Allison where creating what is called the West Side style of Chicago Blues. Their bands were dominated by the amplified electric blues guitar and heavily influenced later artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Lang, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
Since the early 1980's, the blues has enjoyed quite a resurgence in America. The Texas Rock-Blues Style of Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Fabulous Thunderbirds brought the blues to American rock radio stations. Eric Clapton, who originally gained his fame with Cream and John Mayall, continues to make great blues guitar albums and even recently recorded a set of old Robert Johnson classics. Many famous, legendary blues guitar players such as Buddy Guy and B.B. King continue to share the stage with the new generation of blues guitar players like Robert Cray, Joe Bonamassa, and Walter Trout.
About the Author, Griff Hamlin is a professional guitar player. He has just released Playing Through The Blues, a book on learning to play blues guitar