The Blues is one of the most famous genres in the world. The music’s rich and soulful feel came about in the 19th and 20th centuries. Originally developed by African-American artists in the American South, Blues music went on to influence other genres such as jazz and hip-hop.
Blues guitar players provide a musical backdrop to the strong vocals Blues is known for. Although there isn’t a standard technique all Blues guitar players use, many have a signature style that listeners can instantly recognize.
Let’s delve into the details of some of the most famous Blues guitar players throughout history.
Related: For more like this post, see our list of the greatest guitar players of all time.
1. B.B. King
First up, we have the legendary guitar player B.B. King who was born on a Mississippi plantation and started recording in the 1940s.
His signature style developed from influences such as T-Bone Walker and Blind Lemon Jefferson. It was B.B.’s cousin who also taught him about Blues music and how to play the guitar.
The artist began his career playing on street corners for change and ended up with over fifty recorded albums to his name.
B.B. King also sang vocals to his music, but his guitar playing became known for its complexity. Many future artists ended up borrowing from his style.
2. Eric Clapton
Next, we have Eric Clapton who is a Blues guitar player that hails from the U.K. He is a Grammy-Award-winning artist who has also been named as one of the most influential guitarists.
Some of his works, including “Layla” and “My Father’s Eyes,” have been top hits around the globe. The artist is also known for making specific electric guitar models, including Gibson, popular.
Many of Clapton’s live shows featured different electric guitars made by Gibson. Some of those guitars were later donated to organizations and chains like The Hard Rock Cafe. One of them remains on display at a London Hard Rock Cafe location.
3. Robert Johnson
The future scribe and performer of songs like “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Cross Road Blues,” Robert Johnson was born in Mississippi in 1911.
Johnson’s humble beginnings didn’t dampen his drive to learn and sing Blues music. He eventually became known as the King of the Delta Blues Singers.
Johnson’s style is marked by intensity, expressive vocals, and masterful guitar playing. His musical style also influenced future artists like The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.
To this day, little is known about his personal life and history, although we do know he released 11 records during his lifetime and one album posthumously.
Although he is said to have died tragically, his legacy as one of the most celebrated Blues guitar players lives on.
4. Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy is from Lettsworth, Louisiana, and has been named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 100 most influential guitar players of all time.
Guy started performing publicly in the 1950s and moved to Chicago in the fall of 1957. While he lived in Chicago, Buddy Guy was influenced by another Blues artist, Muddy Waters.
Guy’s first record contract came from a 1958 competition where he went up against Magic Sam and Otis Rush. Guy’s musical performances and work went on to earn him a place in the Hall of Fame.
He has also won 8 Grammy Awards for his contributions to Blues music.
5. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Another popular name in blues guitar is Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was born in Dallas, Texas, and taught himself how to play guitar.
Financial struggles marked his early career, but Vaughan’s work caught the attention of David Bowie.
He was then invited to play on one of Bowie’s soon-to-be-released albums in the early 1980s. From there, the artist’s career took off, and he and his band got a record deal with Epic.
Working under producer John Hammond, Sr., the band’s record rose to number 38 on the album charts. The band’s second album also went gold in 1985.
Sadly, Vaughan ended up perishing in a helicopter accident, but some of his rare recordings and posthumous releases have gone on to garner incredible sales volume.
6. Joe Bonamassa
Another blues guitar player you should check out is Joe Bonamassa, whose rise to fame began in the late 1980s when he opened for B.B. King at just 12 years old.
He went on to release 15 albums on his independent label, and 11 of them have been chart-topping hits. Bonamassa also has 3 Grammy Awards under his belt.
He’s also known for amassing a collection of vintage amplifiers and guitars over the years. He keeps many in an area of his home that he’s nicknamed the “Bona-seum.”
Some of his musical influences include Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Mick Abrahams.
7. Memphis Minnie
Blues guitar isn’t just for men, as our next guitarist Memphis Minnie demonstrates. Born as Lizzie Douglas in Mississippi in 1897, he became known as a guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist.
The oldest of 13 children, Minnie, received her first guitar at eight years old. She was a runaway at the age of 13, playing on Memphis street corners.
After she started performing with her second husband, Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie was discovered by a talent scout for Columbia Records.
Memphis Minnie recorded over 200 songs, including the famous “Bumble Bee” and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues.”
8. Albert King
Albert King was promoted as being the half-brother of B.B. King and as being born in Indianola, Iowa. However, both of these claims have come under doubt as the singer’s records seem to indicate he was born in Aberdeen, Mississippi, as Albert Nelson.
Although King did not reach the same level of fame as other artists, he was known as the “King of the Blues Guitar.”
King performed with the band, In the Groove Boys. He also worked several odd jobs to support himself until his earnings from music became enough to live on.
In 1983, King was elected to the Blues Hall of Fame.
9. Muddy Waters
McKinley Morganfield began playing the guitar and harmonica at the age of 17. His stage name partially came from the nickname of “Muddy” his grandmother gave him as he liked to play in the mud and water.
Muddy Waters’ career gave him another name – the father of the modern Chicago Blues. In the early 1940s, he relocated to Chicago from Mississippi.
Muddy Waters recorded albums on several labels, including Columbia Records. He has influenced artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.
10. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Another famous female guitarist, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, was born in Arkansas but moved with her mother to Chicago at six years old.
Her style was known for combining religious and secular overtones, and she often performed religious concerts together with her mother, which got her started as a gospel singer.
Tharpe’s mix of gospel and the electric guitar went on to influence future artists like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry.
The way she played the guitar also had an instrumental influence on the development of British Blues in the 1960s.
11. Freddie King
Born in Gillmer, Texas, in 1934, Freddie King learned to play the guitar at the age of 6, with his mother and uncle as his primary teachers.
Although sharing the same surname, King was not related to either B.B. King or Albert King, although the three became known as the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar.”
King also resided in Chicago for some time, eventually recording with Federal Records. He produced hits such as “Hide Away” and “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.”
12. John Lee Hooker
As another Blues artist hailing from Mississippi, John Lee Hooker incorporated Delta Blues into his guitar playing.
Hooker’s recording career started in 1948 when he worked in a Detroit steel mill as a janitor. His single, “Boogie Chilen,” started rising up the charts.
Even though John Lee Hooker couldn’t read or write, he became known for his lyrics and lyrical style. He went on to tour in Europe and collaborate with other artists, including Stevie Ray Vaughn.
13. Son House
Son House’s debut record was released during the Great Depression, so it did not reflect the sales volume and recognition the artist probably deserved.
Born in Mississippi, Son House became known for his emotional musical style of Delta Blues. He was also famous for his slide guitar playing style.
It was powerful vocals that were part of the reason why he gained critical acclaim.
He ended up leaving his musical career behind in the early 1940s after moving to New York. However, not before influencing artists like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.
Summing up our List of the Best Blues Guitarists
Now that you’ve gotten acquainted with some of history’s most famous Blues guitar players, it’s time to take a listen.
While most Blues music has some degree of sadness to it, you’re sure to enjoy the lively guitar strings, rich vocals, and electrifying sounds.