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 the genre 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.
In this post, let’s delve into the details of 28 of the greatest and most famous blues guitar players throughout history. Read on!
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 50 recorded albums to his name. 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.
Related: See our list of the greatest guitar players of all time.
2. Eric Clapton
Next, we have Eric Clapton, who is a blues guitar player that hails from the UK. 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 Café. One of them remains on display at a London Hard Rock Café 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. It 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, he 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. His musical performances and work went on to earn him a place in the Hall of Fame, and for his contributions to blues music, he has also won 8 Grammy awards.
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, who learned to love music because of the influence of many English musicians, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Mick Abrahams.
Bonamossa’s rise to fame began in the late 1980s when he opened for B.B. King at just 12 years old. He then 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.
Bonamassa is 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.
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, she became known as a guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist.
The oldest of 13 children, Minnie, received her first guitar at eight years old. After running away at the age of 13, she began to play on Memphis street corners to make ends meet.
After she started performing with her second husband, Joe McCoy, Memphis Minnie was discovered by a talent scout for Columbia Records and went on to record over 200 songs, including the famous “Bumble Bee” and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” in her five-decade career.
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 and performed with the band In the Groove Boys.
King also worked several odd jobs to support himself until his earnings from music became enough to live on. In 1983, he 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, Muddy Waters, partially came from the nickname Muddy his grandmother gave him because he liked to play in the mud and water.
Waters’ career gave him another name: the father of the modern Chicago Blues. In the early 1940s, he relocated to Chicago from Mississippi where he went on and recorded albums on several labels, including Columbia Records.
Four of his songs were added into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of songs that shaped the genre, and 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 bues in the 1960s.
11. Freddie King
Born in Gillmer, Texas, in 1934, Freddie King learned to play the guitar at the age of six, 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; however, 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.”
In 1982, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and, in 2012, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Hide Away” was added to the latter’s list of songs that shaped rock and roll.
12. John Lee Hooker
As another blues artist hailing from Mississippi, John Lee Hooker incorporated Delta blues, a style of blues originating from the Mississippi Delta, 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 Chillen” started rising up the charts and led him on a path to becoming one of the best.
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
Edward James House Jr., best known as Son House, debuted during the Great Depression, so his album’s sales did not reflect the volume and recognition the artist probably deserved.
Born in Mississippi, House became known for his emotional musical style of Delta Blues. He was also famous for his slide guitar playing style, though a large part of the reason why he gained critical acclaim was because of his powerful vocals.
He ended up leaving his musical career behind in the early 1940s after moving to New York. However, he was rediscovered in the 1960s and returned to his career as a musician soon after.
14. Lightnin’ Hopkins
Born Samuel John Hopkins, Lightnin’ Hopkins was a famous country blues singer and songwriter in the mid-20th century. Born in Centerville, Texas, in 1912, he began performing in the 1940s.
However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that he began to received acclaim. In 1960, he performed with Joan Baez and Pete Seeger at Carnegie Hall in New York City, cementing his position in the annals of blues history.
Eight years later, he released his first album, entitled Free Form Patterns, and recorded more albums than any other blues musician in the genre’s history.
Hopkins is recognized for his talent and experimental risks and remains a massive influence on contemporary jazz and blues musicians.
15. Otis Rush
Born in 1934, Otis Rush was heavily influenced by his contemporaries, Magic Sam and Buddy Guy. He quickly became affiliated with the West Side Chicago blues movement, and he, in turn, influenced many famous guitarists like Eric Clapton and Peter Green.
Rush released his first single in 1962, and his album soon followed in 1969, entitled Mourning in the Morning. The album introduced Rush’s melodic voice and quintessentially dynamic sound.
One of his greatest works is the album Right Place, Wrong Time, which the production giant Capitol Records refused to release. After buying the master from them, Rush released it with another label, and it became a smash hit.
16. Robert Cray
Robert Cray is one of the most active and prolific blues guitarists in the genre’s long history. With over 20 albums and millions of copies sold, Cray has performed since the mid-1980s.
The Columbus, Georgia-born artist is heavily influenced by blues, rock and roll, soul, gospel, and call-and-response. He has won five Grammys since he began performing nearly forty years ago, including a Best Contemporary Blues Album for Take Your Shoes Off.
Cray was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011, and today, he performs with his band, the Robert Cray Band, which consists of Richard Cousins, Dover Weinberg, and Les Falconer.
17. Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. is a blues guitarist from Austin, Texas, one of the significant music capitols. His eclectic style, punctuated with influences from other genres like hip-hop and soul, is uniquely emotional and expressive.
Clark has been compared to Jimi Hendrix for his unique approach to melding vocals with guitar riffs, and he remains one of the most influential blues guitarists in modern history.
His lyrics are deep and meaningful, and his raucous voice only accentuates the profundity of his music. Some of his more popular pieces you might be familiar with are “Please Come Home” and “This Land,” both of which won him Grammy awards.
18. T-Bone Walker
Born Aaron Thibeaux Walker, T-Bone Walker was an American blues musician, composer, and bandleader who spearheaded the West Coast blues and electric blues movement.
T-Bone Walker performed at the renowned Cavalcade of Jazz concert at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field in 1946 alongside Louis Armstrong, Slim Gaillard, and Lionel Hampton.
His most famous song, “Call It Stormy Monday,” is among the most popular blues songs in all of history. Walker is considered the modern electric blues godfather and influenced many other artists, including Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Jefferson.
19. George Thorogood
George Thorogood is a Delaware-born musician known for his original songs, like “I Drink Alone” and “Bad to the Bone.”
Born in 1950, the artist is a relatively new entrant to the blues music scene. He formed his band in 1973, playing Elmore James and Chuck Berry songs.
Thorogood earned immediate acclaim for his hit single “Bad to the Bone,” which he has played nearly every day for the last 50 years. Other songs he’s popularized are “House Rent Blues/One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” “Move It on Over,” and “Who Do You Love?”
Today, Thorogood performs with his band the Destroyers, which consists of Bill Blough, Jim Suhler, and Buddy Leach. In 2017, he also released a solo album called Party of One.
20. Chuck Berry
Charles Edward Anderson Berry, simply known as Chuck Berry, is considered the grandfather of modern rock and roll—and one of the foremost blues guitarists in history. His sound was mournful yet imbued with joy and abandon.
Berry was born in St. Louis in 1926 and met Muddy Waters in 1955. The famous artist suggested contacting Chess Records, and he quickly received a record deal.
His hit single “Maybellene” sold over a million copies and topped the charts. The following year, Berry released “Roll Over Beethoven,” which has been preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.
By the culmination of the 1950s, Berry was a household name and is credited with influencing most of the modern rock music movement. His works earned him a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
21. Christone Ingram
Christone Ingram, also known as Kingfish, is a blues, rock and roll, and soul musician known for his complex guitar stylings and expressive live performances.
Kingfish hails from Clarksdale, Mississippi, and released his debut album in 2019. As a result, he is relatively new to the scene; the artist is only 24 years old.
However, his music is considered groundbreaking by many contemporary blues and rock-and-roll musicians, demonstrating that blues isn’t dead yet! Popular among his songs are “The Thrill Is Gone” and “I Put a Spell on You.”
22. Rory Gallagher
William Rory Gallagher is a blues rock musician known for his virtuosic and eclectic style of live performance. He formed his early blues band Taste in the 1960s and received significant acclaim in England.
Gallagher is not quite as well known than many other artists on this list, but he is no less significant. He is credited with influencing Eric Clapton and Brian May, and he was voted among the best guitarists by Melody Maker and Rolling Stone magazines.
In 1970, Gallagher began touring solo, ushering in his most prolific period with 10 albums in total. Sadly, poor health halted his career in 1995; he was only 47.
23. Elmore James
American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Elmore James was born in 1918. His life was, sadly, short-lived, but it was no less prolific.
He began enjoying success from the mid-1940s to the ’60s with hits like “Dust My Broom” and “Every Day I Have the Blues.” He was also well known for his slide skills on the guitar that he was nicknamed King of Slide Guitar.
In 1963, just before he was to go on a European tour, he passed away from a heart attack. In 1992, he posthumously gained entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his crooning voice and his excellent skill on the guitar.
24. Eric Gales
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Eric Gales, also known as Raw Dawg, was considered a musical child prodigy. He learned to play guitar at four and signed with Elektra Records when he was only 16.
Since then, Gales has consistently been named one of the best blues guitarists in modern history. He is influenced heavily by Jimi Hendrix, to whom he dedicated a tribute album in 2004.
Gales continues to release new music, including his hit single “I Want My Crown” with Joe Bonamassa, a song that has earned recognition for its willingness to address complex topics.
25. Dan Auerbach
Ohio musician Dan Auerbach isn’t a bluesman by trade, but he has become one of the foremost influencers in the modern blues scene.
Auerbach is one half of the music duo Black Keys, the band that brought blues back to life. The Black Keys are known for their cross-genre style and willingness to transgress traditional sounds, and Auerbach is no different.
His solo act is improvisational music with a garage-blues feel, and he brings blues back into modernity with his skill and style. Auerbach was heavily influenced by R. L. Burnside, a punk and garage rock musician and slide guitarist from the 1990s.
26. Derek Trucks
Hailing from Jackson, Florida, Derek Trucks was initially known for his affiliation with the renowned Allman Brothers band since his uncle was their drummer, but he has made a name for himself with them since 1999.
By the time Trucks was only 20 years old, he had performed alongside Buddy Guy and Bob Dylan, and his signature Dunlop glass slide catapulted him to music fame and fandom.
Trucks draws on traditional influences like Duane Allman and Elmore James, but he also incorporates Indian music and classic sounds to make his music. In 2012, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, along with other members of the Allman Brothers band.
27. Jeff Beck
Geoffrey Arnold Beck, known simply as Jeff Beck, was a guitarist who earned acclaim in the 1960s for his affiliation with Eric Clapton and his band the Yardbirds.
Beck began playing solo in the 1970s under the Jeff Beck Group, and he flaunts a technical style on the guitar that blends multiple genres for a wholly original sound.
The English musician is an instrumental artist who values technical skill above all else. For this reason, he has a particular ability to create compelling guitar riffs and ethereal solos.
His album, Blow by Blow, is considered one of the best blues guitar albums in music history, and it has consistently peaked on the Billboard charts.
28. John Mayer
Although John Mayer may seem like an unlikely addition to this list, he was a blues guitarist before he was a pop icon—and it shows.
Mayer’s music is fraught with bluesy sounds and telltale guitar slides, and he credits his quintessential sound to the influence of artists like Buddy Guy.
Mayer’s earlier albums, Heavier Things and Room for Squares, demonstrate his unique sound, and he has collaborated with B.B. King and Eric Clapton since then.
Shortly after the release of Continuum in 2006, Mayer’s sound began to evolve, but he remained true to his blues roots.
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.
This list, however, is far from complete. Let us know who we have missed off, and we’ll be sure to add them.