It is no doubt that blues music has been one of the most influencing genres of music from way back up till now. Looking at today, many other genres of music copy some of their techniques from blues, which is why blues is regarded as an all-time favourite when it comes to music genres. We have legends who pushed the blues into limelight; exceptional, unique and absolutely brilliant guitarists; some of whom are alive, while some have passed on but left their legacies behind for us to keep the fire burning. In no particular order of preference, let’s take a look at the brief history of some great blues guitar legends we had/have.
Riley B. King who was professionally known as “B.B King” was born on September 16, 1925 in a cotton plantation near Itta Bena in Mississippi; an American blues guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer who started his music journey from the church choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church, Kilmichael. Hardly can anyone talk about blues without mentioning this legend, he earned the nickname “The King of the Blues” because he was one of the leading blues musicians to have ever lived, he was also known as one of “The Three Kings of Blues” alongside Albert King and Freddie King (none of whom were related by blood). His nickname “B.B” stand for “Blues boy”; a name he acquired when he worked as a disc jockey at a radio station (WDIA – Black Music Mother Station) in Memphis, Tennessee.
B.B King was industrious and hardworking throughout his career days, even up to his 70s. He performed at an average of 200 to 300 shows per year; he performed in 342 shows only in 1956! some of his top songs from his early life in music are:
Three O’ Clock Blues – 1951
You Upset Me Baby – 1954
Everyday I Have The Blues – 1955
Sweet Sixteen – 1960
Don’t Answer The Door – 1966
Why I Sing The Blues – 1969
The Thrill Is Gone – 1970 (which one him his first Grammy awards) ***P.S: My favourite?
Chains And things – 1970
To Know You Is To Love You – 1973
Never Make A Move Too Soon – 1978
B.B King was sworn into the Blues Hall of fame in 1980, received a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1987 and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The B.B King Museum and Delta Interpretive Centre was opened in Indianola, Mississippi in September 13, 2008. In the same year, he was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl of Fame. He ranked number 3 on the Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
After a musically fulfilling journey of life, this astounding musician died at the age of 89 in Las Vegas, Nevada on May 14, 2015.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
The quintessential and distinguished Vaughan was born in Dallas, Texas, United States of America on October 3, 1954; an American blues guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer. He was inspired by his older brother Jimmie Vaughan and developed an interest for the guitar as a child. His blues style of music was incited by many other blues guitarists, some of which were Albert King, Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy. Stevie Ray Vaughan played in different garage bands in high school and by the time he was 17 in 1972, he dropped out of school, moved to Austin and decided to channel all his focus on his music. “Double Trouble” was a band formed in 1978 – Stevie Ray being the lead singer of the band and Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon being members of the band.
Over the subsequent years, Stevie Ray Vaughan played with his band Double Trouble, making them popular and widely known in Texas. The band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982 and was contacted by David Bowie and Jackson Browne; David Bowie made an offer for Vaughan to be featured in his upcoming album Let’s Dance (1983) while Jackson Browne offered the band free recording time at his studio in Los Angeles. The band was later discovered by John Hammond Sr who offered them a record deal contract at Epic Records, they took the deal and in a short time recorded their debut album Texas Flood also in 1983, not long after David Bowie’s Let’s Dance was released. Vaughan and Double Trouble went on successful tours together and recorded their second album Couldn’t Stand The Weather (May, 1984) which was more successful than their previous Texas Flood. In 1985, a new member was introduced into the band; Reese Wynans who was a keyboardist and joined to record their third album Soul To Soul which was released in August 1985.
Stevie Ray Vaughan kept pushing himself and his career despite the struggles he had with drug addiction and alcoholism. He released a live album Live Alive in October 1986, took a sweeping American tour in 1987 and was enrolled into a rehabilitation centre after the tour. During the time of his recovery, the Double Trouble band was inactive but resumed their tour fully after his recovery. In 1988, Vaughan performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival amongst other concerts; his fourth and final studio album In Step was released in June 1989. He ranked number 7 on the Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s life was sadly cut short on 27th August, 1990 when he died in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin alongside four other passengers after his performance at Alpine Valley Music Theatre with Double Trouble. Stevie Ray Vaughan died at 35.
McKinley Morganfield popularly known as “Muddy Waters” was born on April 4, 1913 near Rolling Fork, Mississippi in the United States of America. He was an American blues musician and singer-songwriter who started out his music journey quite early in life by teaching himself how to play the harmonica as a child. At the age of 17, he began playing the guitar, his Delta blues style was initiated by two particular blues artists – Son House and Robert Johnson, after which he came up with his own unique Delta blues style. Muddy Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he got his nickname from his grandmother, Della Grant who raised him and called him “Muddy” because he liked to play in the mud as a boy and “Waters” years later when he began playing the harmonica in the creek as a boy.
Muddy Waters was first recorded in Mississippi by archivist Alan Lomax in 1914 for the U.S Library of Congress. In 1943, he relocated to Chicago where he started in bars and clubs to become a full-time professional musician and also worked in a paper mill and drove a truck to earn a living, he was known as “The Father of Chicago Blues”. In 1946, Muddy Waters first recorded for Columbia Records after which he recorded for Aristocrat Records which was owned by two Polish immigrant brothers – Leonard and Phil Chess and was later renamed in 1948 to Chess Records.
Muddy Waters’ band was made up of Little Walter Jacobs (harmonica), Elga Edmonds (known as Elgin Evans on drums), Jimmy Rogers (guitar), Otis Spann (piano) and Willie Dixon (bassist and songwriter). Some of these songs included “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, “Rollin’ Stone”, “Got My Mojom working”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Trouble No More”, “Mannish Boy”, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I’m Ready” amongst others. In 1960, Muddy Waters Performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, which was recorded and released as In Newport 1960 – his first live album.
Later into his music career days, Muddy Waters did not play the guitar as frequently as he did before, instead, he concentrated more on singing than playing. In 1980, he was inaugurated into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 1987, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1992, Muddy was given the Grammy awards for lifetime achievement. He ranked number 17 on the Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
Muddy Waters died in Westmont, Illinois on April 30, 1983 in his sleep as a result of heart failure from cancer related complications.
Eric Patrick Clapton is one of the guitar blues living legends we have have. This English rock and blues singer, guitarist and songwriter was born on March 30, 1945 in Ripley, Surrey in England. He began to play the guitar in his teen age and studied shortly at the Kingston College of Art. He joined the Yardbirds in 1963 and left in 1965 when the band switched from blues rock style to pop rock style. He later joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers that same year and left the next year, 1966. After leaving Mayall, Clapton formed a new band called Cream with two other musicians – drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce. Cream recorded three albums Disraeli Gears (1967), Wheels of Fire (1968), and Goodbye (1969) but was disbanded in November 1968.
In 1969, Clapton formed a band called Blind Faith with Baker, bassist Rick Grech and keyboardist/vocalist Steve Winwood, the group fell apart after recording one album and going on one tour. In 1970, Clapton started a solo career; during his solo career, he performed with Delaney & Bonnie and Derek and the Dominos which was made up of bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon, and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock and himself Clapton as the lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist. Another guitarist was added; Duane Allman, all of whom made up the group that recorded Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970); one of Clapton’s masterpieces.
Clapton went into solitude for two years as a result of heroin addiction. After conquering his addiction, he came back in 1974 with an album 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974) in which the cover of Bob Marley’s I Shot the Sheriff was included. Clapton released other albums such as Slowhand (1977), Backless (1978), Money and Cigarettes (1983), August (1986) after which his son died in 1991 and he expressed his grief in the song “Tears in Heaven” of the Unplugged (1992) album. Other albums done by Eric Clapton over the next couple of years were:
From the Cradle (1994)
Me and Mr. Johnson (2004)
Sessions for Robert J (2004)
Back Home (2005)
Old Sock (2013)
I Still Do (2016)
Happy Xmas (2018) – Clapton’s first holiday album
He did some collaborations that won the Grammy awards with other blues musicians such as B.B King Riding with the King (2000) and with J.J Cale The Road To Escondido (2006).
Clapton is the only musician who has been inducted three times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He ranked number 4 on the Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”, ranked number 5 on Time’s Magazine’s list of “The 10 Best Electric Guitar Players” in 2009 and also ranked number 4 on Gibson’s “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time”. He has received a total of 18 Grammy awards, sold more than 100 million records and 4 Ivor Novello Awards from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.
James Marshall Hendrix who was originally born as Johnny Allen Hendrix on November 27, 1942 in Seattle, Washington D.C, United States of America. He was an American singer, songwriter and rock guitarist with a fusion of blues, jazz and soul. Hendrix’s career lasted only for about 4 years, but he was described by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music”. He started playing the guitar at age 15, after which he signed up in the United States Army in 1961 but was discharged the next year, he later moved to Clarksville in Tennessee where he started playing gigs with the Isley Brothers and Little Richard up until mid 1965. he played with Curtis and the Squires and was discovered in a small New York City club after which he moved to England in September 1966.
In 1967, Jimi and his bane; The Jimi Hendrix Experience, earned their first 3 UK top ten hits: “Hey Joe”, “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary”. Jimi gained popularity in the U.S in 1967 after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival final and by 1968, his final studio album “Electric Ladyland” was number one.
Even though Jimi’s life was short, he made a great amount of influence in the rock and blues genres of music and other genres generally. Jimi was famous for his high volume overdrives and amplifiers, he was one of the first guitarists to really delve into tone-altering sounds through effects units like wah-wah, uni-vibe, Octavia etc. He was inspired by blues artists like B.B King, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Albert King and Howlin’ Wolf. He received several awards during his short lifetime and even after his death. He was voted as Pop Musician of the Year by Melody Maker in 1967, Artist of the Year by Billboard in 1968 and was declared Performer of the Year by Rolling Stone. In 1969, Disc and Music Echo awarded him World Top Musician, Guitar Player honoured him with Rock Guitarist of the Year
The Jimi Hendrix Experience was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. He ranked number1 on the Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and number 6 on “Greatest Artists of All Time”. Hendrix died at 27 on September 18, 1970 in London, England.
Joseph Leonard Bonamassa was born on May 8, 1977 in New Hartford in New York City and is still alive till date. The American blues rock singer, guitarist and songwriter who is well-known for his vast collection of vintage guitars and amps, began playing the guitar at a very tender age of 4. His father, who was a music enthusiast, encouraged him and helped him discover great blues legends like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix who were a great source of inspiration to Joe. Joe was guided and coached by American guitar legend Danny Gatton. At 12 years old, Joe had formed his own band called Smokin’ Joe Banamassa but only played on weekends as he attended school during weekdays. He played a 1972 crimson Fender Stratocaster which was given to him by his father and he named it “Rosie”.
In 1989 at age 12, Bonamassa opened for B.B King at about 20 shows. He performed on The Mickey Mouse House Club in 1991 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Bonamassa joined the Bloodline; a band that consisted of other musicians’ sons such as Erin Davis (Miles Davis’ drummer son),Waylon Krieger (Robby Krieger’s son), and Berry Oakley, Jr. (son of the Allman Brothers bassist). In 2000, A New Day Yesterday which was Joe’s debut studio album was produced by Tom Dowd and released, the album topped number 9 on the Billboard blues charts. His three studio albums reached number 1 on the Billboard blues charts between 2002 and 2006 while five made it to the top 10.
In 2009, he played at the Royal Albert Hall in London with Eric Clapton and Paul Jones as guests. In 2010, he featured a guest appearance by B.B King and released his first disc for the Premier Artists label, Black Rock. By March 26, 2013 Bonamassa released his live acoustic album An Acoustic Evening at the Vienna Opera House which was a fully acoustic show with an acoustic ensemble that was brought together by his producer Kevin Shirley.
Over the years, Bonamassa has played side by side with many reputable blues and rock musicians; he has released 15 solo albums in the last 13 years through his record label J&L Adventures; 11 have strived to reach number 1 on Billboard blues charts. He earned a Grammy awards nomination in 2013 and won a Blues Music Award in the ‘Instrumentalist – Guitar’ category in May, 2015.
Bonamassa’s live album and film Now Serving: Royal Tea Live From The Ryman would be released on June 11, 2021, which was gotten from his one-night-only concert at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee on September 20, 2020. $32,000 was raised for Bonamassa’s Fueling Musicians program when the show was live-streamed then and the funds have been used to sustain musicians who have been struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eric Gales was born in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A on October 29, 1974; an American blues-rock guitarist who learned to play the guitar at age 4 from his older brothers Eugene and Manuel (also known as Little Jimmy King). Eric learned to play the guitar upside-down even though he was not left handed, he got this idea from his left-handed brother who taught him how to play. In 1990, Eric signed with Elektra Records alongside his brother Eugene on the bass and Hubert Crawford on the drums; together, they released The Eric Gales Band (1991) and Picture of a Thousand Faces (1993).
Eric was named “Best New Artist” in 1991 by Guitar World Magazine reader’s poll. In 1994, he performed with Carlos Santana at Woodstock ’94. He formed an ally with both of his brothers in 1995 to record an album Left Hand Brand which was later released in 1996 and ascribed to The Gales Brothers. Gales released his own debut album in 2001 for MCA Records That’s What I Am. Under the Shrapnel Records label, Gales released the albums Crystal Vision (2006), The Psychedelic Underground (2007), The Story of My Life (2008), Layin’ Down the Blues (2009), Relentless (2010), Transformation (2011) and Live (2012).
Gales released his 15th studio album in 2017 which featured his mother and brother, and a host of other artists like Gary Clark Jr., Lance Lopez, Lauryn Hill, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram etc. Middle of the Road was Gales’ first album to ever appear on Billboard’s Blues chart which stood at number 4 and his next album, The Bookends which was produced by Matt Wallace, stood out at number 1. He won the Blues Music Award for ‘Blues Rock Artist of the Year’ on May 9, 2019 and won the second consecutive one in May, 2020.
John Clayton Mayer, an American guitarist, singer, record producer and songwriter was born on October 16, 1977 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States of America. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston for a short time and didn’t complete his studies before moving to Atlanta, Georgia. He played solo and with other bands in local clubs and later released his first debut EP Inside Wants Out in 1999. John signed with the Aware Record label after performing at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in 2000; the record label released John’s first full-length album Room for Squares (2001) which housed hit songs like “No Such Thing,” “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” and “Why Georgia.” Your Body Is A Wonderland got John Mayer a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2003.
Mayer’s next studio album Heavier Things followed in 2003 which did so well and gave him a spot at the top of the Billboard album chart, and one of the hit songs on the album – Daughters, won the Grammy Awards for Song of The Year. In 2005, Mayer came back to the blues and rock music that initially influenced him as a musician. He formed the John Mayer Trio; a blues and rock band with Pino Palladino and Steve Jordan; the band released a live album Try! in 2005 and it received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Album. His third studio album Continuum was released in 2006 which fetched him the Grammy award for Best Pop Vocal Album in 2007 and another Grammy for one of its singles Waiting on the World to Change as Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. The next album that followed was Battle Studies in 2009 with a Battle Studies World Tour which did astoundingly well and generated a whooping $45million.
John Mayer encountered episodes of disputes with the media which made him withdraw from the spotlight to concentrate on working on his fifth studio album Born and Raised. In 2011, a granuloma was discovered on his vocal cords, he had to undergo treatment which delayed the release of the album until May 2012 forcing him to cancel the planned tour. In January 2013, Mayer was completely healed and started his performance and tour as a singer again, he released his sixth studio album Paradise Valley and in 2017, he released his latest album The Search For Everything.
In 2015, Mayer joined the Dead & Company touring band which was made up of three former members of the Grateful Dead and two other musicians. The band is active and still goes on successful tours.
Albert Nelson, known professionally as Albert King, was one of “The Three Kings of Blues”; he was born on April 25, 1923 in Indianola, Mississippi. The American blues musician, guitarist and singer started his music journey as a child at a family gospel group where his father played the guitar. Albert was a major influence on both black and white blues guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush and Eric Clapton amongst others and had his own unique style and tone, one of which was his unmatched note bending technique. He moved to Arkansas when he was eight years old with his widowed mother and the rest of his family. As a child, he taught himself how to play the guitar and constructed his instrument using a cigar box. He was left handed, but played a right handed guitar upside down by reversing the strings such that the low E string was at the bottom.
Albert King moved to Gary Indiana in 1953 where he joined a Chicago-based music team consisting of Jimmy Reed and John Brim; Brim and Reed were guitarists, so he had to become the drummer in the group. He got his nickname “King” from B.B King’s “Three O’Clock Blues” after it became a major hit. He had an audition with Parrot Records through the help of Willie Dixon (bassist/songwriter) whom he met when he moved to Gary. The record label made his first recording “Bad Luck Blues” in 1953. he went back to Osceola in 1954, rejoined the Groove Boys and stayed there for 2 years.
In 1956, he moved to St. Louis where he performed in different clubs, playing his “Lucy” – the name he gave to his notable Gibson Flying V. He joined Stax Records in Memphis and released albums Born Under a Bad Sign (1967) and Live Wire/Blues Power (1968). Albert King’s style was copied by many other notable guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Joe Walsh. He toured at length and honoured appearances at the Montreux Jazz Festival in the 1970s.
Over the next decade, he released other albums San Francisco ’83 (1983), Laundromat Blues (1984), and I’m in a Phone Booth, Baby (1984). He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 (posthumously). He ranked number 13 on the Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
Albert King died suddenly of a fatal heart attack in December 21, 1992 in Memphis Tennessee.
Freddie King was born on September 3, 1934 in Gilmer, Texas. He was an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter who started out his music journey quite early in life. Taught by his uncle and mother as a child, he learned to play the guitar at age 6. Freddie King was motivated by Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, and Robert Jr. Lockwood while Freddie himself went on to motivate others like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Lonnie Mack, Mick Taylor, and a host of others. At 16 years of age, his family moved to Chicago where he got inspired by listening to other great blues legends in local blues clubs and started his own band “Every Hour Blues Boys” with Frank Scott as the drummer and Jimmie Lee Robinson as the guitarist.
Freddie King signed with Federal Records, a subsidiary of King Records after being rejected over and again by Chess Records and in August 1960, he recorded his first single You’ve Got to Love Her With a Feeling and and instrumental Hide Away which later became a blues standard in 1961 as it topped number 5 on the Billboard magazine’s rhythm and blues chart. His first album Freddie King Sings featured some record chart hits like “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling” and “I’m Tore Down”; he was one of the first blues guitarists multiracial group to back him up at live performances
In 1982, Freddie King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by ZZ Top in 2012. He ranked number 25 on the Rolling Stone’s magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and number 15 in the 2011 edition. His instrumental “Hide Away” made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of “500 Songs that Shaped Rock”.
Freddie King died at age 42 on December 28, 1976 due to complications from stomach ulcer and acute pancreatitis.