January 26, 2022
No list of top musicians is ever without controversy, passionate arguments, and frustrations, but we’ve managed to bring our personal and professional preferences together to finalise our list of the top 10 best blues rock guitarists of all time. We hope you enjoy it!
What are our criteria?
So, what exactly makes someone one of the best blues guitarists? We looked at criteria that included their lasting contribution to this exceptional music genre, their professional career as a blues guitarist, and that special x-factor that made them stand out above all others. We looked at the trailblazers, the innovators, the ones that pushed boundaries – and the ones that continue to influence blues rock as it is today. So, in no particular order, let’s start!
1. Robert Johnson
Regarded as the father of blues music, Robert Johnson shaped the future of icons revered through the many decades after his passing, from Jimi Hendrix and Muddy Waters to the Rolling Stones. A true legend in every sense of the word, Johnson was a multi talented singer, songwriter, and musician. He’s widely considered to have been born before his time, having achieved moderate success during his career and legendary status only decades later as rock ‘n roll took off. Eric Clapton calls him “the most important blues singer that ever lived”, his guitar licks have inspired countless blues rock musicians, and as legend has it, he sold his soul to the devil and epitomised Mississippi Delta blues to the bargain.
2. BB King
Famed for his fluttering vibrato, BB King continues to be a source of inspiration and reverence to blues and rock guitarists. His lead guitar solos have an exceptional conversational tone that is purely his own, a way to help pace lyrics and make your point without overwhelming or losing your audience, bringing the story and music together to create an intimate partnership. From the legendary BB Box, butterfly vibrato and use of outside notes to his ability to play throwaway notes and conversational call-and-response techniques, King created a unique sound and techniques that have become essential for any blue rock musician to master.
3. Jimi Hendrix
James Marshall Hendrix, better known as Jimi, is almost without question the greatest guitarist of all time. Born in 1942, the self-taught rhythm and blues guitarist became a ground-breaking rockstar in his own right as part of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. He was known for exploiting open strings, using double-stops, trills, slides and more to create funk-filled and uncommon chord formations. His sensuous, exotic playing, and extended solos filled with ragged, soaring, and rhythmically driving notes are as unique as when he first performed and led to him becoming a powerful symbol for the 1960s youth counterculture movement.
4. Bonnie Raitt
Loved by BB King, Bonnie Raitt is known as one of the best slide players around. Using a glass slide across a Fender Stratocaster tuned to an open chord, she delivers a sensuous, tough, and emotionally complex sound from her guitar, establishing herself as a rock ‘n roll legend up there with Joni Mitchell, the Eagles, and other legends of the 70s. She’s known for using her guitar style to mimic and enhance her voice, creating exceptional complexity and daring in her performance.
5. Jimmy Page
Recognised as one of the top 3 greatest guitarists of all time, Jimmy Page brought an incredible technique, sophistication and nuance to the sweat, raw energy, and wildness of rock ‘n roll. His riffs are as tricky as they are iconic, with a deceptive complexity that’s difficult to emulate to get the Led Zeppelin axe slinger’s flair. Page is especially well-known for his ability to smear notes, stay on the beat and intonation and complete phrases at a frenetic pace.
6. Muddy Waters
Lauded for almost single-handedly launching the Chicago electric guitar blues scene in the 40s and 50s, bringing an exciting level of showmanship into his guitar-playing. He coined several iconic techniques that are still revered today, including the Muddy Waters slide lick, his is a raw and truthful brand of blues rock that relied on his style and energy rather than specific blues guitars, pedals, and amps.
7. Eric Clapton
A forefather of the British blues rock movement, Eric Clapton shaped blues rock on both sides of the Atlantic, bringing new life into the American scene. Inspired by American forefathers of the genre, he added his own unique take that continues to inspire musicians today. Key to his performance and style is his reliance on power, speed, tailoring volume controls, delicate vibrato, and intensity.
8. Buddy Guy
Dramatic and eye-catching, Buddy Guy launched his blues career in the 50s and never looked back. He’s influenced Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, John Mayer and more, mixing modern and traditional to create his own, unique flair. His style is known for surprising and captivating the listener by pulling in influences from jazz, rock, and soul, and using fiery blues licks and aggressive pentatonic style in his playing.
9. Carlos Santana
One of the smoothest guitar players of all time, Carlos Santana brings a rich and deceptively simple style to every melody. It’s not quite rock and it’s not quite blues, but its powerful influence on both make his music a real contender on our list. With an infusion of Latin and Jazz, his blues rock music is all about long, sustained notes, simple phrases, tremolo pricking and well-placed bends.
10. Tony Iommi
For guitar players, deft and agile fingers are essential – but Tony Iommi pulls off the most incredible career even with the loss of the tips of his middle and ring fingers on his right hand. This impacted his playing style and created its unique challenges that shaped his music. The master of riffs recontextualised styles and techniques from the blues and rock genres, making them darker, heavier, and more intense – becoming one of the fathers of heavy metal rock. With a combination of sinister tones, jazzy trills, and lightning-fast single-note soloing, Tony Lommi showcases how old blues rock can become new again.
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