By: Pro Lessons
Greatest Blues Guitarists of All Time: A Review

Great blues guitar is relative to how much of a purist you are. “Down home” or delta blues, for example, is something completely different than, say, Texas blues or the more polished blues of Robben Ford. There’s almost categories of blues guitar like slide guitar should be a category of its own. Robert Johnson’s and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s slide work was different, though, than Duane Allman or the recent Ry Cooder and Derek Trucks. Past to present, there are a few blues men and women who have blazed the trail and given us something pure. Born of the “spirit,” the blues is a deep cry of the soul and as Mississippi Fred McDowell put it, “It’s a way to get things off your mind.” Let’s take a look at some of the greatest blues guitarists to ever pick up a guitar.

Robert Johnson

Reaching back to the roots of the blues, some sounds are just capsule-worthy. Blues icon Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” is more than legendary, it’s a national treasure. If you’re looking for music that is structurally perfect, forget it. Odd measures and musical expression free of barr lines and harmonic correctness is what you get with the down home blues. Maybe a lack of education is a good thing if it helped produce the raw soul-wrenching sounds of the delta. Hard times, cruel poverty, and cold-hearted women have given us a musical tonic that goes down smooth, but burns in a good way.

Aside from “Crossroads,” there are many Robert Johnson recordings out there. The vintage quality of the recordings themselves is part of the charm. Sick of listening to slick pop radio? Grab a collection of great blues guitarists like Robert Johnson and escape the postmodern world for a little while.



Mississippi Fred McDowell - Greatest Blues Guitarists

After Robert came greats like Mississippi Fred McDowell. Categorized as “Hill Country Blues,” McDowell’s sound was very reminiscent of the earlier blues recordings, but it had its own musical flare. The voice and the odd tunings helped carve out a place for one of the greatests blues guitarists of all time.

Anyone who plays slide guitar has been impacted by Fred McDowell. Slide guitar usually requires higher string action and Fred actually used an unwound 3rd or G string. Tuned Open E or A, Fred created a brand all his own and became one of the greatest blues guitarists ever. There’s no perfect science to blues guitar. It’s all about the feeling and the imperfection is all part of the charm.



Greatest Blues Guitarists of All Time: A Review

Stevie Ray Vaughan

The blues revival of the 80’s began to forge the sounds of traditional blues guitar players like Albert King, Muddy Waters, and those mentioned above with rock and roll. Stevie Ray gave us a mixed influence of Jimi Hendrix and Lonnie Mack. Still, the raw electric approach to the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughn bent the ear of countless music lovers. This Texas blues man seemed to embody a half century of trailblazing with the passion of a tent revivalist. He was also unconventional as he tuned his guitar down a whole step and used really big gauged strings.

Stevie has influenced more up-and-coming guitarists than just about anyone else. He put the blues on the radio, had chart-topping hit songs, sold millions of records, won a grammy, and earned the respect of guitar greats like Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and more. Stevie Ray Vaughn most certainly belongs in the discussion of greatest blues guitarists.



Eric Clapton

For much of its history, the blues have mostly been associated with the African American community. That’s not to say that other great musicians from other groups haven’t made their impact on the genre too. Eric Clapton has endured the 70’s and 80’s pop virus to become one of the most beloved guitarist of our time.

Clapton has remained a purist in his approach to music even when striving for mainstream radio. When one really listens to Eric play, you hear tasteful melody carefully bent and shaped to compliment those who inspired him. Sometimes called “the slow hand,” Eric is humble about his steady approach to the fretboard. Make no mistake, though, he has a very deep dictionary of riffs and, when he does play a speedy lick, it’s tasteful and in the pocket. Anybody in the know appreciates this about him. Eric Clapton is by far one of the greatest blues guitarists of our time.



B. B. King

The late great B. B. King is an absolute legend. Need we say more?

B. B. gave us nearly half a century of classic blues. Called “The King of the Blues,” B. B. King released over 50 albums. From playing on street corners for dimes to playing on the biggest stages in the world, B. B. King reached legendary status as one of the greatest blues guitarists and left a legacy for musicians to aspire to.

“Just be yourself” seemed to be his theme. With his quick and quivery vibrato on the string to his contorted faces, he just was who he was and people couldn’t get enough. After narrowly escaping a club fire to save his guitar, he found out it was over a woman named Lucille. He then began to call his guitar by the name as a reminder that ain’t no women worth fighting over. B. B. King brought a lot of class to the blues and showed up dressed nicely. His suits were as sharp as his playing. We will remember B. B. King as one of the best musicians ever.



Robben Ford

As anyone would be, Robben Ford would feel humbled to be included with the names above. While not as known by the masses, Robben has had the attention of guitar players and fans around the world since the 80’s. His mix of blues, rock, and jazz has his name in contention to be one of the greatest blues guitarists out there. Ford’s “Robben Ford and the Blue Line” CD has been called the best blues recording of all time. It’s Robben’s Tone and soulful blend of raw blues and jazz that makes you laugh out loud as he rips into some those outrageous solos of his. Robben is a smooth singer and his smooth hands make him one of the most revered guitarists in the world. Robben is a modern blues man with all the spirit of the old guys.



Derek Trucks

If you’re young and just getting into the blues, you may have been introduced by a younger blues man like Derek Trucks. Without a doubt, the first time you hear him, you will stop in your tracks and then the next time, and the next. No two guitarists are alike, but Derek Trucks with his slide can wow the most accomplished player. He is smooth and his pitch is impeccable. Derek has earned great respect among his contemporaries. You’ll see him with folks like Eric Clapton and many more. There hasn’t been a slide player in our time as lyrical as Derek Trucks. He is relentless and his lick depth is endless.



We all know that there are many more who deserve to be in the running for the greatest blues guitarists. Feel free to make your own list. If you do, it’s likely to include amazing musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and more. Some are purists and others are a breed of rock and blues etc., but they deserve to be in the running for the greatest blues guitarist.

No matter what genre of music you hope to play on guitar, you’re going to need lessons to reach your full potential. At Pro Lessons, our instructors have shared their talents in pop, country, blues, and more as they travel the countryside. To find out how you can take advantage of our affordable online guitar lessons, click on the link below.


New Call-to-action