Blues music is what put the guitar on the map and brought it out of a supporting role and into the limelight as an instrument. The early guitar sounds of blues set the stage for rock music as we know it and influenced artists across nearly every genre we have in our libraries today. Each distinct style of blues music would add new elements to other genres, building up some of the most emotional and powerful sounds ever created by music artists.
In this article, we’ll go over the 31 best, most influential, and most important guitarists in blues music.
1. B.B. King
B.B. King is perhaps the greatest blues guitarist of all time and one of the most influential figures in the genre’s history. He, along with Freddie King and Albert King (none of the three are related), have earned the shared title of the Three Kings of Blues Guitar. His use of complex soloing styles has influenced electric guitar players for decades, with AllMusic recognizing him as the most important electric guitar player of the 20th century.
The King of Blues’ resume is staggering, racking up 15 Grammy Award wins, inductions into the Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and several Honorary Doctorates of Music. It’s impossible not to talk about blues music or the guitar as an instrument without including him in the conversation as one of the greatest to ever do it. Outside of King’s personal career, he fostered and scouted numerous blues talents and influenced generations of musicians with his guitar playing.
2. Freddie King
Another of the Three Kings of Blues Guitar, Freddie King’s skill with the guitar saw him ranked in the top 25 on Rolling Stone’s 2003 and 2011 lists of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time. His powerful voice combined with guitar chords that were almost too sharp became an inspiration for other great guitarists like Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor.
King’s instrumental version of his track Hide Away is on the list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and is celebrated as one of the standards of blues music. This Titan of Blues earned inductions into both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame and was one of the first major blues artists to feature a multiracial backing band in his performances.
3. Albert King
Last but certainly not least member of the Three Kings of Blues Guitar, Albert King produced some of the most dramatic and deeply-layered sounds ever heard on an electric guitar. His most notable album, Born Under A Bad Sign, would become one of the most influential and heavily referenced pieces of blues music in history.
Other great guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix pointed to King as one of their biggest influences in music. He’s been inducted into the Rock and Roll, Blues, and Memphis Music Halls of Fame and appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time in 2011 at the number 13 spot.
4. Robert Johnson
Robert Johnson’s short career saw him outclass every other musician of his time and show off his superhuman skill as a guitarist. His seven-month recording career and 29 song releases would make him a true master of the blues and named the first-ever rock star by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was so good that critics at the time claimed he made more acclaimed musicians sound like over-accomplished poseurs.
Much of his personal life is unknown due to only having a small following during his short life. Some say he sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads in exchange for his supreme musical skill, though that’s because the lack of knowledge about his life makes him a shrouded but legendary figure. Johnson was one of the earliest blues musicians and set the stage for guitarists that came after him. The significance of his two recording sessions is so important to music history that he was inducted into the Rock and Roll, Grammy, and Blues Halls of Fame posthumously.
5. Lightnin’ Hopkins
Lightnin’ Hopkins ranks as one of the most talented guitarists of all time because of the signature way he played the guitar. He was able to play rhythm, bass, lead, and percussion all at the same time, while also hitting his guitar to keep time and create his own rhythmic accompaniment. He would go on to record more albums than any other musician in blues music and even served as Houston’s poet-in-residence for over 35 years.
The lyrics he composed were full of double entendres, and he dealt with heavy topics like segregation and bad relationships with wit and humor. His skill on guitar would go on to help influence not only blues music but also lay the groundwork for jazz and rock guitarists. Rolling Stone listed him in their 2010 list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time at number 71, and in 1980, Hopkins was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
6. Howlin’ Wolf
Howlin’ Wolf had a 40-year career in music and was one of the most important people to help blend Chicago and Delta blues music. One of the best-known Chicago blues artists of all time, he would become an influential artist in both the blues and rock music scenes. The 2011 Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time ranked him at number 54, and three of his tracks are listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
He would go on to be inducted into five separate Halls of Fame, the Rock and Roll, Memphis Music, Mississippi Musicians, and twice into the Blues Hall of Fame. During Wolf’s career, he toured with greats like Robert Johnson and Sonny Williams, and before his death, he recorded an album with B.B. King.
7. John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker would develop his own boogie style of blues by incorporating elements of talking blues, an electric guitar style of Delta blues, and borrowing from the piano-centric boogie-woogie style. He was able to break into not only the US charts but the UK ones as well, thanks to touring Europe as part of the American Folk Blues Festival. While overseas, he would work with a few different bands, including the British rock-blues group The Groundhogs.
Despite being illiterate, he was the primary writer for many of his songs and a celebrated lyricist. Hooker was inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame and his track Boogie Chillen was named one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time ranked him as number 35.
8. Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan is another virtuoso guitarist who could make one guitar sound like multiple instruments by playing the rhythm, bass, and lead at the same time. His best-known work is as the frontman of the trio Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble where he rose to prominence in the Austin music scene. In the US alone, they managed over 15 million record sales.
After being discovered by David Bowie, the group would go on to sign with major record labels and had a seven-year career before Vaughan’s untimely death in a helicopter accident. Rolling Stone ranked him as the seventh-best guitar player of all time and Guitar World magazine ranked him as the best blues guitar player ever. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Blues Hall of Fame.
9. Buddy Guy
Described by Eric Clapton as “the greatest guitar player alive” at one point, Buddy Guy was another one of the greats to come out of the Chicago blues scene. He could play everything from standard 12-bar blues to avant-garde jazz and became one of the most flamboyant performers of his time. He was one of the first artists to break the unspoken rule that songs should last three minutes at a maximum and included extended instrumental solos in his tracks.
Despite his skill, Guy didn’t see commercial success until later in life, spending his early career as a session musician backing names like Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Howlin’ Wolf. Even at the ripe old age of 85, he is still producing music and performing. Of his eight Grammy Award wins, two came as recently as 2015 and 2018.
10. Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s signature gospel recordings would influence rhythm and blues, early rock and roll, and jazz artists. Her first record is cited as being the first rock and roll record or the precursor to rock and roll, depending on who you ask. She would also become one of the first artists to push gospel music into the mainstream spotlight and pioneered the gospel-pop genre.
One of the key elements to set Tharpe apart was the use of heavy distortion, a technique that would later be used by Jimi Hendrix and inspire the likes of Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Her contributions to music would see her inducted into the Blues and Rock and Roll Hall of Fames, as well as earn her the title of Godmother of Rock and Roll.
11. T-Bone Walker
T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday is one of the biggest reasons B.B. King picked up an electric guitar in the first place, and his music is one of the biggest influences on greats like Chuck Berry. His showmanship with the guitar would inspire others to pick up his tricks like playing behind his back and picking strings with his teeth.
Walker was one of the first artists to turn the electric guitar into a solo instrument, and in doing so, he pioneered electric blues. Rolling Stone ranked him at number 67 on their 2018 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and Walker would eventually be inducted into both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame.
12. Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters is easily one of the most important musicians in post-war blues and is often cited as the Father of Modern Chicago Blues. His bands would become a breeding ground for some of the best blues talent during his time. His song Rollin’ Stone was the inspiration for the Rolling Stones’ band name and other hits like I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man would cement him as one of the most prolific blues artists of the 1940s.
Throughout the 1950s, his singles were regularly featured on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues charts. Toward the end of his career, he went on to tour Europe alongside other blues artists like Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Waters would go on to win six Grammy Awards, have four tracks included in the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, and be inducted into the Blues, Rock and Roll, and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Halls of Fame.
13. Joe Bonamassa
Joe Bonamassa is one of the newer kids on the block in terms of blues guitarists to make this list. Despite starting his career at the age of 12 in 1989, he’s produced one of the largest bodies of work in blues music. As a solo artist, he has 15 albums released through independent labels, with 11 of them reaching the number-one spot on Billboard’s Blues chart. In total, he’s been featured on or released more than 45 albums that have constantly evolved the sound of modern blues music.
Bonamassa started out as an opener for B.B. King at the age of 12. Today, he’s credited with being a key figure in keeping blues music alive, and well, creating the independent record label Keeping The Blues Alive Records in 2020. Working with various high-profile blues artists throughout his career, he has accrued three Grammy Award nominations.
14. Robert Cray
After seeing Freddie King, Albert Collins, and Muddy Waters in concert, Robert Cray was inspired to form his own band. His accolades include induction into the Blues Hall of Fame and an Americana Music Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance, as well as five Grammy Award wins. His career can’t be summed up in his 20 released albums, as he did a lot of work, both credited and uncredited, for films like National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978 and Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll in 1987. His influence as a guitarist has also netted him two signature Stratocaster models with Fender.
15. Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry is one of the most important figures in all of music history and is credited with pioneering the entire rock and roll genre. The Father of Rock and Roll developed elements of rhythm and blues into what we know as classic rock music, using the guitar as a leading instrument and penning classic songs like Johnny B. Goode and Roll Over Beethoven.
His guitar solos and showmanship had a major influence on blues, rock, and blends of the two genres in the second half of the 20th century, and he was one of the first to incorporate electronic sounds into his tracks. Berry is listed on several of Rolling Stones’ Greatest of All Time Lists, including Greatest Artist and Greatest Guitarist. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened its doors in 1986, he was among its inaugural class of members, and his song Johnny B. Goode is the only rock track included on the Voyager Golden Record.
16. Jimmy Reed
As one of the first blues musicians to switch from acoustic to electric guitar, Jimmy Reed is one of the forefathers of electric and modern blues music. He was one of the greatest blues guitarists to do it, but that doesn’t mean his style was complex. He is noted as one of the most important blues figures in history because his style of playing was easy for others to pick up, allowing other inspired artists to mimic his sound.
Many of the musicians he influenced would cover his songs, including The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and Hank WIlliams Jr. The hit single Baby What You Want Me To Do was the most popular track of his to be covered, with over 30 versions available online. Reed would go on to be posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame.
17. Albert Collins
The Iceman was one of the best Fender Telecaster players of all time and used a capo to help produce altered tunings and a distinctive style of electric guitar playing. His performances were among the first in which a performer would leave the stage and mingle with audiences while still playing, with one unconfirmed report that he left a club to buy a candy bar with the audience following him and never stopped the show.
Albert Collins was one of the biggest influences in blues for Texas musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan and was integral in helping shape modern blues styles. Rolling Stone ranked him at number 56 on one of their lists of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
18. Son House
After spending time as a preacher, Son House would begin to play the blues in his own unique style. The raw emotion that comes through in a fiery sermon would go on to become part of his trademark sound. His influence in his local area helped define the Delta blues sound and inspire artists like Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson.
During his short career, his music was so impressive that Charley Patton invited him to play at the same venues and record together at Paramount Records. House would go on to be honored with a marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail and have his single Preachin’ The Blues inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
19. Samantha Fish
Though she started her career as a member of the trio Girls With Guitars, Samantha Fish would go on to start a solo career in 2012. Her debut album, Runaway, won her the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist. She has produced seven solo albums, covering multiple genres from rock to country and funk to bluegrass. No matter which direction she takes her work, she is in tune with the foundational blues elements that influenced her musical education.
Her work has earned her numerous awards from blues music outlets like the Independent Blues Awards, Blues Music Awards, and Best of the Beat Awards. Five of her albums, Wild Heart, Chills And Fever, Belle Of The West, Kill Or Be Kind, and Faster all reached the top of the blues album charts.
20. Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. plays the guitar in a similar style to the likes of B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s known for fusing blues, rock, and soul music into one beautiful style while also sprinkling in some elements of hip hop and jazz. He has recorded and performed with numerous big names like ZZ Top, Foo Fighters, Tech N9ne, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King.
His prolific guitar skills have netted him four Grammy Award wins with two additional nominations and an award for Contemporary Blues Male Artist of the Year from the Blues Music Awards. Clark’s work has also been featured in television and film, with spots on Longmire, Deepwater Horizon, and Justice League.
21. Keb’ Mo’
This musician’s post-modern blues style has been influenced by numerous genres, from folk to pop and rock to country. His stage name Keb’ Mo’ was picked up by his record label as an abbreviation of his full name, Kevin Roosevelt Moore. The Nashville-based singer, songwriter, and guitarist is also a political advocate, both as a member of the No Nukes group and spending time touring as part of the Vote For Change movement.
His career has earned him five Grammy Award wins, four for contemporary blues albums and one for Best Americana album. In addition to his wins, Mo’ has been nominated for Grammy Awards seven other times. His style is quintessential Delta blues, though he’s best known for being able to seamlessly blend those tones with jazz, folk, country, pop, and rock.
22. Hubert Sumlin
During his time with Howlin’ Wolf’s band, Hubert Sumlin would gain recognition for advancing Chicago blues and going outside normal conventions with his guitar playing. He’s best known for the crashing notes and cliffhanger silences he included in his music, which pushed the envelope for what was possible with rhythm guitar. After Wolf’s death, he would continue to play in the Wolf Gang and as a solo artist.
In total, Sumlin was nominated for four Grammy Awards and would become a judge at the fifth annual Independent Music Awards. In 2008, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, and he’s been ranked by Rolling Stone on their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, coming in at number 43.
23. Otis Rush
The distinctive sound Otis Rush produced has been attributed to the odd way he played guitar. While a left-handed player, he strung guitars with the low E string at the bottom, and he played with his little finger curled under that string to hold his hands in place. His sound became known as West Side Chicago blues and became a defining influence for artists like Peter Green and Eric Clapton.
Rush’s first-ever single would climb to the sixth spot on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart. On Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, he came in at number 53. His contributions to music would go on to see him honored by the Jazz Foundation of America with a Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
24. Roy Buchanan
Praised by Guitar Player as one of the 50 Greatest Tones of All Time, Roy Buchanan never achieved individual stardom but became a major influence on the blues genre and guitar players across numerous genres. A pioneer in his field, he is credited with developing the signature Telecaster sound.
Despite his relatively unknown skill (for a while at least), Buchanan would release two gold albums at the beginning of his career and two more that would make it onto Billboard charts. To achieve his tones, he’s known to have used all kinds of odd techniques. He would use his thumbnail instead of a pick to pluck, avoid effects pedals, and even slit the paper cones of his amplifier.
25. Eric Clapton
The only reason Eric Clapton would appear this far down on any list of the greatest guitar players is that he’s more of a rock musician than a blues one, which is the focus of this article. He is widely recognized as one of the best guitar players of all time, with only the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards coming close. He’s the only three-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, once as a solo artist, as a member of the Yardbirds, and as a member of Cream.
Clapton’s early inspiration and start as a musician was as a blues rock guitarist. The list of accolades and awards he has won is numerous, with 280 million worldwide record sales, multiple Lifetime Achievement Awards, and 18 wins at the Grammy Awards. His contributions to music are second-to-none, paving the way for the aggressive and loud playing styles of modern rock by incorporating blues elements into his music.
26. Eric Gales
A child prodigy, Eric Gales is one of the biggest names in blues rock today. Alongside his 19 album releases, he’s done session work and contributed to albums by Prophet Posse and Three 6 Mafia under pseudonyms. He began playing guitar at the age of four by listening to B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and Albert King. While right-handed, his teacher and brother taught him to play like a leftie, which technically means he plays a right-handed guitar upside down.
Guitar World Magazine’s reader poll named him the Best New Talent in 1991, with Paralyzed and Sign Of The Storm both being radio rock hits. He would go on to win Blues Rock Artist of the Year in 2019 and 2020 and has two albums reach the top of the Blues Album charts. His 2021 album featured collaborations with other great modern blues artists like Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith, debuting at number one on the Blues Album charts from Billboard.
27. Bonnie Raitt
In 1989, Bonnie Raitt finally broke into the mainstream with her album Nick Of Time, which was able to reach number one on the Billboard 200 chart and won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year. She’s described as a roots-influenced artist, drawing on elements of blues, folk, country, and rock. In total, she’s won 10 Grammy Awards and been honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Rolling Stone named Raitt to both their 100 Greatest Singers of All Time and their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. The Billboard Women in Music Awards granted her the Icon Award, and she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
28. Christone Ingram
Also known as Kingfish, Christone Ingram is the youngest entry on the list. Born in 1999, he was a child prodigy and is a virtuoso musician who’s opened for blues artists like Samantha Fish, Buddy Guy, and Eric Gales. By the time he was 11, he had appeared and played on both the Rachael Ray and Steve Harvey shows.
His first two albums brought him a lot of success, with his debut album winning five Blues Music Awards and the second winning the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. His skill is widely recognized and earned him a custom guitar line from Fender, the Kingfish Telecaster Deluxe. Ingram is also an inspiration as a musician because he has Asperger’s Syndrome.
29. Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter was the producer behind three Muddy Waters albums that would go on to win Grammy Awards. A blues rock guitarist in his own right, four of his own blues albums were also nominated for Grammy Awards. In 2003, he would be ranked number 53 on Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame, becoming the first person not of African-American descent to join their ranks.
One of the first blues-rock virtuosos and best known for high-energy blues-rock performances, Winter would continue to perform for live audiences until his death in 2014. Interestingly enough, he and his brother were involved in a lawsuit against DC Comics due to believing Jonah Hex: Riders Of The Worm And Such portrayed them in a poor light.
30. Derek Trucks
The nephew of the Allman Brothers Band’s drummer and one of the best slide guitar players in the world today, Derek Trucks was inducted into music at an early age. Instead of playing blues guitar with specific notes and chords, he tries to mimic voice lines in songs, giving his guitar an almost-human quality when playing. Two separate times, he’s appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time and has even toured as a member of Eric Clapton’s band.
Trucks’ own band won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2010 for Already Free, and he was among the Allman Brothers Band members to accept the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys in 2012.
31. Billy Gibbons
The primary vocalist and guitarist of the legendary ZZ Top, Billy Gibbons is known for his bluesy and groovy style of playing the guitar and lengthy beard. He started out his career in a band called the Moving Sidewalks and opened four times for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. By 1969, he joined Dusty Hill and Frank Beard to form ZZ Top, and together, they refined a unique style of blues rock.
They found incredible success and became pop culture icons. Gibbons appeared with them in numerous spots on television, in films, and in collaborations with other artists. ZZ Top has achieved six number-one singles, become Official Heroes for the State of Texas, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Hollywood’s RockWalk.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
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