19 of the best blues guitarists of all time King King King and more

Today, I’m looking at 19 of the best blues guitarists of all time. Some of the names in this list will be familiar to many of you. Some, not so much. I’m sure the die-hard blues lovers amongst you won’t see anything particularly new here, but this article will hopefully introduce some people to new and interesting music which was created by some of the greatest blues musicians who have ever lived.

The list is in no particular order and no further introduction is necessary. Let’s jump right in and start with the man who, legend has it, sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his musical talent.

best blues guitarists Robert Johnson

best blues guitarists robert johnson

The list opens with the legend that is Robert Johnson. Robert Leroy Johnson was born in 1911 and died in 1938. Johnson has influenced many musicians and is considered a master of blues. Musicians such as Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix have all listed Robert Johnson as influential. Johnson is undoubtably a pioneer and one of the greatest of all time.

best blues guitarists Howlin’ Wolf

Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Arthur Burnett) was born in 1910 and died in 1976. He was a blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player originally from Mississippi. He moved to Chicago as an adult where he would achieve success. Rolling Stone ranked Howlin’ Wolf highly on their Greatest Artists of All-Time list and several of his recordings became blues standards including Smokestack Lightnin’, Killing Floor and Spoonful.

best blues guitarists T-Bone Walker

Aaron Thibeaux (T-Bone) Walker was born in 1910 and died in 1975. He was an American blues musician and multi-instrumentalist and a blues pioneer. T-Bone Walker is another musician named in the Rolling Stone list of Greatest musicians of all time. Walker was named by Chuck Berry as a main influence, and B.B. King stated that Walker’s recording of Stormy Monday was his inspiration for buying an electric guitar.

best blues guitarists Albert King

best blues guitarists albert king

Albert Nelson (1923-1992), known by his stage name Albert King was an American blues guitarist and singer whose music influenced many other blues guitarists. King’s 11 track album entitled Born Under a Bad Sign is definitely a must listen for blues fanatic. The left-handed King was known for his deep and dramatic sound.

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best blues guitarists Buddy Guy

George “Buddy” Guy was once described by Eric Clapton as the best guitar player alive. The American blues guitarist and singer was a big influence for many guitar players that not only included Clapton, but also Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck and John Mayer. Guy is another entrant that was included in Rolling Stone’s Greatest Musicians list and his song Stone Crazy was also included in their 100 Greatest Guitar Songs list.

best blues guitarists Joe Bonamassa

best blues guitarists joe bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa born 1977 is an American blues rock guitarist and singer/songwriter. He started his career at the young age of 12 where he opened for B.B King. Since then, Bonamassa has gone on to release a multitude of albums, many of which have reached number 1 on the Billboard Blues charts. Bonamassa has played alongside many notable blues and rock artists and he is known among guitarists for his extensive collection of vintage guitars and amplifiers.

best blues guitarists Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is one of the names on this list that doesn’t require an introduction. Born in 1945, Clapton is an English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He’s referred to as one of the most important and influential guitarists of all time and features highly on pretty much every list that refers to great guitarist players.

best blues guitarists Jimmy Reed

Mathis James Reed (1925-1976) had a style of electric blues that was popular with blues and non-blues audiences alike. He had a number of successful songs which appeared on the Hot 100 singles charts including Honest I Do, Baby What You Want Me to Do, Big Boss Man and Bright Lights Big City. Reed influenced musicians such as Elvis Presley, Hank Williams JR and the Rolling Stones.

best blues guitarists Jimi Hendrix

Next, is another entry that requires no introduction. James Marshall “Jim” Hendrix (born Johnny Allen Hendrix) was born in 1942 and died in 1970. He is widely regarded as one of, if not the greatest guitarist in the history of popular music despite a relatively short music career. The music of Jimi Hendrix continues to influence people to this day.

best blues guitarists Skip James

Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James (1902-1969) was an American delta blues singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter. His guitar playing is noted for its dark minor-key sound, played in open D tuning with an intricate fingerpicking technique. If you’d like to experience the sound of Skip James, I recommend the tracks Devil Got My Woman and Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues.

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best blues guitarists Lightnin’ Hopkins

Samuel John “Lightnin’” Hopkins (1912-1982) was an American country blues singer, songwriter, guitarist and pianist from Centerville, Texas who was included in Rolling Stone’s greatest guitar players of all time. Hopkins used a distinctive fingerstyle technique incorporating both bass and percussion. His songs followed the 12-bar format and his phrasing is described as free and loose.

Muddy Waters

McKinley Morganfield (1913-1983), known as Muddy Waters, was an American blues singer-songwriter and was an important figure in the post-war blues scene. He is cited as the father of modern Chicago blues and he was an influence on some big artists. The Rolling Stones named themselves after the Muddy Waters song Rollin’ Stone and he was also named as an influence by Eric Clapton.

John Lee Hooker

Multi Grammy Award winning John Lee Hooker (1912-2001) was an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist who rose to prominence performing an electric guitar style adaption of delta blues. Some of his best-known songs include Boogie Chillen, Crawling King Snake, Dimples, Boom Boom, One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer. Several of his albums such as The Healer, Mr Lucky, Chill Out, and Don’t Look Back were chart successes.

Elmore James

Elmore James (1918-1963) was an American blues guitarist and singer / song writer. He was known as the king of the slide guitar and was noted for his use of loud amplification. James played a wide variety of blues which had a distinct sound thanks to the uniqueness of his guitar tone. He was an influence on many slide guitarists and also rock guitarists such as Brian Jones. 

Freddie King

Freddie King (1934-1976) was an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter who is considered to be one of the “3 kings of the blues” alongside Albert King and B.B King. King is known for his soulful and powerful voice and distinctive guitar playing and he would prove to be a major influence on electric blues music and many later blues guitarists. See this article on my review of the Freddie King album Let’s Hide Away and Dance Away With Freddy King.

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B.B. King

best blues guitarists bb king

There’re 2 huge names left on this list of the best blues guitarists and B.B. King is one of them. Riley B. King (1925-2015) introduced a sophisticated style of guitar soloing based on incredible technique that influenced many later guitarists and continues to do so till this day. AllMusic recognised King as the most important electric guitarist of the last half of the 20th century. That statement is hard to disagree with.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

best blues guitarists rosetta tharpe

Peter Allen Greenbaum (1946-2020) was an English blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist and was the founder of Fleetwood Mac. Songs such as Albatross, Black Magic Woman, Oh Well, and Man of the World would all prove successful. Eric Clapton praised his guitar playing and B.B King stated that “he has the sweetest tone I ever heard”.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Today’s list comes to an end with another head on the Mount Rushmore of blues. Stephen Ray Vaughan (1954-1990) is considered an icon and one of the most influential musicians in the history of blues and one of the greatest guitar players of all time.  For evidence of why this is true, listen to the track Pride and Joy which is one of my personal favourite blues songs ever.

What next?

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Or, if you want more blues based guitar content, you could try this article/guitar lesson on the 8 bar blues, 16 bar blues and the 24 bar blues. 

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