Can white boys play the blues?
Blues-rock typically refers to white artists of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, who picked up the mantle of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King and many more, to create an enormously popular style of electrified blues. Blues-rock is essentially a blend of blues and rock: the guitar has a faster and heavier sound than Chicago blues and includes extended jams, influenced in part by Psychedelic rock.
The most significant early figure in blues-rock is John Mayall, who, having formed the Bluesbreakers in the mid-1960’s went on to employ some of the most important young musicians of his generation: Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, Mick Taylor and many others. Members of the Bluesbreakers would go on to form the most influential bands of the 70’s, including Cream, Savoy Brown, Free and Fleetwood Mac.
Alex Korner is also considered to be a critical figure who’s band, Blues Incorporated included Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, Danny Thompson (later of Pentangle), Dick Heckstall-Smith (later of Colloseum). Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart were also young fans of who would sometimes play with the band. These artists, initially inspired by blues-rock, would go on to become the rock heroes of the 1970’s.
Other notable blues-rock heroes are Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Irishman, Rory Gallagher, ex-Procol Harum guitarist, Robin Trower, Texan Johnny Winter and Canned Heat.
One paradoxical outcomes of the Blues-Rock explosion of this period was the renewal of interest in black musicians. Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Koko Taylor and Ronnie Earl became international figures, due to the popularity of blues-rock amongst white audiences and due to the active support of blues-rock artists.
Blues-rock stagnated in the mid-1970’s, due in part to the rising popularity of southern rock, hard rock and heavy metal. In the 1980’s the major stars was Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, replaced by the Black Crowes, the Black Keys, Gov’t Mule and Joe Bonamassa in the 90’s. Joe Bonamassa is particularly reminiscent of the early heroes of Blues-Rock, earning him Guitar One Magazine’s accolade as the best guitarist of his generation.
Here are ten tracks to get you started
1. Whiskey Headed Woman Tommy Bolin
2. Bad Penny Rory Gallagher
3. Have You Ever Loved a Woman Eric Clapton
4. Ramblin on My Mind John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
5. Born in Chicago Paul Butterfield Blues Band
6. The Sky is Crying Stevie Ray Vaughn
7. Endless Parade Gov’t Mule
8. Current Situation Joe Bonamassa
9. Be Careful With a Fool Johnny Winter
10. Tell Mama Savoy Brown
Image: Courtesy Deram