Essential Blues Guitar Albums

B.B. King at the Crossroads Festival in 2010
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This list of essential blues guitar albums contains names that you'd expect like B.B. King, Robert Johnson, and Eric Clapton, but there might be a few surprises here and there. If you'd like to add to the list, be sure to share your comments below, and I'll add your suggestions to the page. And now, my list of essential blues albums . . .

Albert Collins - Ice Pickin'

Though Albert Collins had been on the scene for quite some time before this album was released, it was the 1978 Ice Pickin' that in some ways introduced Albert Collins to the musical world. The album captured Collins' unique style very well and contains many amazing tracks, including the instrumental "Ice Pick" and the powerful "When the Welfare Turns its Back on You."

Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign

This album was King's second studio release, but it is widely considered his best work and includes the title track as well as other blues classics ("Crosscut Saw," "Oh Pretty Woman," "The Hunter," and "Laundromat Blues," just to name a few). This album, his first release under the Stax label and featuring Booker T. & the MGs as the "backing band," introduced the blues to a whole new generation. King's raw, powerful guitar sound influenced numerous blues and rock guitarists, particularly Eric Clapton.

B.B. King - Live At The Regal

Picking a single B.B. King album is a tough choice, but it's widely agreed that this is not only his best album, but one of the best blues albums around, period. With tunes like "Every Day I Have the Blues" and "Sweet Little Angel," this live blues masterpiece captures why B.B. King was indeed the king of the blues and why this album earned a spot on our list of essential blues guitar albums.

Blind Lemon Jefferson - King of The Country Blues

Often called "The King of the Texas Blues" as well as the Country Blues (as the title of the album suggests) Jefferson is a must include on this list. For the time, he was a considerable commercial success. While there are many good tracks on this album, check out "Matchbox Blues" especially, which has become a popular cover tune for many artists, including the Beatles. 

Bo Diddley - Bo Diddley

One of the most original blues artists to emerge from the 50s and 60s, Bo Diddley (and the "Diddley Beat") influenced a slew of artists, including Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. A pioneer of Chicago Blues, Rhythm and Blues, and early Rock and Roll, perhaps Diddley's greatest contribution was the so called "Diddley Beat," a highly syncopated five accent rhythm that has been greatly influential in blues, rock, and other styles. Recommended tracks include "Bo Diddley," "I'm a Man," "Pretty Thing," and "Diddley Daddy."

Buddy Guy - Damn Right, I've Got the Blues

Picking just one Buddy Guy album is up there with picking one BB King album, so I just went with my favorite - the 1992 "comeback" album for Guy, the 1992 release Damn Right, I've Got the Blues. Sure, the album isn't perfect (unless you're Wilson Pickett, no album with "Mustang Sally is), but it's all here - Guy's powerful vocals, masterful vibrato, and masterful technique and tone. The title track alone is worth the cost of this release, one of our essential blues guitar albums.

Clarence Gatemouth Brown - The Original Peacock Recordings

This album is a great start to the music of the incredibly versatile Clarence Gatemouth Brown, one of the greatest musical talents to emerge from the great state of Texas (and that's saying something). While known mostly as a blues player, Brown was equally comfortable in R&B, Country, and Swing, just to name a few. Album highlights include "Dirty Work At The Crossroads," "Ain't That Dandy," and perhaps his greatest hit - "Okie Dokie Stomp." These great tunes help make The Original Peacock Recordings part of our essential blues guitar albums collection.

Elmore James - The Sky is Crying: The History of Elmore James

One of the pioneers of blues guitar (particularly slide), this album is a great place to start for anyone interested in the work of Elmore James. You'll find his take on blues standards like "Dust My Broom" and Cross Road Blues (entitled "Standing at the Crossroads") and the title track "The Sky is Crying," which has been recorded by everyone from Eric Clapton and Albert King to George Thorogood and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Eric Clapton - John Mayall Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton

It hard to pick a single Clapton album (and I was tempted to go with a Cream album instead), but the "Beano" album is considered by many to be Clapton's finest blues album, even though he would have a respectable career for many years after this album. Clapton used a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall "Bluesbreaker" combo amplifier, which has since become a very popular guitar/amp combination for electric blues players.

Freddie King -  Let's Hide Away And Dance Away

Easily one of the most influential albums by one of the greats of blues guitar, Let's Hide Away and Dance Away was Freddie King's was an all-instrumental 1961 release that has influenced a number of blues guitarists, including Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. The tune "Hide Away" has become a blues standard and has earned this album a spot on our list of essential blues guitar albums.

Gary Moore - Still Got the Blues

Granted, Gary Moore is not exactly a blues purist's bluesman, but as far as blues-rock goes, he's about as good as it gets and deserves a spot on our list of essential blues guitar albums. With the 1990 release of Still Got the Blues Moore demonstrated that his blues chops are on par with pretty much anyone. By tackling both new material as well as blues standards (and even some George Harrison), Gary Moore demonstrates his incredible versatility. Album highlights include "Walking By Myself," "Still Got the Blues," "Texas Strut," and "King of the Blues." Album guest stars include Albert King and Albert Collins.

Jeff Beck - Truth

Again, not really a blues album for purists, but definitely a seminal album for the blues-rock genre. Tunes like "You Shook Me," "Ol' Man River," "Blues Deluxe," and "I Ain't Superstitious" show Beck's undeniable talents as a blues guitarist and make Truth one the essential blues guitar albums.

Joe Bonamassa - Dust Bowl

Bonamassa hasn't had the long career that many players on this list have to their credit, but in the "short" time he's been on the scene he's established himself as a first-rate blues/rock guitarist. "Dust Bowl" contains some traditional blues-rock that you would expect from Bonamassa, but there's also some slow blues ("Sweet Rowena" with guest star Vince Gill) and even country-inspired tunes (check out "Tennessee Plates," a duet with John Hiatt). Time will tell how Dust Bowl fits within the Bonamassa catalog, but it's easily one of his top albums that demonstrates his versatility as both a guitarist and songwriter.

John Lee Hooker - The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990

If there's anyone who can rightly earn the title of "bona fide bluesman," it's John Lee Hooker. This son of a sharecropper was known for his original rhythm style, a boogie woogie style that incorporated one - two chord vamps. A recommended purchase is the compilation The Ultimate Collection 1948 - 1990, which contains 31 tracks, including his well known hits such as "Boom Boom," "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," "Boogie Chillen," and "Crawlin' King Snake." If you want a solid introduction to the bulk of Hooker's celebrated career, this is a great place to start.

Johnny Winter - Johnny Winter; Second Winter

With over 20 albums to choose from, it was tough to pick just one, so I chose two of Winter's earliest albums, the self-titled Johnny Winter and the follow-up album, Second Winter. With tunes like Winter's own "I'm Yours & I'm Hers," B.B. King's "Be Careful with a Fool," Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited," the 22 tracks on these two albums represent pure Texas blues-rock gold.

Mike Bloomfield - The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper

One of the best electric blues players to emerge from the 1960s, Mike Bloomfield left behind an impressive body of work (especially his recordings with Bob Dylan), but it's Bloomfield's live album with Al Kooper recorded at the Filmore West in 1968 that's widely considered the best representative of his work. Far from perfect, the recording nevertheless captures Bloofield's genius and the organic interplay between these two greats. Album highlights include "Her Holy Modal Highness,"  "Feelin' Groovy," and "Don't Throw Your Love on Me So Strong" and help make The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper one of your essential blues guitar albums.

Muddy Waters - The Chess Box

Muddy Waters was a defining figure in Chicago Blues and Delta Blues styles as well as a significant figure in bridging blues and rock music, so picking a single album is challenging, to say the least. For my money, the best choice is the 72 song Chess Box collection. Even with a collection this large, there are noticeable gaps. Still, with a set that encompasses 25 years of his legacy, this is a superb introduction to Waters' musical legacy. It's hard to even single out a handful of songs. Most of them are just that good and belong on anyone's list of essential blues guitar albums.

Otis Rush -  Essential Collection: The Classic Cobra Recordings 1956-1958

A guitarist whose influence extends to everyone from Mike Bloomfield to Led Zeppelin, Otis Rush has been a defining presence in electric Chicago Blues. Given his rich recording history, picking a single recording is a challenge, but I recommend his Essential Collection: The Classic Cobra Recordings 1956 - 1958. There's enough blues guitar greatness here to secure his spot in the pantheon of greats. Track highlights include "All Your Love (I Miss Loving)," "Double Trouble," and "I Can't Quit You Baby."

Robben Ford - Talk To Your Daughter

This was a particularly tough selection for me, since Robben Ford is without a doubt one of my favorite guitarists (and musicians in general). I concur with other Ford fans that in doesn't really get much better than his 1998 solo release Talk to Your Daughter, one of my favorite essential blues guitar albums. In addition to the title track (which has some of his best soloing work), this album also features other blues standards like "Help the Poor," "Ain't Got Nothin' but the Blues," and "Born Under a Bad Sign." 

Rory Gallagher – Irish Tour '74

The Irishman Rory Gallagher's career was cut way too short, but that didn't stop him from establishing a well-earned reputation as a blues guitar master, due in no small part to his live shows. He influenced everyone from the Edge to Joe Bonamassa. Given Gallagher's own preference for live shows, it's no surprise that his album Irish Tour '74 is widely considered one of his best albums, with track highlights including "Cradle Rock," "I Wonder Who," "Too Much Alcohol," and "Walk on Hot Coals" (though there's not a bad track in the bunch).

Robert Johnson - Complete Recordings

A recommended blues guitar listening list without the great Robert Johnson is really no list at all, and the recommendation is an easy one, since the Complete Recordings is - as its name suggests - the complete recordings of one of the greatest blues guitarists to ever pick up a six string. It's simply not possible to overestimate Johnson's influence on the genre of the blues in general and on guitarists specifically. There's just no bad track here. Of course, tunes like "Cross Road Blue," "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom," "Sweet Home Chicago," and "Walkin' Blues" will occupy many listener's attention, but it's all worthy of a good listen. This box set should be on anyone's list of essential blues guitar albums.

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood

The 1983 debut album from the Austin-based Stevie Ray Vaughan contains some of the late guitarist's best known tunes, including the eponymous single as well such songs as "Pride and Joy," "Love Struck Baby," and "Lenny." Recorded in only three days, Texas Flood helped cement Vaughan's rightful place as one of the best blues guitarists of the late 20th century and this album as one of our essential blues guitar albums.

T-Bone Walker - The Original Source

As one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time (he influenced everyone from B.B. King and Freddie King to Hendrix and Chuck Berry), it's tough to pick a single album, but fortunately, the compilation set The Original Source contains 90 tunes that helped define electric blues guitar in the 20th century.

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