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Blues Rock 101

Can white boys play the blues?


Blues Rock 101

Eric Clapton was one of the early practitioners of Blues Rock.

Photo by Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

Blues Rock typically describes white artists of the late 1960s and 1970s who picked up the mantle of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and other African-American bluesmen to create an enormously popular style of electrified blues.

As the name implies, 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-1960s 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 some of the most influential bands of the 70s, including Cream, Savoy Brown, Free and Fleetwood Mac.

Alex Korner is also considered to be a critical figure. His band, Blues Incorporated, included Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. 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 rock heroes of the 1970s.

Other notable practitioners are Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Rory Gallagher, Robin Trower, Johnny Winter and Canned Heat.

One result 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 among white audiences, and due to the active support of Blues Rock artists.

Blues Rock stagnated in the mid-1970s, due in part to the rising popularity of Southern Rock, Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. In the 1980s the major stars were Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Cray, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. These were replaced in the 90s by the Black Crowes, the Black Keys, Gov’t Mule and Joe Bonamassa, who 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 Blues Rock 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

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