by Daniel Eriksson
When Stevie Ray Vaughan passed away in 1990, he left a void in the world of young blues musicians. Over the past twenty years we have seen the emergence of many talented blues guitarists. Here are ten of the most influential blues guitarists to come along over the past couple of decades. Do you agree with our choices? Voice your opinion in the comments section.
1. Joe Bonamassa
Out of all the people on this list, Joe Bonamassa is probably the most successful modern blues guitarist in the past twenty years. Bonamassa has been playing the blues since he was a little kid, catching the attention of B.B. King when he was only 12 years old. Joe and producer Kevin Shirley have used the young guitarist’s inspired blues guitar playing as a springboard to incorporate other genres as well, most notably heavy rock music, like the 2009 hit “The Ballad of John Henry.” When Joe performs live, his two most impressive blues numbers include the Jeff Beck cover “Blues Deluxe” as well as the acoustic “Woke Up Dreaming” which tend to go on for up to ten minutes with just Bonamassa and his guitar alone on stage.
2. John Mayer
Who would have thought that John Mayer would turn out to be such a blues aficionado when he first appeared on the music scene in 2001 with his first album Room For Squares? Many music fans dismissed Mayer as yet another singer-songwriter catering to broken hearted teenagers. But as Mayer’s career progressed it became obvious that he was actually a blues man at heart, especially from his appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2004 where he preceded his song “City Love” with a very inspired four minute blues intro built around Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun” riff. Speaking of Hendrix, Mayer approaches the blues in the same way as the late guitarist did, fretting the bottom note of barre chords with his thumb, and embellishing the chords like Hendrix on “Little Wing.” If you’re not familiar with Mayer’s blues antics, a good place to start is the John Mayer Trio album Try! from 2005, where Mayer play alongside bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Steve Jordan.
3. Jack White
If there ever was a modern blues purist, Jack White is it. White uses a minimum of effects, and goes the vintage route most of the time. His setup is little more than a guitar plugged straight in to an amp, aside from an occasional fuzz pedal or some pitch shifters that he would use a lot in his work with The White Stripes. It might not be obvious on the surface, but The White Stripes were essentially a blues band. On their first album they covered the Robert Johnson penned “Stop Breaking Down” as well as the folksong “St. James Infirmary Blues.” Once you catch on to their blues roots, it becomes obvious that it defines everything The White Stripes did, and all that Jack White has done since. For example, listen to the excellent “Will There Be Enough Water?” from Horehound, the first album by The Dead Weather.
4. Eric Gales
Out of the guitarists on this list Eric Gales is the one who first made a name for himself in the early ‘90s. What is perhaps most interesting about Gales is that he is a right-handed guitar player who plays guitar as a lefty. Gales’ brother is left handed, and so he simply taught Eric to play the same way. Gales play a right-handed guitar that he flips over so that the thick strings are on the bottom and the high strings on top.
5. Dan Auerbach
Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney from The Black Keys have taken the blues to a new level. The duo started out playing straight ahead blues on their first three recordings, as well as the Chulahoma EP, but have since progressed to incorporate the blues within a more modern setting. Perhaps the biggest contribution of The Black Keys is that they introduce their young fans to the blues tradition that initially inspired The Black Keys themselves.
6. Davy Knowles
At only 25 years old, bluesit guarist and singer Davy Knowles from the Isle of Man has already released two albums. The latest of which, Coming up For Air, was produced by Peter Frampton. Davy has toured all over the States, originally as part of the trio Back Door Slam. He gained many fans as the opening act for Chickenfoot on their 2009 US tour. Davy plays the blues with the sincerity of someone twice his age, just listen to his cover of the Blind Joe Reynolds song “Outside Woman Blues” from his first album Roll Away, and the song “Riverbed” from Coming Up For Air.
7. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Shepherd released his first album Ledbetter Heights in 1995 when he was only 18 years old. Aside from a foray in to heavy rock territory with The Place You’re In in 2004, Shepherd has stayed true to the blues. In 2007 he released a CD/DVD combo entitled 10 Days Out: Blues From the Backroads on which he traveled the deep south seeking out old grandmasters of the blues and recording with them. Recommended listening: Kenny Wayne Shepherd covered Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” and released it as an all instrumental B-side to “Blue on Black” in 1997. This hybrid between Hendrix’s version and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s cover clearly illustrate who Shepherd’s two main influences are.
8. Derek Trucks
While not simply just a blues guitarist, Derek Trucks still belong on this list since much of his music is deeply rooted in the blues. Trucks cites blues greats such as B.B. King and John Lee Hooker among his influences. In 2007 Trucks was invited to perform on Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival where he played alongside Johnny Winter, a great pairing since both are great slide guitar players in their own right.
9. Jonny Lang
Jonny Lang rose to fame around the same time as Kenny Wayne Shepherd. His 1997 sophomore album Lie To Me was a huge hit for Lang, when he was only 16 years old. It gave him the opportunity to tour with Aerosmith on their Nine Lives tour. Aside from his very skilled vibrato-tinged guitar playing, what was most notable about Lang at the time was his mature voice that sounded more like a man in his forties than that of a teenager. Lang carried on the blues tradition on his third album Wander This World, with the excellent opening track “Still Rainin’,” but has since drifted more towards soul and gospel music.
10. Ben Harper
Just like with Derek Trucks, Ben Harper’s style of music span many different genres, with blues being one of the underlying inspirations. Although he’s a multi-instrumentalist, Harper’s signature instrument is playing acoustic slide guitar. Just listen to songs like “Homeless Child,” “Whipping Boy,” and “I Want To Be Ready” for a taste of how Harper incorporates the blues in his music.