The greatest blues concerts ever. I’m talking the crème de la crème. The Beatles. The Great Gatsby. Citizen Kane. The Hamlet of blues concerts. Big statement. Bold statement. But I’m going there. There have been a lot of damn good blues concerts. But I’m on a quest, a quest for the greatest blues concerts ever. So this week for the blog I wanted to write about my thoughts on what I think some of the greatest blues concerts ever are. And yes, I think Joe Bonamassa belongs on that list. I mean, have you heard the man play? The blues-rock titan is up there with the tops!
Who else belongs in that conversation though? Tragically, we don’t have the records from Robert Johnson, a figure who was most likely going to play Carnegie Hall had it not been for his untimely and tragic death. So it’s basically impossible to include him. But happily, we DO have plenty of music from Mr. B. B. King, from Muddy Waters, from John Lee Hooker, and Mr. Stevie Ray Vaughan, ALL of whom I think deserve a place in the canon of the greatest blues concerts ever. So let’s get down to business and look at: the greatest blues concerts ever!
1. B.B. King – Live at the Regal
Live at the Regal dropped like a blues bomb on the scene in 1965, and live blues has never been the same since. The album is a recording of B.B. King’s show at the Regal Theater in Chicago from November 21, 1964. It’s literally a perfect show. It’s almost a tutorial on how to put on the perfect blues evening. In fact some musicians have even used it as such. Musicians such as Eric Clapton, John Mayer, and Mark Knopfler have all said that it’s a show they sometimes turn to before their own performances to prep them. King was a true master of his realm on the live stage, and while the band is completely kickin’, it’s the main man himself that steals the thunder and delivers a knockout blues punch right to the jaw. I would list some highlights, like my favorite B.B. King song, “How Blue Can You Get,” but, honestly, the whole damn album is a highlight. One long, incredible, unforgettable highlight. Do yourself a favor and listen to this one often.
2. Muddy Waters – At Newport 1960
This album wasn’t just one of the first live blues albums. It’s also representative of one of the greatest blues concerts we’ve ever heard! First off, there’s Waters’ incredible band, including fellow legend Otis Spann on piano, James Cotton on harmonica, Pat Hare on guitar, Andrew Stephens on bass, and Francis Clay on drums. Then there’s the historical importance of the show: Muddy’s performance at Newport was integral in spreading the blues to audiences that hadn’t been much exposed to it before. Then there’s the amazing set list, including hits like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Tiger In Your Tank” and “Got My Mojo Working.” But most important of all is the powerful blues persona of Muddy Waters himself: a blues legend, a genius, and one of the greatest 20th century bluesman. No you couldn’t be there, and neither was I, but giving the live album a listen is the next best thing!
3. John Lee Hooker – Live at Cafe Au Go Go
Raw. Powerful. Electric. John Lee Hooker is a bluesman in a class all his own. “King of the Endless Boogie,” his one-chords shuffles moved rooms more than most people can with a symphony’s worth of chords. And there’s no better setting for Hooker’s music than in the basement of 152 Bleecker Street, the legendary Cafe Au Go Go, the venue that hosted everyone from The Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix. Hooker may have been born a Mississippi bluesman, and he may have ended up in Detroit, but his often haunting, always thrilling concoction of electrified Delta Blues is perfect for the gritty, boisterous New York City basement. There’s no “Boogie Chillen” here, but that just shows you the stunning depth of Hooker’s catalog, including the always very welcome “One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer.” This album is sure to get you hooked by The Hook!
4. Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble – Live at Carnegie Hall
Speaking of greatest blues concerts ever and Carnegie Hall, it would be a crime for me to omit this masterpiece. Live at Carnegie Hall is almost as the complete opposite end of the spectrum as the John Lee Hooker Au Go Go record. Whereas Hooker’s take on electric blues is cool, mellow, and as laid back as a Sunday at the beach in Orange County, Stevie Ray’s Carnegie Hall performance is fiery, frenetic, and flashy in the best way. Filled with hot licks and Vaughan’s soulful singing, he runs through classics like “Love Struck Baby,” and “Pride and Joy” as well as incisive covers of “Cold Shot” and “Testify.” The only regret when listening to this amazing live album is that it’s missing some of the cuts from the show, including a cover of “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” by Jimi Hendrix. ‘Tis a pity, but at least we have much of this legendary performance preserved for posterity.
5. Joe Bonamassa – Live from the Royal Albert Hall
For a treat, I thought I’d turn it over to a special guest blogger for this one, Devon S:
Joe Bonamassa is heavily influenced by British blues and rock musicians, so it is no wonder performing at London’s historic Royal Albert Hall was one of Bonamassa’s bucket list venues. This sold out performance and #1 Billboard Blues release truly showcases Bonamassa’s star power in the blues world, the songs and solos throughout the performance are highlighted by Bonamassa’s enchanting finger skills where he makes his Les Paul do the singing for him. Joe’s dazzling musicianship at Royal Albert Hall, accompanied by the horns section and double drummer, have become a staple fan favorite and must-see live performance. The guitar slinger has become a heavyweight player in the guitar circle, even garnering the attention of one of his ultimate idols Eric Clapton. Watching as Bonamassa invites the legendary Eric Clapton on stage with him during “Further Up the Road” was a special moment to witness, as Joe grins and proudly says, “The first song I ever played on electric guitar was further on up the road… Clapton is really the reason why I play guitar above all, without Clapton I’d be a really different player”. Having one of the most famous guitarist of all-time as a special guest star at your personal headlined concert is an experience of a lifetime and so is witnessing the two players live in an awe-inspiring guitar duel, charged with so much electricity, leaving the audience star struck watching this moment of blues history in the making. — Devon S.
– Brian R. & special guest blogger Devon S.
There you have it. Our picks for the greatest blues concerts ever. What’s the greatest blues concert you’ve ever seen or heard? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me at @