Why You Need to Know These 5 British Blues Guitarists
So you like Joe Bonamassa. So do we. But do you know where Joe Bonamassa comes from? The roots from which he bloomed? Ever since he was a young boy, Joe’s been a proponent of the British Blues Explosion. And so much of what drove the British Blues Explosion was that beautiful, shining source of sound, the electric guitar. Because of this, rock music would not have blossomed into the loud, aggressive, full of swagger music that it is without the blues and especially the British Blues. It’s also true that the British Blues gave birth to some of the most amazing guitar players that have ever lived, including many of Joe Bonamassa’s biggest heroes. As you may know, Joe is about to undertake an incredible new tour: A Salute to the British Blues Explosion. Although most of the shows are taking place in Europe and especially Britain, there is one special U.S. show as well at Red Rocks. You can find out more information about the Red Rocks show and a bit about the inspiration behind the tour here. The tour will be paying tribute in particular to three of Joe’s greatest guitar heroes: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. For that reason, we thought it was especially essential to run down who we think are the top 5 most important British blues guitarists of all time and why Joe loves them so much.
5. Paul Kossoff – Free
Joe Bonamassa describes Paul Kossoff as a guitar player’s guitar player. According to Joe, it all starts with Kossoff’s wonderful tone, much of which came from his use of 1959 Gibson Les Pauls. But as Joe points out, at the end of the day, tone comes more from the individual hands than from the equipment used. For even if Joe used the same exact setup as Kossoff, the two would not sound nearly alike. That’s the magic of a guitar player’s hands. You could say that Joe was enamored with Kossoff immediately from the first time he heard him play. That was the same reaction that Free singer Paul Rodgers had when he first heard Kossoff play. Kossoff himself was initially inspired when he saw Clapton play with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Other people in the crowd were yelling “god” as Clapton wailed on his guitar, and the enthralling experience made Kossoff want to play guitar. Unfortunately, due to struggles that included addiction, Kossoff died at the extremely young age of 25. Yet, he left behind a magnificent body of work that guitarists and music fans in general continue to pour over and discuss even to this day. As Bonamassa has said, Paul Kossoff’s guitar playing just bloomed.
4. Peter Green – Fleetwood Mac
Peter Green is one of the most significant musicians of the second wave of the British Blues Explosion and one of the premiere British Blues guitarists. This period began when Eric Clapton left John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers to form Cream. In his place, Mayall recruited Green for his own band. Of course, Peter Green would follow in Clapton’s footsteps in more ways than one. He too would leave the Bluesbreakers to start a new band. This band, of course, is the legendary Fleetwood Mac, albeit a very different sounding Fleetwood Mac than the one that rose to fame in the 1970s with frontwoman Stevie Nicks and without Green. Unlike many great blues guitarists, according to Joe Bonamassa, Peter Green also happened to be a great songwriter. But he was also the consummate blues guitarist. There were many facets to his playing that truly deserve great appreciation. There is the incredible Les Paul tone. The amazing phrasing. The way he was able to straddle the line between British and American blues. He’s one of the best ever, and possibly the most underrated member of this list.
3. Jimmy Page – Led Zeppelin
Jimmy Page is so much more than just a guitar god. He’s an incredible composer. A majestic producer. And an all-around intriguing person. He had an interest in the occult, but it’s his music that seems almost sorcerer-like. His use of a violin bow is just one of his many rock innovations. As Joe Bonamassa has discussed, of the British Blues guitarists perhaps Page more than anyone is significant for his incredible use of timing. In this way, he always plays the unexpected, not placing each note exactly where you think it’d go. Quite simply, we think Led Zeppelin is the best blues band represented on this list. Jimmy Page is no small part of that. He surrounded himself with brilliant musicians, but still managed to shine incredibly bright. And though he has something of a reputation for some sloppy playing, we think that’s a bunch of nonsense. Everything Page played was with intent. And it’s some of the damn finest guitar playing we’ve ever heard.
2. Jeff Beck – The Jeff Beck Group
Joe Bonamassa called Jeff Beck the greatest rock guitarist ever, and it’s hard to disagree with his opinion. Jeff Beck is a revolutionary, a firebrand, and a genius on the guitar, from his earliest days with The Yardbirds through The Jeff Beck Group and his solo days. Of the British Blues guitarists, it’s hard to find one who is more adventurous in spirit and experimental. Joe is especially enamored with Jeff Beck’s early music with The Jeff Beck Group, when he was recording with fine folks like Rod Stewart on lead vocals and Ronnie Wood on bass. The Jeff Beck Group only released four albums, but this is about quality, not quantity. The first couple, Truth and Beck-Ola are especially worth your time and listening energy. We would expect to hear at least a few numbers from those albums from Joe on the British Blues Explosion tour.
1. Eric Clapton – Cream, etc.
Eric Clapton is probably Joe’s greatest musical hero. Clapton is a living legend like few others in music. He created some of the most refreshing, breathtaking, groundbreaking guitar work out there. His legacy is brilliant. Different eras of Eric Clapton will appeal to different musical tastes, but Clapton is always producing music of the highest quality. We especially favor his early music with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and Cream, as well as his fine music with Derek and the Dominos along with his solo work of the 1970s. But with Eric Clapton, you can really never go wrong. That’s why when Joe got to play with Clapton at The Royal Albert Hall, it was truly a life defining moment for Joe. Possibly the greatest day of his life. And we get tremendous chills from watching that performance of “Further on up the Road” – you can catch it here or just click the video below.
Love the British Blues Guitarists and excited for the British Blues Explosion tour from Joe? Make sure you get your tickets now by going to the tour dates page on Joe’s website, and catch what promises to be one of the musical highlights of the year.
– Brian Reiser