Modern Acoustic Blues finds contemporary artists reviving the older, more country-derived styles of blues in its myriad strains. The form places a great deal of emphasis on instrumental expertise, providing the genre with some astounding players who do more than merely replicate older styles.
So how do I propose to rank the best 25 Acoustic Blues Guitarists in the world? Well, I’m going to dodge the issue a bit.
I’m going to put down 25 guitarists that have dominated the field. But I will refrain from ranking them #1, #2, #3, etc. I think that’s as close as I can get. I’m sure you’ll discover some great inspiration for both listening and learning from.
Add other worthy players to the comments below so that the list is truly complete. Thanks!
Here We Go…
Guitarist/vocalist Keb’ Mo’ draws heavily on the old-fashioned country blues style of Robert Johnson while keeping his sound contemporary with touches of soul and folksy storytelling. A skilled frontman as well as an accomplished sideman, he writes much of his own material and has applied his acoustic, electric, and slide guitar skills to jazz- and rock-oriented bands.
- There’s a lot of material to choose from when listening to Russ, but a popular song to start with is “Everybody Be Yoself”.
- More info on Keb’ Mo’.
Steven Gene Wold, commonly known as Seasick Steve, is an American blues musician. He plays mostly personalized guitars and sings, usually about his early life doing casual work. Like T-Model Ford, Seasick Steve began recording his own music much later in life than other musicians. In the 1960s, Wold started touring and performing with fellow blues musicians, and had friends in the music scene including Joni Mitchell. He spent time living in San Francisco. Since then, he has worked, on and off, as a session musician and studio engineer.
Jim “Jimbo” Mathus first gained fame as the co-founder of the retro-swing outfit the Squirrel Nut Zippers. But after the group’s messy breakup, he went on to a prolific career as a guitarist, songwriter, and producer, defining his own brand of revved-up blues and roots music. Using a variety of stage names, including James Mathus, Jas Mathus, Jimbo “Hambone” Mathus, and Jimbo Mathus, he first began stepping out on his own as a sideman with one-time Zippers’ violinist Andrew Bird.
Henry Saint Clair Fredericks (born May 17, 1942), who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an American blues musician. He often incorporates elements of world music into his works. A self-taught singer-songwriter and film composer who plays the guitar, piano, banjo and harmonica (among many other instruments), Mahal has done much to reshape the definition and scope of blues music over the course of his almost 50-year career by fusing it with nontraditional forms, including sounds from the Caribbean, Africa and the South Pacific.
Kelly Joe Phelps
Vancouver, Washington-based guitarist, singer, and songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps continues to expand the parameters of modern blues through his strong commitment to literary songs and his expressive yet simple guitar stylings. While casual listeners may call Phelps a bluesman, his playing is so fluid, dexterous, and improvised he obviously has the soul of a jazz musician. Kelly Joe Phelps grew up in Sumner, Washington, a blue-collar farming town. He learned country and folk songs, as well as drums and piano, from his father. He began playing guitar at age twelve.
Corey Harris has earned substantial critical acclaim as one of the few contemporary bluesmen able to channel the raw, direct emotion of acoustic Delta blues without coming off as an authenticity-obsessed historian. Although he is well versed in the early history of blues guitar, he’s no well-mannered preservationist, mixing a considerable variety of influences — from New Orleans to the Caribbean to Africa — into his richly expressive music.
Cephas & Wiggins
The duo of acoustic guitarist John Cephas and harpist Phil Wiggins enjoyed a partnership spanning several decades, during which time they emerged among contemporary music’s most visible exponents of the Piedmont blues tradition. Their music, rooted in the rural African-American dance music of Virginia and North Carolina, showed the influence of Blind Boy Fuller, Gary Davis, and Sonny Terry, with a broad repertoire consisting of Piedmont blues standards as well as an eclectic sampling of Delta stylings, R&B, ballads, ragtime, gospel, and country & western; onward from their 1984 debut, Sweet Bitter Blues, Cephas & Wiggins’ sound applied sophisticated traditional instrumentation and modern gospel-edged vocals to both traditional standards and their own hard-hitting compositions, offering a soulful acoustic option to electric blues.
- Check out their tune “Richmond Blues” and you’ll sense the scope of their playing.
- More info on Cephas & Wiggins.
Overseas, he was a genuine hero, performing for thousands. But on his L.A. home turf, sand-blown Venice Beach served as Ted Hawkins’ makeshift stage. He’d deliver his magnificent melange of soul, blues, folk, gospel, and a touch of country all by his lonesome, with only an acoustic guitar for company. Passersby would pause to marvel at Hawkins’ melismatic vocals, dropping a few coins or a greenback into his tip jar.
William Christopher Smither is an American folk/blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter. His music draws deeply from the blues, American folk music, and modern poets and philosophers. By 1969, after living in several places around Cambridge, Smither moved to Garfield Street in Cambridge and often visited Dick Waterman’s house where Fred McDowell, Son House and other blues musicians were known to congregate. It was there that Smither first performed his song “Love You Like a Man” for Waterman’s friend, Bonnie Raitt.
Christopher Watkins, a twenty-something rocker from the San Francisco Bay area, is turning a whole new generation of teenage and twenty-something alternative rock fans on to the eternal hipness of the blues. Watkins, who uses the stage name Preacher Boy, is backed on his club shows around the Bay area and other parts of the West Coast by his band Natural Blues.
East River String Band
Eden and John’s East River String Band are a New York City-based duo who play country blues from the 1920s and 1930s. The members are John Heneghan (guitar, mandolin and vocals) and Eden Brower (ukulele and vocals).The duo often have other musicians sit in with them, including Dom Flemons (formerly of Carolina Chocolate Drops), Pat Conte (of the Canebreak Rattlers and Otis Brothers) and Robert Crumb (of the Cheap Suit Serenaders).
Eric Patrick Clapton, CBE, is an English rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: once as a solo artist and separately as a member of the Yardbirds and Cream.
David Allen Slater
David Allen Slater is a multi-talented singer/songwriter, composer and graphic artist who successfully released his self-produced debut CD, Influenced, on August 15, 2009. Gaining exposure for his music through the web, David was asked to participate in the Windows 7 collaboration with ReverbNation just 2 months after the release of his first album. His song, Run Away, was distributed through this collaboration on Playlist7 and branded with the Windows 7 logo.
Chris Thomas King
Chris Thomas King (born October 14, 1962 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana) is an American blues musician and actor. He is the son of blues musician Tabby Thomas. In the 2000 movie O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, he played legendary bluesman Tommy Johnson. On the “O Brother…” soundtrack he plays Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”. In the 2004 movie Ray, he played bandleader Lowell Fulson. He has also appeared in several documentaries about the blues and about music.
- I’ve been listening his many songs, but my my personal favorite is “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”.
- View more on Chris Thomas King.
Guy Davis (born May 12, 1952) is an American blues guitarist and banjo player, and actor. He is the eldest child and the only son of the late actors Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. Davis says his blues music is inspired by the southern speech of his grandmother. Though raised in the New York City area, he grew up hearing accounts of life in the rural south from his parents and especially his grandparents, and they made their way into his own stories and songs. Davis taught himself the guitar (never having the patience to take formal lessons) and learned by listening to and watching other musicians.
Bjørn Berge takes the Blues and Rock to the next level! He performs with and without band. You wouldn’t notice the difference. The man is a band on his own. Maybe thats why ‘they’ call him the ‘string-machine’. Even the drumming is taken care off in a ‘sole-man-performance’. Just a kick of a heavy, worn out boot on a wooden box for basedrum for example. His fingers play like he sold his soul to ,…. (Fill it in yourself) His voice speaks for itself. Blues to the utmost ground.
Woody Mann is an American Blues Guitar player, using a picking style. Woody was first taught to play the blues by the Rev Gary Davis. Woody still plays many of his songs in tribute and has expanded his range over many styles including Jazz, and syncopated guitar picking. Woody has collaborated with many names in the Jazz and Blues industry from the British White Blues singer Jo-Ann Kelly, Son House and Dori Previn.
Watermelon Slim and the Workers
Bill Homans, professionally known as “Watermelon Slim”, is an American blues musician. He plays both guitar and harmonica. He is currently signed to NorthernBlues Music, based out of Toronto, Ontario.
Homans has been performing since the 1970s and has been linked to several notable blues musicians, including John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray, Champion Jack Dupree, Bonnie Raitt, “Country” Joe McDonald, and Henry Vestine of Canned Heat.
Robert Anthony Plant CBE (born 20 August 1948, West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England) is a British rock singer-songwriter famous for being the lead vocalist of one of the most influential bands of all time: Led Zeppelin. He is known for his powerful style and wide vocal range. After Led Zeppelin’s breakup following the sudden death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, Plant pursued a successful solo career.
Rory Gallagher (1948-1995)
William Rory Gallagher was an Irish blues and rock multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and bandleader. Born in Ballyshannon, County Donegal, and brought up in Cork, Gallagher recorded solo albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, after forming the band Taste during the late 1960s. His albums have sold over 30 million copies worldwide. Gallagher received a liver transplant in 1995, but died of complications later that year in London at the age of 47.
John Clayton Mayer is an American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and producer. He was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and raised in nearby Fairfield. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, but disenrolled and moved to Atlanta in 1997 with Clay Cook. Together, they formed a short-lived two-man band called Lo-Fi Masters. After their split, Mayer continued to play local clubs—refining his skills and gaining a following.
Stefan Grossman is an American acoustic fingerstyle guitarist and singer, music producer and educator, and co-founder of Kicking Mule records. He is known for his instructional videos and Vestapol line of videos and DVDs. He also gives lessons on “How To Play Blues Guitar”
Jorma Ludwik Kaukonen, is an American blues, folk, and rock guitarist, best known for his work with Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him #54 on its list of 100 Greatest Guitarists.
Leo Kottke is an acoustic guitarist. He is known for a fingerpicking style that draws on blues, jazz, and folk music, and for syncopated, polyphonic melodies. He overcame a series of personal obstacles, including partial loss of hearing and a nearly career-ending bout with tendon damage in his right hand, to emerge as a widely recognized master of his instrument. He currently resides in the Minneapolis area with his family. Focusing primarily on instrumental composition and playing, Kottke also sings sporadically, in an unconventional yet expressive baritone described by himself as sounding like “geese farts on a muggy day”.
Brozman was born to a Jewish family living on Long Island, New York, United States. He began playing the guitar when he was 6. He performed in a number of styles, including gypsy jazz, calypso, blues, ragtime, Hawaiian music, and Caribbean music. He also collaborated with musicians from diverse cultural backgrounds, from India, Africa, Japan, Papua New Guinea and Réunion. He has been called “an instrumental wizard” and “a walking archive of 20th Century American music”.