The blues started with a man, a guitar and a voice. This played well back in the days of street corners and quiet bars in the southern Delta. When the blues moved up north, and met the demanding audiences there, the move to plug in was a necessity. The Electric blues were born the day the first blues performer thought ‘I need to be louder.’
The music born of the amplification of blues music lead to the development of the biggest musical genre of the 20th century: rock and roll. Many rock and roll bands trace their music to Electric blues and blues players from the 30’s and 40’s. Without Electric blues we may never have had Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Beatles or any rock and roll at all!
Electric blues and Chicago blues are closely associated with one another. This is because the blues first moved from the Delta to Chicago, and blues performers first started plugging in to get the volume they needed to be heard over bigger audiences.
Volume wasn’t all they got. They also brought with them all the sounds that you can only get from an electric guitar, perhaps the most famous sound of the last 100 years. There is no way that Chicago alone could contain Electric blues as it was soon found being played in Memphis and Texas – right around the Mississippi delta that first birthed the blues itself.
The very first Electric blues musician is believed to be T-Bone Walker. He was born in Texas and recorded in Los Angeles in the 1940’s. He mixed in a bit of jazz and R&B with his style, but no one would mistake him for anything but a blues musician with an electric guitar.
Other early performers of the Electric blues include:
- John Lee Williamson
- Johnny Shines
- Johnny Young
- Floyd Jones
- Snooky Pryor
- J.T. Brown
- Bo Diddley
- B.B. King
- Muddy Waters
- John Lee Hooker
The importance of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker can not be under emphasised. Muddy has been sited time and time again as an influence by many rock and roll bands, while also having the honor of being named as the 17th Greatest Guitar Player of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. John Lee Hooker explored the possibilities of Electric blues with a strong Delta influence. The two did a lot for the blues as a whole, and for Electric blues specifically.
The blues as we know them today, and as most have first heard it, is all thanks to B.B. King. Rolling Stone ranks him as the 6th Greatest Guitarist of all time. His work with U2 and Eric Clapton brought the blues to modern music listeners in a very real way. He may be 88, but you can still sometimes catch B.B. playing concerts around the world as he tirelessly brings the blues to everyone who wish to discover it.
Electric blues never went out of style as many modern performers wear their love of Electric blues on their sleeve – and show it in their playing style.
You can expect to hear a heavy influence of Electric blues styles every time you hear Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Black Keys, The White Stripes, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Omar & The Howlers and the modern master, Eric Clapton.