This list of the best blues rock guitarists of the 1960s was compiled by a process of elimination that included well over a hundred guitar players. The criteria for choosing who makes the list was based on a number of factors, the first of which was that they had to be blues rock guitarists. Second, they had to be performing and recording during the 1960s. Third, their impact or contribution to the genre of blues rock had to be substantial and have a lasting impact at least up to and including this time period. In some cases, there are great guitarists that could be included that would fit better in 1950s or 1970s lists like Chuck Berry or Jimmy Page. So it was with all this in mind that this list was compiled.
10. Duane Allman
Duane Allman tragically died in a motorcycle crash in October 1971, a month before his 25th birthday. He and his brother Greg founded the Allman Brothers Band in 1959, although its full incarnation with all the members present on the first albums didn’t manifest itself until 1969. However, Duane began playing professionally in 1961 as a session musician and even quit school to concentrate on music and formed a number of bands including The Escorts, a band that opened for the Beach Boys in 1965. After a horse riding injury he began playing slide guitar with an empty pill bottle on his birthday in 1968. The interplay between him and Dickey Betts, the band’s other guitarist produced some phenomenal guitar solos. The Allman Brothers Band recorded two studio albums and a live album with Duane and before his death he hung out with and influenced Eric Clapton, who had offered Allman a permanent position in his band when he formed Derek and the Dominoes.
9. B.B. King
Even though B.B. King had a successful career in the 1950s I classified him as a 1960s guitarist because it wasn’t until the 1960s that he became accessible to integrated audiences. The real turning point happened in 1969 when future Eagles engineer Bill Szymczyk worked with King to produce a more contemporary sounding album with The Thrill Is Gone. After that, he played to white audiences on a regular basis and even opened for the Rolling Stones, which gave him more exposure.
8. Buddy Guy
Buddy Guy released his first single in 1958 but it didn’t go anywhere and then he signed with Chess Records. Leonard Chess, the label’s founder, didn’t like Guy’s wild style of guitar playing that he performed in his live shows and wouldn’t record him. He didn’t release a studio album until 1967 but in the meantime, his live performances influenced every other guitarist on this list, including Jimi Hendrix.
7. Michael Bloomfield
Michael Bloomfield is a legendary 1960s blues rock guitarist who unfortunately passed away in 1981. He grew up in Chicago and played with many of the early blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. He became the original lead guitarist of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and backed up Bob Dylan when he went electric for the first time at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. He was a member of the Electric Flag and had a solo career as well as collaborating with Al Kooper and others.
6. Henry Vestine
Henry (Sunflower) Vestine grew up in Tacoma Park, Maryland where he was friends with future guitar legend John Fahey. The two of them used to compete with each other to see who could learn a song the fastest but Fahey preferred an acoustic guitar while Vestine loved the electric. Eventually, he and Fahey moved to California where through Fahey he met Bob Hite and other future members of Canned Heat. Vestine was their original lead guitarist from 1966 until just before Woodstock in 1969 and then on and off for the rest of his life until his death in 1997.
5. Peter Green
The original Fleetwood Mac was formed by British guitarist Peter Green who began his professional career at the age of 15 at the turn of the 1960s. After playing with a number of bands he ended up replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966. A year later in 1967, he decided to form his own blues band with two other Bluesbreakers, veteran drummer Mick Fleetwood ,and bassist John McVie. He became known as the Green Guitar God. After releasing three studio albums that produced multiple radio hits with songs like “Black Magic Woman” and “Albatross,” Green left the group in 1970 after a bad LSD trip triggered a schizophrenic episode. After that he suffered from mental illness in various degrees for the rest of his life. He drifted in and out of the group for a while and eventually performed as a solo artist until his death in 2020 but he never regained his original stature.
4. Eric Clapton
One of the early British blues guitarists was Eric Clapton who began his professional career as a recording artist when he joined the Yardbirds in 1963. He graduated to John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers where he honed his blues skills and then joined the landmark power trio Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. After burning out on Cream he joined the short-lived Blind Faith that was lucky it even produced one album. After hanging out with the Beatles and Allman Brothers he formed another short-lived group Derek and the Dominoes and finally embarked on a five-decade solo career.
3. Freddie King
Freddie King was a decade younger than B.B. King and grew up in Texas where he started playing guitar at the age of six. Just before his 15th birthday his family moved to Chicago where he began to sneak into clubs to watch blues artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. In 1960, he recorded and released his breakthrough single “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.” For the next 16 years until his untimely death in 1976, he released over a dozen studio albums and toured relentlessly. He died at the age of 42 due to the stress of continual touring with a partying lifestyle and a poor diet consisting of tomato juice and vodka.
2. Keith Richards
Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones are the biggest continually touring band in the world to come out of the 1960s. They have done more to support and propagate the blues than any other artist in the rock genre. Rather than using and not crediting blues origins like Canned Heat and Led Zeppelin they helped and supported them. To this day, the Stones pick up the tab for the funeral and burial expenses of old bluesmen and blueswomen. The most recent is singer Etta James and guitarist Hubert Sumlin.
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger grew up together as neighbors and school mates that both loved American blues. Richards began playing guitar and learned all of Chuck Berry’s songs and began playing in bands covering the blues by artists like Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard in the late 1950s. After Richards and Jagger met Brian Jones they soon formed the Rolling Stones whose name was taken from the title of a Muddy Waters song. From their beginning in 1962 until the present, the Rolling Stones have produced over two dozen albums and performed over two thousand concerts around the world.
1. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix began playing a broom at the age of 10 and graduated to an electric guitar by the time that he was in the army as a member of the 82nd Airborne just before the war in Vietnam escalated into the conflagration that it became. He played the Chitlin’ Circuit for a few years in the early 1960s to hone his guitar skills while he experimented with wah wah and fuzz tone pedals that he developed. He played with a variety of bands including Little Richard, the Isley Brothers, and Ike Turner and the Kings of Rhythm, who fired him for all his pedal related feedback.
He eventually began a solo career and began playing to a white audience in Greenwich Village where he was discovered and managed by former Animals bassist turned record producer Chas Chandler in 1966. From the time that Hendrix hit London in the fall of that year his ascent into guitar godhood began by blowing away all the British guitarists like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. His untimely death in 1970 was a musical tragedy but he left a legacy that has continued to impact every electric guitar player in the world up to the present day.