It doesn’t matter if you start there or finish there – eventually every guitarist plays the blues.
Whatever stage of your guitar playing life you’re at, sometimes all you want to do is put on an E blues and hit that minor scale, throw in a few blue notes, and channel your inner John Lee Hooker, BB King, or Bill Withers.
While a lot of styles of music require a ton of crazy gear to get you sounding like your heroes, Blues is humble music. Any guitar with the right pickups can get you into the zone to play along with your favourite songs, or even create your own.
Here’s seven of our favorite songs to get you feeling the blues.
“I Put a Spell On You” – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
You don’t have to sell your soul at the crossroads to know that the blues has a storied history with the otherworldly, and Screamin Jay Hawkins had a stage show that built on that to the max.
I Put A Spell On You is definitely one that’s more on the beginner side, but is definitely a fun song to play, and a great one to get you warmed up to all that the blues can be.
“Smokestack Lightning” – Howlin’ Wolf
One of the best voices in blues (that’s whey call him that), Howlin Wolf also had one of the best guitarists in the game.
Hubert Sumlin had a very distinctive blues guitar style, cooking up the main riff in Smokestack Lightning with judicious helpings of pull-offs and alternate picking, something meaty for the intermediate guitarists to sink their teeth in.
On other tracks, Sumlin’s trademark flurries of notes along with the sudden cliffhangers that he was known show that even if your name isn’t on the marquee, you can still be an attraction.
Is it any wonder that rolling stone put him in the top half of their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time?
“Mary Had a Little Lamb” – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Is it a blues guitar list without Stevie? Of course not.
While this version of the traditional nursery rhyme originated with Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan made it all his own (as he was want to do), giving the tune a new lease on life by adding a hard rock edge, tearing through hammer ons and pulloffs sitting alongside some traditional blues picking.
If you’re coming to the blues from more rock based playing, this is your in.
“Who Do You Love” – Bo Diddley
While Bo Diddley wasn’t always the most traditional bluesman (adding elements of rockabilly and pop to the mix), he’s definitely one of the brightest stars in the blues landscapes for guitarists.
Combining bass note strumming with some super tasty slide guitar playing, Who Do You Love serves as a perfect entry point for those who want to widen their musical and guitar playing horizons with a trip to the blue side.
“Boogie Chillen” – John Lee Hooker
While several of the songs on this list will put many guitarists through their paces, Boogie Chillen is great for someone who just wants to jam out on one or two simple chords (maybe after imbibing a few jazz cigarettes), and loose enough to let you go crazy with any embellishments or solos that might come to you.
Of course John Lee Hooker would go on to have luminaries such as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards on stage behind him, but the original 1948 version of just him and his guitar is three minutes of simple but solid gold.
“Matchbox” – Carl Perkins
Now if you’re making your way down the list like “can’t play that, can’t play that”, we’ve got the song for you.
If all you can play is an A chord, a D chord and an E chord, you’re right at home, because that’s all you need for Matchbox.
One of the great things about this song too is that, once you have the basics down, you’re ready to provide a backing track for other guitarists to solo over, and that’s a skill that can get you into any number of blues jams.
“Albert’s Shuffle” – Mike Bloomfield
Rounding out our list, Mike Bloomfield’s distinctive ahead-of-the-beat soloing is all over Albert’s Shuffle, sounding like what you’d expect from a guy who put out records that came with the instruction “play this record loud”.
The great thing about this song is it has so many tasty licks that you can apply to your own playing, it’s basically a roadmap for guitarists who want to get their hands around some blues fast and quick, and then be able to bust out a blues all of their own.
More “traditional” than his early records, 1968’s Super Session has Bloomfield taking classic licks and adding an energy that makes these songs a joy to play.
There are a lot of guitarists who spend their teens and 20s learning what could only be described as guitar aerobics, or get caught up in the constant cycle of trying to get the latest and best in guitar technology.
However, eventually they come to the realization – sometimes all you want to do is have a blues noodle – and these songs are the perfect place to start.