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10 Unforgettable Blues Rock Singers of the 1980s

The 1980s was a musical decade that brought a resurgence of popularity for blues rock with the advent of artists like Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The genre’s ability to seamlessly blend the soulful depth of blues with the raw energy of rock and roll resulted in some of the most talented and captivating performers of that era. The following ten unforgettable vocalists from the 1980s decade left an indelible mark on the music landscape and continue to inspire fans and musicians alike.

Albert Collins

Albert Collins was called the “Master of the Telecaster” because of his guitar prowess but he also had a powerfully raw vocal style that was distinct. He was born in Leona, Texas in 1932 and through the influence of his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, he developed an interest in music at an early age. He began his career playing piano before he switched to the guitar and released his first single, “The Freeze” which became his nickname. He followed in the steps of Jimi Hendrix by replacing him in Little Richard’s band, the “Upsetters.” In spite of releasing half a dozen studio albums and regular performing, he had to work on the side as a construction worker to make ends meet until the late 1970s. Blues rock’s popularity surge in the 1980s saw him at the forefront of the genre by winning a Grammy Award for his collaboration Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray. He continued as a successful blues rock artist until his death from lung cancer in 1993.

Robert Cray

Robert Cray was born in 1953 in Columbus, Georgia, and grew up in a military family that finally settled in Tacoma, Washington. He formed the Robert Cray Band in 1974 while he was attending college in Eugene, Oregon, and by the 1980s was releasing albums. His1986 release Strong Persuader won a Grammy Award in 1987 for “Best Contemporary Blues Album” featuring the hit single “Smoking Gun.” Cray’s guitar prowess is complemented by his smooth, soulful and emotionally expressive vocal range that gives his voice amazing versatility. He has continued to perform and has released nearly 20 studio albums.

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1957 and began his career in music in the late 1970s when he formed the “Heartfixers.” He drew his inspiration from British Invasion bands like the Rolling Stones. They directed his attention to their inspiration from American blues artists like the “Three Kings,” Albert, B B., and Freddie to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. After releasing four albums by the late 1980s he was signed to Alligator Records and released his critically acclaimed debut solo album Georgia Blue in 1988. His style is a blend of Southern rock, blues and soul delivered with passionate guitar playing and vocals to match. He released two dozen albums over the next four decades culminating with his 2024 release of The Naked Truth.

Jeff Healey

Jeff Healey was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1966 and became blind very young because of retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. He began playing guitar at the age of three and developed a unique method for playing by laying it on his lap and playing it flat. He began performing as a child and formed bands until 1985 when he formed the Jeff Healey Band. He was influenced by blues musicians from Robert Johnson and B. B. King to Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.  His deep resonant voice is unique and his impassioned singing style blends seamlessly with his guitar wizardry. In 1988, the Jeff Healey Band released its debut album See the Light. The album drew critical acclaim and became “triple platinum. “During the same time period, the band was appearing in the filming of Road House. Healey’s popularity exploded after the success of both the film and his album leading to a successful career until his death in 2008 from cancer.

Sam Myers

Sam Myers was born in Laurel, Mississippi in 1936 and joined Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets in 1986 to replace previous lead singer Darrell Nulisch. Myers was a celebrated blues vocalist and harmonica player that already had a storied career as a legally blind successful musician since the early 1950s when he was a drummer with Elmore James until his death in 1963. He joined the Rockets as the lead singer and harmonica player and first appeared on the 1986 release My Love is Here to Stay which showcased the integration of Myer’s vocals and mouth harp with Funderburg’s guitar. The collaboration earned them both numerous awards until his death in 2006 from throat cancer.

Son Seals   

Son Seals began his career as a drummer with artists like Earl Hooker and Albert King and later switched to guitar. He was born in Osceola, Arkansas in 1942 and grew up in a musical environment because his father ran a juke joint in their house. He moved to Chicago in the early 1970s and Bruce Iglauer signed him to Alligator Records where he began to release albums. His incendiary guitar playing coupled with his powerful, raw, and emotive vocal delivery brought an emotional depth to his music that earned him a loyal following. The 1980s brought Seals to a broader audience with albums like Bad Axe which won a “W. C. Handy Award” for “Best Contemporary Blues Album.” Unfortunately his life was also filled with tragedy being shot in the face by his wife, having a leg amputated and his motor home going up in flames. He died from complications of diabetes in 2004.

George Thorogood

George Thorogood was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1950 and formed the “Destroyers” while he was still in high school. George Thorogood and the Destroyers released their eponymous debut album in 1977 and by the 1980s they hit the big time when they became an opening act for the Rolling Stones in 1981 and then appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1982. Thorogood and the band were influenced by musicians like Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker and Elmore James. His iconic gravelly voice combined with his raucously energetic style of performing earned the band a solid reputation for putting on a dynamic live show propelled by straightforward, no-nonsense raging blues rock. George Thorogood and the Destroyers have continued to release albums and perform until the present time.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan was the singularly most important artist to re-energize enthusiasm for blues rock during the 1980s. The way that he applied his virtuosic fiery guitar playing with his emotionally driven soulful voice through original compositions became a magnet to a wide ranging audience. He was born in Dallas, Texas in 1954 and was influenced by his older brother Jimmie who introduced him to blues legends from Albert and B. B. King to Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 to pursue a career in music and by the late 1970s he formed Double Trouble.” By the early 1980s, the band was comprised of Chris Layton on drums, Tommy Shannon on bass, and Vaughan on guitar and lead vocals. In 1983, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble released Texas Flood, their debut album. The album won critical acclaim and became a commercial success leading to Grammy nominations and stardom. They continued to release successful albums through the 1980s but tragedy struck on  August 27, 1990, when Vaughan died in a helicopter crash after a concert in East Troy, Wisconsin.

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1988 along with receiving a myriad of awards throughout his career for being a pioneer of blues rock. He was born in Beaumont, Texas in 1944 and grew up in a musically rich environment, and explored music with his younger brother Edgar. His early influences were in the blues genre with artists like Bobby Bland, B. B. King, and Muddy Waters. After playing in talent shows with his brother and then being part of various Beaumont bands he recorded and released The Progressive Blues Experiment his debut album in 1969. His gritty and powerful vocals complimented his incendiary guitar virtuosity. After a successful decade in the 1970s tainted because of drug abuse, he cleaned up and plugged into the resurgent popularity of blues rock in the 1980s. Johnny Winter continued to release albums and successfully perform until his death in 2014 at the age of 70.

Peter Wolf

Peter Wolf first gained fame as the lead singer of the J. Geils Band in 1967 when he joined it until 1983 when he left the band because of creative differences. He was born in the Bronx in New York City in 1946 and grew up in a culturally rich environment which influenced him musically. He was impacted by blues, jazz and rock to folk, soul, and R&B. In 1984, he released his debut album, Lights Out, which featured a top 20 hit of the same name on the Billboard Hot 100. The album featured a compelling blend of distinctive and dynamic raw and gritty vocals. Over the next four decades, he continued to release albums, perform and collaborate with a variety of artists from Aretha Franklin and Merle Haggard to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

Bob Gersztyn

As a teenager in Detroit, Michigan during the early 1960’s Bob Gersztyn saw many Motown and other R&B artists including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. After his discharge from the army in 1968 he attended school on the GI Bill and spent the next 3 years attending concerts and festivals weekly. It was the seminal period in Detroit rock & roll that Bob witnessed spawning the MC5 and Stooges along with shows featuring everyone from Jimi Hendrix and the “Doors” to B. B. King and John Lee Hooker. In 1971 He moved to Los Angeles, California to finish his schooling where he became an inner city pastor promoting and hosting gospel concerts. He moved to Oregon in 1982 and began photographing and reviewing concerts for music publications. Since that time he has published myriads of photographs, articles, interviews, and contributed to 2 encyclopedias and published 6 books on everything from music to the military. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Bob%20Gersztyn His rock & roll photo art is available for sale on Etsy @: https://www.etsy.com/shop/ConcertPhotoImages?ref=seller-platform-mcnav Bob may be contacted personally at bobgersztyn@gmail.com

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