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Intro to blues: 5 artists to start with

Collegian | Charles Cohen

The blues has influenced many kinds of music and artists and is one of the most impactful genres. An American music staple, the blues has been around for over 150 years and is essential to the sound of today’s music. It is also a way to deeply connect with others, as the blues is all about sharing deep emotions — most often about troubles and worries — hence the name “the blues.” Here are five artists so start with for a beginner blues listener.

1. Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters is often considered one of the most important and influential blues artists of the 20th century. Born in 1913 in Mississippi, his forward-thinking look at the electric guitar in the blues changed how people think of the genre. The blues are often associated with guitars, but before Muddy Waters, electric was less common. His lyrics and electric change of the blues gave birth to a generation of rock ‘n’ roll musicians who were heavily influenced by the blues player. With a voice deep enough to reach the bottom of the ocean and guitar riffs that can make anyone shiver, Muddy Waters is a must-listen for any blues fan. 


Recommended tracks: “Mannish Boy,” “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll,” “I’m Ready,” “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” “Rollin’ Stone,” “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”

2. John Lee Hooker

One bourbon, one scotch and one beer: That’s what you need to fix a heartbreak, John Lee Hooker said. His lyrics and voice will speak to you with songs about living fast and dying young. Hooker’s themes in his music include sex, drunkenness, killing and lots of heartbreak. Not only will you hear the lyrics, but the feeling is there, too — a prime example of what the blues is all about: expressing yourself and releasing emotions into the music. Another Mississippi-born blues player, Hooker captures the raw themes and emotions the blues is famous for.

Recommended tracks: “Boom Boom,” “Cry Before I Go,” “The Motor City Is Burning,” “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer,” “Crawlin’ Kingsnake,” “Blues Before Sunrise,” “Mustang Sally And GTO.”

3. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble

Stevie Ray Vaughan was inspired by his guitar hero, Jimi Hendrix, and the sound of country music. The combination of rock ‘n’ roll and country in Vaughan’s guitar creates a unique and genre-bending sound. You can’t really call it country, and you can’t really call it rock in a traditional sense, but you certainly can call it the blues. If the blues isn’t quite your cup of tea and you want something more familiar to introduce you to the genre, then Vaughan might be your preferred choice to start listening.

Recommended tracks: “Pride and Joy,” “Texas Flood,” “Couldn’t Stand the Weather,” “Cold Shot,” “Tin Pan Alley,” “Look at Little Sister.”

4. B.B. King

Somebody who really puts their heart and soul into the blues is B.B. King. With singing that comes from the gut and guitar solos that will make your ears listen whether you like it or not, King takes charge with his music and grabs people’s attention. Having a career that lasted decades, King was a master of his craft. He took the idea of playing the blues on guitar and elevated it to another level. King also covered a wide range of feelings, from the usual themes of heartbreak and loss to lust, with a feeling of confidence in life. 

Recommended tracks: “The Thrill Is Gone,” “How Blue Can You Get?,” “Sweet Little Angel,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Rock Me Baby,” “Why I Sing The Blues.”

5. The Black Keys

Lastly, if you want a more modern take on the blues that still has the fundamentals of what makes the blues so great, The Black Keys have taken the genre and brought it to an audience in the 21st century. With a deeply personalized guitar sound and influences from Mississippi Delta blues, people may have heard The Black Keys and never realized they were a blues group. They are often considered alternative or alternative rock, but their blues roots shine in their music and are keeping the genre fresh and alive. With so much history and tradition behind the blues, it can be easy to lose track of its progression. Their fuzzy tone and punchy drums are the perfect fit for the blues. 

Recommended tracks: “Do the Romp,” “Heavy Soul,” “Thickfreakness,” “Howlin’ for You,” “I’m Not the One,” “She’s Long Gone,” “Stay All Night,” “Wild Child,” “Good Love.”


Reach Tyler Weatherwax or on Twitter @twwax7272.

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About the Contributor
Tyler Weatherwax
Tyler Weatherwax, News Editor
Tyler Weatherwax is a second-year attending Colorado State University. He has lived in the state of Colorado for his entire life and grew up just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. He is currently majoring in journalism and media communication and is a news editor for The Collegian and assistant news director for KCSU. Weatherwax hopes to share some of the world with people through his reporting and experiences. His goal as a journalist is to bring information to others in the hopes that it inspires and educates them in their lives. He also tries to push himself into the unknown to cause some discomfort in his life and reporting. Weatherwax has been a DJ for 90.5 FM KCSU as well as 88.3 FM KFFR. Some things Weatherwax enjoys doing are playing bass guitar, reading, collecting records, going outside and spending time with his friends and family. Weatherwax hopes to become a journalist after he graduates and to see more of the world.

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