The wedding of blues music and rock & roll in the evolution of the blues-rock genre did not happen in a vacuum. It was largely the invention of white British kids, enamored of the blues records they heard by Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and others that were imported into the U.K. Putting their own spin on things, bands like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and early Fleetwood Mac – inspired by the devotion to the blues displayed by scene godfathers like Alexis Korner and John Mayall – created a blues-rock genre that still resonates with listeners today. Here are six essential early blues-rock bands.
Known as the "Father of British Blues," musician and bandleader Alexis Korner was an integral part of England's early-1960s blues scene. Korner's Blues, Incorporated band helped popularize blues music, and during the early part of the decade, Korner performed with a long list of British music royalty. Korner never experienced the overwhelming commercial success enjoyed by some of his peers and younger acolytes, but his influence on the development of blues-rock is undeniable.
Few artists can claim to have had the influence on blues, jazz, and blues-rock that British musician John Mayall can boast of during his fifty-year career. An accomplished bandleader with an ear for talent, Mayall discovered and/or nurtured such instrumental talents as Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Walter Talent, and Coco Montoya. Mayall's 56-album catalog includes excursions into the blues, blues-rock, jazz, and African styles of music.
Although Fleetwood Mac is primarily known worldwide as the groundbreaking, chart-topping pop-rock band featuring Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the band's history is actually quite different. Led by guitarist Peter Green, the band made a name for itself as a psychedelic-drenched, hard blues band inspired by Cream and Jimi Hendrix that, in turn, would influence a spate of bands during the 1970s.
During the latter half of the 1960s, during the peak of the British blues-rock craze, Ireland's Taste, featuring Rory Gallagher, impressed crowds wherever they played. Featuring Gallagher's extraordinary fretwork and dynamic showmanship, the band toured with superstars like Yes and Blind Faith, and even performed at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. Yet Taste never caught a break, and although influential and popular in England and Ireland, they never broke through to a U.S. audience.
Although they have been known as "The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band" for decades, in the beginning, the Rolling Stones were the biggest and baddest blues-rock band on the planet. Named after a Muddy Waters song, and pursuing a singular vision of rockin' blues and R&B, the Stones eclipsed contemporaries like the Animals and Them to dominate the early-1960s British blues-rock scene.
The Yardbirds were one of the most influential and groundbreaking of all of the early-1960s British blues-rock bands, their impact felt far beyond their fleeting commercial success. Best-known, perhaps, as the first notable band for three of rock's greatest guitarists – Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Pages – the talents of these phenomenal instrumentalists often overshadows the Yardbirds' enormous legacy.