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Contemporary Blues Artists You Should Know

Six Essential Contemporary Blues Artists


The blues suffered a commercial downturn during the 1970s. Although the genre was still robust creatively through the decade, the increased popularity of R&B, funk and hard rock, combined with the advancing ages of modern era blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and John Lee Hooker lessened the commercial fortunes of the genre. It was the arrival of guitarslinger Stevie Ray Vaughan during the early-1980s that jumpstarted the contemporary blues craze, breathing new life into the careers of established artists and allowing young musicians the chance to earn a living and put their own imprint on the blues.

1. Albert Collins

Albert Cpllins
Photo courtesy Alligator Records
Guitarist Albert Collins was a unique stylist and an incendiary live performer whose appeal jumped across the aisle from fans of houserockin' Texas blues to include many fans in the rock world. Influencing talents as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Collins rode high during the 1980s blues revival, ensuring his place in music history.

2. Fabulous Thunderbirds

An important bridge between the classic 1950s Chicago blues and '60s-era blues-rock, the Fabulous Thunderbirds rewrote the book with both style and substance. The band's sound was straight-ahead barrelhouse blues with Texas roadhouse flair. Whether featuring Kim Wilson's wailing harp or Jimmie Vaughan's raging guitar, the band's material always rocked the house to its foundation. The band's live performances are legendary and, through the years, the T-Birds have re-defined the concept of the blues band.

3. Lonnie Brooks

Lonnie Brooks
Photo courtesy Alligator Records
Guitarist Lonnie Brooks forged a distinctive style that is often described as "voodoo blues," mixing elements of R&B, Chicago blues, Memphis soul, and Cajun music into an intoxicating brew. One of the most popular performers on the Chicago blues scene, Brooks also remains in demand on the festival circuit. Both of Brooks' sons – Wayne Baker Brooks and Ronnie Baker Brooks – are full-time musicians with their own blues bands, and they often appear onstage with their father. The three musicians also have performed together as The Brooks Family.

4. R.L. Burnside

R.L. Burnside
Photo courtesy Fat Possum Records
R.L. Burnside is the best-known proponent of what is known as the "Mississippi Hill Country blues." A raucous, rhythmic, foot-stomping brand of blues made to be performed in the region's numerous juke joints, Burnside was one of the style's most popular practitioners. Backed by a red-hot band that included two of his sons and a son-in-law, Burnside's influences were modern performers like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, but his mentor was Mississippi Fred McDowell, so his electric blues sound is firmly footed in the country rather than the city.

5. Roomful of Blues

Roomful of Blues
Photo courtesy Roomful of Blues
For over 40 years, Roomful of Blues has carried the torch for a big band blues sound, and the list of talents that have passed through the band's doors throughout the years is a veritable who's who of successful blues artists. Although they began as a conventional blues-rock band, Roomful of Blues quickly evolved into a traditionally-oriented, R&B influenced jump blues band with a horn section that blew like nobody's business, and a run of superior guitarists that would be the envy of any other band.

6. Son Seals

Son Seals
Photo courtesy Alligator Records
Frank "Son" Seals was a talented showman and fiery guitarist that many fans believe to be the best bluesman of the 1970s. Even as blues music was being eclipsed by the commercial growth of R&B and funk and, later, the dancefloor appeal of disco, Seals continued to stay true to his uncompromising vision of guitar-driven blues. A gruff vocalist and raw, electrifying performer, Seals' weapon was his mastery of the almighty guitar riff, which attracted an audience weaned on 1960s-era blues-rock.
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