Blues Guitar Art

Brief History of Blues Music

Blues music originated in the “Deep South” of the United States during the early 1900’s.  The music found it roots from work songs, spirituals, field hollers and chants that were sung by the African-American community.  The first publication of blues music was in 1908 with the song “I got the Blues”  by Antonio Maggio.

During the 1920’s, blues music began to increase in popularity as several record companies in Memphis, Tennessee began to make records of the music.  At the same time Memphis nightclubs such as the Cotton Club, Juke Joints, as well as several bars along Beale Street the began to showcase live performances.

During this time blues singer/guitar players such as Bo Carter, Jimmy Rogers, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, and Blind Blake began to become popular recording blues artists.  Their music was called Memphis Blues and was recorded on the American Record Corporation, Okeh Recording and Paramount recording studios in Memphis.

Watch & Listen to Blues Guitar Players from 1920’s

Bo Carter |
Blind Blake |
Blind Lemon |

Lonnie Johnson |
Jimmy Rogers |
Tampa Red |

During the 1930’s there was a southern migration to the big cities. Chicago and Detroit became the hubs for Urban blues.  Blues players such as Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed were some of the great blues guitar players from Chicago and Detroit.

Watch & Listen to Blues Guitar Players from 1930’s

Bo Diddly |
Chuck Berry |

Willie Dixon |


Muddy Waters |
Howlin Wolf  |
Jimmy Reed |

Later after the World War II, Bo Diddly, BB King and Chuck Berry both began to popularize the Urban “Electric” blues guitar sound with white audiences by writing upbeat catchy songs that appealed to the youth.

Bo Diddle, BB King & Chuck Berry

Bo Diddle |
BB King |
Chuck Berry |

During the 1960’s bands such as the Yardbirds (initially called Blue-Sounds), John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, and the Rolling Stones are a few of the many bands who continued to popularize blues music in England and the United States by recording renditions of Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson II, Jimmy Reed and Elmore James.  While the Rolling Stones musical direction was Rock & Roll, there musical roots were from the blues.

Blues influence on music of the 1960’s

John Mayall  |
Rolling Stones |
Yardbirds |

What Blues Music Means

Blues music is in many respects a window into ones soul.  It’s an art form that many can perform but few can master.  The Blues guitar technique can be a raw, unrehearsed and primitive or smooth, soothing and rhythmic.  The direction of the music is up to the band and its leaders and what they’re feeling at that moment. It’s rare that a blues songs sound the same during live performances. As the emotion and feel of a song often changes with the dynamics of the location, and the interaction between the performers with the crowd.

Musical Form of Blues Music

The reason why blues guitar is so fascinating is that it offers a free platform for expression. The standard form of a blues song is simple structure that consists of twelve or twenty-four bars played in 4/4 time.   The songs rhythm uses the I-IV-V chord tones of the key.  While the basic form is simple, blues musicians have expanded on the basic form and have managed to create an incredible number of variations and textures. This basis structure allows blues guitar players to step in or out of the songs groove without hesitation.  This freedom translates to some exciting Blues guitar solos, bound only by the guitarist imagination.

At the heart of Blues Guitar is the Major Pentatonic scale.  The Major Pentatonic (or 5 note scale) is a very popular Blues guitar scale.  The scale is smaller than most scales which usually contain 7 notes such as the C Major scale (C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C) or A Minor scale (A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A).  Another interesting characteristic of the Blues Guitar (Major Pentatonic) scale is that it really does not contain any “bad” or dissonant sounding notes.

The 5 notes of the C Major Pentatonic scale are (C – Eb – E – G – A – C).  The notes form a simple pattern on the guitar fret board that can be played fairly easy.   The same scale can be used throughout a C Major Blues twelve or twenty four bar song without having to change key.  The fact that you can use the same scale through a song is quite interesting considering that Jazz guitarist often change scales for each chord in the song!

Blues guitar players are also known for their guitar licks.  A guitar lick is a pattern or phrase of notes that are personalized with guitar accents using slides, bends, tremolo, muting, pick scraps or any other “trademark signatures’.

Blues Guitar has been a starting point for many guitarist in other musical genera such as Rock, Jazz, Fuzz and Metal.