|Cultural origins||Early to mid-1960s, US and UK|
|Typical instruments||Electric guitar, bass guitar, drums|
Blues rock is a fusion genre combining elements of blues and rock. It is mostly an electric ensemble-style music with instrumentation similar to electric blues and rock: electric guitar, electric bass guitar, and drums, sometimes with keyboards and harmonica. From its beginnings in the early to mid-1960s, blues rock has gone through several stylistic shifts and along the way it inspired and influenced hard rock, Southern rock, and early heavy metal. Blues rock continues to be an influence in the 2020s, with performances and recordings by popular artists.
Blues rock started with rock musicians in the UK and the US performing American blues songs. They typically recreated electric Chicago blues songs, such as those by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, and Albert King, at faster tempos and with a more aggressive sound common to rock. In the UK, the style was popularized by groups like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Animals, who placed several blues songs into the pop charts. In the US, Lonnie Mack, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Canned Heat were among the earliest exponents and later "attempted to play long, involved improvisations which were commonplace on jazz records".John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac also developed this more instrumental, but traditional-based style in the UK, while late 1960s and early 1970s groups, including Ten Years After, Savoy Brown, the Climax Blues Band and Foghat became more hard rock oriented. In the US, Johnny Winter, the Allman Brothers Band, and ZZ Top represented a hard rock trend.
Along with hard rock, blues rock songs became the core of the music played on album-oriented rock radio, and later the classic rock format birthed in the 1980s.
Although around this time, the differences between blues rock and hard rock lessened,there was also a return to more traditional blues styles in the 1980s, when the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan, recorded their best-known works and the 1990s saw guitarists Gary Moore, Jeff Healey, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd become popular concert attractions. Groups such as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the White Stripes, brought an edgier, more diverse style into the 2000s, while the Black Keys returned to basics.
Blues rock can be characterized by bluesy improvisation, the twelve-bar blues, extended boogie jams typically focused on the electric guitar player, and often a heavier, riff-oriented sound and feel to the songs than found in typical Chicago-style blues. Blues rock bands "borrow[ed] the idea of an instrumental combo and loud amplification from rock & roll".It is also often played at a fast tempo, again distinguishing it from the blues.
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The core blues rock sound is created by the electric guitar, bass guitar and drums. The electric guitar is usually amplified through a tube guitar amplifier or using an overdrive effect. Two guitars are commonplace in blues rock bands: one guitarist focused on rhythm guitar, playing riffs and chords as accompaniment; and the other focused on lead guitar, playing melodic lines and solos.
While 1950s-era blues bands sometimes used the upright bass, the blues rock bands of the 1960s used the electric bass, which was easier to amplify to loud volumes. Keyboard instruments, such as the piano and Hammond organ, are also occasionally used. As with the electric guitar, the sound of the Hammond organ is typically amplified with a tube amplifier, which gives a growling, "overdriven" sound quality to the instrument.
Vocals also typically play a key role, although the vocals may be equal in importance or even subordinate to the lead guitar playing. As well, a number of blues rock pieces are instrumental-only. Sometimes bands also included a Richter-tuned harmonica or "harp".
Blues rock pieces often follow typical blues structures, such as twelve-bar blues, sixteen-bar blues, etc. They also use the I-IV-V progression, though there are exceptions, some pieces having a "B" section, while others remain on the I. The Allman Brothers Band's version of "Stormy Monday", which uses chord substitutions based on Bobby "Blue" Bland's 1961 rendition, adds a solo section where "the rhythm shifts effortlessly into an uptempo 6/8-time jazz feel".The key is usually major, but can also be minor, such as in "Black Magic Woman".
One notable difference is the frequent use of a straight eighth-note or rock rhythm instead of triplets usually found in blues. An example is Cream's "Crossroads". Although it was adapted from Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues", the bass "combines with drums to create and continually emphasize continuity in the regular metric drive".Cream also uses some of the lyrics from "Traveling Riverside Blues" to create their own interpretation of the song.
Rock and blues have historically always been closely linked, with driving rhythms and electric guitar techniques such as distortion and power chords already used by 1950s blues guitarists, particularly Memphis bluesmen such as Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson and Pat Hare.Characteristics that blues rock adopted from electric blues include its dense texture, basic blues band instrumentation, rough declamatory vocal style, heavy guitar riffs, string-bending blues-scale guitar solos, strong beat, thick riff-laden texture, and posturing performances. Precursors to blues rock included the Chicago blues musicians Elmore James, Albert King, and Freddie King, who began incorporating rock and roll elements into their blues music during the late 1950s to early 1960s.
1963 marked the appearance of American rock guitar soloist Lonnie Mack, whose idiosyncratic, fast-paced electric blues guitar stylecame to be identified with the advent of blues rock as a distinct genre. His instrumentals from that period were recognizable as blues or rhythm and blues tunes, but he relied heavily upon fast-picking techniques derived from traditional American country and bluegrass genres. The best-known of these are the 1963 Billboard hit singles "Memphis" and "Wham!". Around the same time, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was formed. Fronted by blues harp player and singer Paul Butterfield, it included two members from Howlin' Wolf's touring band, bassist Jerome Arnold and drummer Sam Lay, and later two electric guitarists, Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. In 1965, its debut album, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band was released. AllMusic's Michael Erlewine commented, "Used to hearing blues covered by groups like the Rolling Stones, that first album had an enormous impact on young (and primarily White) rock players." The second album East West (1966) introduced extended soloing – the 13 minute instrumental title track included jazz and Indian raga influences – that served as a model for psychedelic and acid rock. In 1965, avid blues collectors Bob Hite and Alan Wilson formed Canned Heat. Their early recordings focused heavily on electric versions of Delta blues songs, but soon began exploring long musical improvisations ("jams") built around John Lee Hooker songs. Other popular mid-1960s groups, such as the Doors and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, also adapted songs by blues artists to include elements of rock. Butterfield, Canned Heat, and Joplin performed at the Monterey (1967) and Woodstock (1969) festivals.
In the UK, several musicians honed their skills in a handful of British blues bands, primarily those of Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner.While the early British rhythm and blues groups, such as the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Animals, incorporated American R&B, rock and roll, and pop, John Mayall took a more distinctly electric blues approach. In 1966, he released Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton , the first of several influential blues rock albums. When Eric Clapton left Mayall to form Cream, they created a hybrid style with blues, rock, and jazz improvisation, which was the most innovative to date. British band Fleetwood Mac initially played traditionally-oriented electric blues, but soon evolved. Their guitarist Peter Green, who was Clapton's replacement with Mayall, brought many innovations to their music.
The electric guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix (a veteran of many American rhythm and blues and soul groups from the early-mid-1960s) and his power trios, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys, had a broad and lasting influence on the development of blues rock, especially for guitarists.Clapton continued to explore several musical styles and contributed to bringing blues rock into the mainstream. In the late 1960s, Jeff Beck, with his band the Jeff Beck Group, developed blues rock into a form of heavy rock. Jimmy Page, who replaced Beck in the Yardbirds, followed suit with Led Zeppelin and became a major force in the 1970s heavy metal scene. Other blues rock musicians in the 1970s include Dr. Feelgood, Rory Gallagher and Robin Trower.
Beginning in the early 1970s, American bands such as Aerosmith fused blues with a hard rock edge. Blues rock grew to include Southern rock bands, like the Allman Brothers Band, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd, while the British scene, except for the advent of groups such as Status Quo and Foghat, became focused on heavy metal innovation.
Blues rock had a rebirth in the early 1990s–2000s, with many artists such as Gary Moore, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gary Clark Jr., Susan Tedeschi, the White Stripes,Jack White, Walter Trout, John Mayer, Blues Traveler, the Black Crowes, the Black Keys, Jeff Healey, Gov't Mule, Clutch, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Joe Bonamassa, and Guy Forsyth.
The term jazz guitar may refer to either a type of electric guitar or to the variety of guitar playing styles used in the various genres which are commonly termed "jazz". The jazz-type guitar was born as a result of using electric amplification to increase the volume of conventional acoustic guitars.
Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as "rock and roll" in the United States in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and developed into a range of different styles in the mid-1960s and later, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom. It has its roots in 1940s and 1950s rock and roll, a style which drew heavily from the genres of blues, rhythm and blues, and from country music. Rock music also drew strongly from a number of other genres such as electric blues and folk, and incorporated influences from jazz, classical and other musical styles. Musically, rock has centered on the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with electric bass, drums, and one or more singers. Usually, rock is song-based music with a 4/4 time signature using a verse–chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse. Like pop music, lyrics often stress romantic love but also address a wide variety of other themes that are frequently social or political.
Slide guitar is a particular technique for playing the guitar that is often used in blues-style music. The technique involves placing an object against the strings while playing to create glissando effects and deep vibratos. It typically involves playing the guitar in the traditional position with the use of a tubular "slide" fitted on one of the guitarist's fingers. The slide may be a metal or glass tube, such as the neck of a bottle. The term "bottleneck" was historically used to describe this type of playing. The strings are typically plucked while the slide is moved over the strings to change the pitch. The guitar may also be placed on the player's lap and played with a hand-held bar and is then referred to as "lap slide guitar" or "lap steel guitar".
Hard rock is a loosely defined subgenre of rock music typified by a heavy use of aggressive vocals, distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, and drums, sometimes accompanied with keyboards. It began in the mid-1960s with the garage, psychedelic and blues rock movements. Hard rock developed into a major form of popular music in the 1970s, with bands such as the Who, Boston, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, Kiss, Queen, AC/DC and Van Halen. During the 1980s, some hard-rock bands moved away from their hard-rock roots and more towards pop rock. Established bands made a comeback in the mid-1980s and hard rock reached a commercial peak in the 1980s, with glam metal bands like Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard and the rawer sounds of Guns N' Roses, which followed up with great success in the later part of that decade.
A power trio is a rock and roll band format having a lineup of electric guitar, bass guitar and drum kit, leaving out the second rhythm guitar or keyboard instrument that are used in other rock music bands that are quartets and quintets. Larger rock bands use one or more additional rhythm section to fill out the sound with chords and harmony parts.
Southern rock is a subgenre of rock music and a genre of Americana. It developed in the Southern United States from rock and roll, country music, and blues, and is focused generally on electric guitar and vocals. Although the origin of the term Southern rock is unknown, "many people feel that these important contributors to the development of rock and roll have been minimized in rock's history."
John Mayall, OBE is an English blues singer, guitarist, organist and songwriter, whose musical career spans over sixty years. In the 1960s, he was the founder of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, a band which has counted among its members some of the most famous blues and blues rock musicians.
Elmore James was an American blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and bandleader. He was known as "King of the Slide Guitar" and was noted for his use of loud amplification and his stirring voice. For his contributions to music, James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Paul Vaughn Butterfield was an American blues harmonica player, singer and band leader. After early training as a classical flautist, he developed an interest in blues harmonica. He explored the blues scene in his native Chicago, where he met Muddy Waters and other blues greats, who provided encouragement and opportunities for him to join in jam sessions. He soon began performing with fellow blues enthusiasts Nick Gravenites and Elvin Bishop.
The Chicago blues is a form of blues music developed in Chicago, Illinois. It is based on earlier blues idioms, such as Delta blues, but performed in an urban style.
Electric blues refers to any type of blues music distinguished by the use of electric amplification for musical instruments. The guitar was the first instrument to be popularly amplified and used by early pioneers T-Bone Walker in the late 1930s and John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters in the 1940s. Their styles developed into West Coast blues, Detroit blues, and post-World War II Chicago blues, which differed from earlier, predominantly acoustic-style blues. By the early 1950s, Little Walter was a featured soloist on blues harmonica using a small hand-held microphone fed into a guitar amplifier. Although it took a little longer, the electric bass guitar gradually replaced the stand-up bass by the early 1960s. Electric organs and especially keyboards later became widely used in electric blues.
British blues is a form of music derived from American blues that originated in the late 1950s, and reached its height of mainstream popularity in the 1960s. In Britain, it developed a distinctive and influential style dominated by electric guitar and made international stars of several proponents of the genre including The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is the sole studio album by the English–American blues rock band Derek and the Dominos, released in November 1970 as a double album. It is best known for its title track, "Layla", and is often regarded as Eric Clapton's greatest musical achievement. The other band members were Bobby Whitlock on keyboards and vocals, Jim Gordon on drums, Carl Radle on bass. Duane Allman played lead and slide guitar on 11 of the 14 songs.
Five Live Yardbirds is the live debut album by English rock band the Yardbirds. It features the group's interpretations of ten American blues and rhythm and blues songs, including their most popular live number, Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning". The album contains some of the earliest recordings with guitarist Eric Clapton.
Eric Clapton is the debut solo studio album by British rock musician Eric Clapton, released in August 1970 under Atco and Polydor Records.
"Cross Road Blues" is a blues song written and recorded by American blues artist Robert Johnson in 1936. Johnson performed it as a solo piece with his vocal and acoustic slide guitar in the Delta blues-style. The song has become part of the Robert Johnson mythology as referring to the place where he supposedly sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical talents, although the lyrics do not contain any specific references.
"Hide Away" or "Hideaway" is a blues guitar instrumental that has become "a standard for countless blues and rock musicians performing today". First recorded in 1960 by Freddie King, the song became a hit on the record charts. It has been interpreted and recorded by numerous blues and other musicians and has been recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Grammy Hall of Fame.
What's Shakin' is a compilation album released by Elektra Records in June 1966. It features the earliest studio recordings by the Lovin' Spoonful and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, as well as the only released recordings by the ad hoc studio group Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, until they were reissued years later.
Harvey Mandel is an American guitarist known for his innovative approach to electric guitar playing. A professional at twenty, he played with Charlie Musselwhite, Canned Heat, the Rolling Stones, and John Mayall as well as starting a solo career. Mandel is one of the first rock guitarists to use two-handed fretboard tapping.
British rhythm and blues was a musical movement that developed in the United Kingdom between the late 1950s and the early 1960s, and reached a peak in the mid-1960s. It overlapped with, but was distinct from, the broader British beat and more purist British blues scenes, attempting to emulate the music of American blues and rock and roll pioneers, such as Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. It often placed greater emphasis on guitars and was often played with greater energy.
Black country bluesmen made raw, heavily amplified boogie records of their own, especially in Memphis, where guitarists like Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson (with the early Howlin' Wolf band) and Pat Hare (with Little Junior Parker) played driving rhythms and scorching, distorted solos that might be counted the distant ancestors of heavy metal.