Buddy Guy is worried about the blues. The legendary blues guitarist and singer recently sat down with NPR Music and told of his fears that the genre – so deeply entrenched in not just the American, but the international music scene – would die out before too long. Spooked by a conversation with musical peer Muddy Waters, shortly before Waters’ death, Guy says he’s made it his personal mission to ensure blues remains important to future generations of musicians and listeners.
Dwindling live audiences and a shift to more electronic sounds in pop music have been cited by older blues musicians and fans alike as the “downfall” of the sound. But a little research turns up blues’ massive influence across the modern musical spectrum – from rock and folk, to soul and hip hop, and beyond. Simply put, the blues ain’t dead. Here are fifteen examples of artists keeping the train a-rollin’. Hit play on the playlist below and get the scoop while you listen.
The Soul Crossovers
Bridges’ debut album Coming Home was released in June 2015. Hailing from Fort Worth, TX (and many would agree, it almost seems, another era entirely), his performances (in which he dons exclusively vintage clothing) have been likened to great soul and blues legends such as Sam Cooke. And if that’s not bluesy enough for you, here’s this: the first song he ever wrote, “Lisa Sawyer”, was about his mother’s baptism. In a river.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
A seven-piece band out of Birmingham, AL, complete with a crazy tight brass section, St. Paul & the Broken Bones are often classified as Southern Soul. There’s no denying the blues element here, though, strongly heard in member Browan Lollar’s lo-fi guitar sounds and raw, humid vocals. The band are signed to Single Lock Records, a label based in the blues-rich Shoals region of Alabama. They gave the label their first Billboard 200 entry with “Half The City” in 2014.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
Now performing as simply Black Joe Lewis, this band has been making bluesy waves out of Austin, TX (a city that has long been a hotbed for the blues) since 2007. Inspired by blues linchpin Howlin’ Wolf, with soul inspiration from Wilson Pickett and the funk sparks of James Brown, Black Joe Lewis’ guitar sound is vintage and moody, just as the best blues should be. Currently touring the US and Canada.
Perhaps obvious, but not to be overlooked, the popular and prolific White has been finding ways to sneak the blues into every musical project, from the White Stripes punk-blues, to the Raconteurs psychedelic version, to his country-blues collabs with superstar Loretta Lynn (which helped revive Lynn’s career). Some of the musician’s earliest influences – Son House and Blind Willie McTell – are clear throughout the body of his work, but come through strongest on his own, unfiltered solo albums.
Another famous band refugee, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys fame (a band also featured on this list) is a blues powerhouse in contemporary music. After the large-scale success of the Black Keys over several years, Auerbach built his own studio in Akron, OH, to focus on his own pure expression of blues-influenced sounds. His debut solo album, Keep It Hid, was released by Nonesuch Records in 2009.
Gary Clark, Jr
Another Austinite to make it onto the list, the 31-year-old guitar player, singer, writer, and arranger has been widely lauded as one of the great blues artists of the new generation. After learning to play at age 12, Clark became a regular feature at Antone’s, Austin’s chief blues club, and from there went on to gain serious momentum on the international scene. Eric Clapton himself hand selected the musician for the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010. His latest album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, is now available on preorder.
The Black Keys
With no introduction needed, The Black Keys are perhaps one of the most influential blues-rock outfits on the scene today. Originally happy to self-produce their records in basements and the like, the duo’s sound emerged raw, taking the radio by storm and ushering in a new wave of interest in the genre. Influenced cited include Junior Kimbrough, Howlin’ Wolf, and Robert Johnson.
Their first album was released in 2007 after members bonded over Jim Jarmusch films, and much like their artistic preferences, this garage-blues band’s sound is eclectic and sample-loving, with homages to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and others on key tracks like “Sixteen”.
It’s not only found in the USA, you know. American blues sounds share quite a few similarities with Irish trad music, and the genre has long been loved across the sea. The music of darling-come-lately Hozier is a forceful example of how the blues are shaping sounds abroad. His first band at age 15 included blues persuasions, natural, perhaps, for the son of a Bray blues musician. The viral “Take Me To Church” has received international acclaim, and at 25 years old, he’s gaining momentum fast.
The hotly-tipped 28-year old musician from the Isle of Man has been teaching himself to play the blues from a young age. His original blues-rock band Back Door Slam was formed in 2003, with sounds shaped by prior generation luminaries like Rory Gallgher and Eric Clapton. In 2014, Davy was selected to serve as the Isle of Man’s official Cultural Ambassador for “…Island of Culture 2014, the biggest cultural celebration in the country’s history.” His sound tends toward the pure end of the blues spectrum, a true tip of the hat to a special musical breed.
(*Note: The Isle of Man is not actually part of the Republic of Ireland, but is located in the Irish Sea, midway between Ireland and England. It is a self-governing Crown dependency.)
One of our favorites, we recently had the pleasure of hosting Castle Creek at this year’s youbloomDublin 2015 Music Festival & Conference. We also had the chance to talk with them a little about their musical background, which featured in youbloom: HEADROOM #4. These ambitious New Yorkers incorporate the blues into their unique sound with panache.
The Contemporary Barnshakers
J Roddy Walston & The Business
Originally from Tennessee, with live shows which “make James Brown look lazy” (Baltimore City Paper), these guys take the blues to the its most rowdy, scrappy, and danceable. Quite the sensation, they can currently be found touring all over the eastern United States.
Cage The Elephant
A band from Kentucky whose first success was in England (hey, the Brits have a real fondness for the blues; just look at the Rolling Stones!), these four young guys toured for nearly five years off the back of their self-titled debut, released to critical acclaim.
The Bleeding Hearts
Self-described as “American in every sense of the word”, Goodnight, Texas write songs reminiscent of a time when the blues were vital and necessary, and the back of a boxcar was the perfect place to sing them. Named after the geographic midpoint between members hometowns in San Francisco and North Carolina, they feature chugging, steady rhythms and plaintive, nostalgic lyrics which call to the dark, sentimentalism of your escapist daydreams.
A feature on the American music scene since 2005, Delta Spirit have a lot of work under their belt. History From Below, the follow-up to their warmly reviewed debut EP, featured collabs with blues lover Bo Koster of My Morning Jacket, as well as bass player & producer Elijah Thomson. Their latest release was 2014’s Into The Wide, and they are currently on tour in the northeastern United States.
What do you think? Know a modern blues band people should be grooving to? Let us know in the comments below.