Blues Styles

Blues is not Blues. The evolution of the Blues formed many different styles often named by the area where it was created, like Delta Blues, Chicago Blues or Texas Blues. They assimilated local music styles, changed the instrumentation, the chords and chord sequence, added special notes or modified scales.


The transitions between the styles are often unsharp, the same Blues can contain characteristics from different styles. Many artist can also be assigned to different styles, they moved from the Delta to Chicago and developed a new style like Muddy Waters or B.B. King, so Muddy Waters could appear as a Delta Blues artist, too. Same to the labels: many of them released different styles over the years.

Below is a brief comparison chart for the some popular Blues styles, consider this as as attempt to describe the main characteristics, not a scientific table for music theory. It is not complete, there are hundreds of (local) sub-genres like the Memphis style, the Detroit style, St. Louis Blues, Louisiana Blues, Kansas City Blues or New Orleans Blues. There are also hundreds of great Blues artists that are not listed. For detailed information search the web, look at the AMG site or read some of the books shown on this page.

Style History/Area Characteristics Instruments Artists
Country Blues
Synonyms:
Rural Blues
Folk Blues
Downhome Blues
Country Blues is the more general term for all raw acoustic Blues styles. See the regional styles (like Delta or Piedmont Blues) for detailed information.
Delta Blues Earliest Blues style from the Mississippi Delta (the area in the northwest section of the state of Mississippi between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers, not a real delta in geological terms), first described in the beginning of the 20th century. First recorded in the 1920’s. Acoustic, raw sound, fingerstyle, few solos, minor pentatonic, open strings, bass lines, 7th chords, key often E or A, open tunings for slide playing, one man band Vocals, harp, guitar, slide guitar Bukka White (1906 – 1977)
Charley Patton (1891-1934)
Hound Dog Taylor (1915 – 1975)
John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) (also Detroit Blues)
Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter (1888 – 1949)
Mississippi John Hurt (1892-1966)
Robert Johnson (1911-1938)
Robert Lockwood Jr. (1915 – 2006) )
Skip James (1902-1969)
Son House (1902-1988)
Willie Brown (1900 – 1952)
Piedmont Blues A Country Blues style developed during the 20’s and 30’s in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. Influenced by ragtime and country string bands it was played by both black and white, rural and urban people. A fingerpicking style emulating ragtime piano, the left hand piano rhythm is played with the thumb and the right hand piano melody with the forefingers. 12 bar structure, fingerpicking, bouncy alternating thumb bass, more lively and melodic than the low-donw Delta Blues. Acoustic guitar, vocals, slide Blind Blake
Blind Boy Fuller
Barbecue Bob
Reverend Gary Davis
Blind Willie McTell
Chicago Blues
Synonyms:
Urban Blues
City Blues
Developed from the Delta Blues when in the 1920s and 1940s (Great Migration) the black population started to migrate northwards (usually along the Mississippi river), to the big industrial cities like Chicago (and Detroit), which promised profitable job opportunities and so a better life. Nearly 3 million blacks left the south between 1940 and 1960. They took their music with them, adapted it to the urban life, the Blues became electrified and was played in a band with drums, bass and piano. Influenced by jazz music, Blues players like Muddy Waters or B.B. King created the new Chicago style. Players Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield opened it to white Americans. Electric guitar, often played with a pick, elegant style, jazz influenced, minor Blues scale combined with major pentatonic, fluid phrasing, key often C, G or B/Bb (horns!), 9th or 11th chords, slow minor Blues, small bends, intense vibrato Vocals, harmonica, electric guitar, bass, drums, piano, keyboard, horns B.B. (Riley) King (1925)
Muddy Waters (1915 – 1983)
Big Maceo Merriweather (1905 – 1953)
Big Bill Broonzy (1893 – 1958)
Buddy Guy (1936)
David “Honeyboy” Edwards (1915)
Elmore James (1918 – 1963)
Howlin’ Wolf (1910 – 1976)
Hubert Sumlin (1931)
J.B. Lenoir (1929 – 1967)
Jimmy Rogers (1924 – 1997)
Junior Wells (1934 – 1998)
Mike Bloomfield (1943 – 1981)
Otis Rush (1934)
Robert Lockwood Jr. (1915 – 2006)
Sunnyland Slim (1907 – 1995)
Willie Dixon (1915 – 1992)
Texas Blues Spread from the Delta already in the 20’s, it was the music of African American working in Texas at on the fields or in lumber camps and oilfields. With the great depression the people started to move to the big cities like Houston and Galveston (like the Delta Blues musicians moving to Chicago). Texas Blues includes both the early acoustic pre-war Blues as well as the post-war urban electric Blues and the new era of bands like ZZ Top or the Fabulous Thunderbirds with Stevie Ray Vaughan, the variety is much bigger than in other styles. The rhythm (“Texas Shuffle”) is different to the Chicago rhythm and has some spanish flamenco and jazz/swing influences, the guitar is the dominating instrument both for solo and rhythm. Acoustic or electric guitar, often played with a pick, jazz and flamenco influenced, minor Blues scale combined with major pentatonic, chromatic runs, fluid phrasing, key often C, G or Bb (horns!), 9th or 11th chords, slow minor Blues, small bends, intense vibrato Vocals, acoustic or electric guitar, bass, drums, sometimes horns or keyboard Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897 – 1927)
Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter (1888 – 1949)
Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins (1912 – 1882)
Albert Collins (1932 – 1993)
Freddie King (1934 – 1976)
Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954 – 1990)
T-Bone Walker (1910 – 1975)
ZZ Top
West Coast Blues
Synonyms:
California Blues
Developed mainly by Texas Blues artist moving to California in the 1940’s, the West Coast style doesn’t have an acoustic pre-war phase. Without the typical country roots it’s more jazz-oriented, smoother and often piano based with influences from the Jump Blues style. Well known is the Texas born T-Bone Walker and his “Stormy Monday Blues electric guitar, jazz and Jump Blues influenced, minor Blues scale combined with major pentatonic, chromatic runs, smooth phrasing, key often C, G or Bb (horns!), 9th or 11th chords, slow Blues, show effects Vocals, piano, electric guitar, bass, drums, horns (saxophone), rarely keyboards, small combos T-Bone Walker (1910 – 1975)
Charles Brown (1922 – 1999)
Amos Milburn (1927 – 1980)
Pee Wee Crayton (1914 – 1985)
Johnny “Guitar” Watson (1935 – 1996)
Lowell Fulson (1921 – 1999)
Jump Blues Jump Blues came up during the 1940’s with a huge Jazz/Swing influence. The danceable uptempo music was played by big bands and became the precursor of Rock ‘n Roll as well as Rhythm And Blues (R&B). Shouting vocals, big band style, saxophone solos, less guitar (only rhythm), uptempo Vocals, brass instruments (horns, saxophone, …) drums, piano, guitar, big band Louis Jordan (1908 – 1975)
Amos Milburn (1927 – 1980)
Floyd Dixon (1929 – 2006)
Charles Brown (1920 – 1999)
Joe Turner (1911 – 1985)
British Blues That’s what this site is all about… when Big Bill Broonzy, Howling’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and other Blues artists had their first gigs in Great Britain in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, artists like Chris Barber, Alexis Corner, Cyril Davies, John Mayall as well as the Rolling Stones began to discover the Blues roots and started playing it. It was the birth of the electric guitar heroes like Clapton, Green, Page, Beck and more and the beginning of groups like the Blues Incorporated, Yardbirds, Cream, Fleetwood Mac or the Who. see Chicago/Delta Blues and other styles like Blues Rock Vocals, guitar, bass, drums, piano Eric Clapton
John Mayall
Alexis Corner
Chris Barber
Cyril Davies
Jeff Beck
Jimmy Page
Peter Green
Rolling Stones
and many more…
Piano Blues General term for all piano based Blues forms like Boogie-Woogie, Cool Blues, Barrelhouse and more. From Barrelhouse style (12-bar blues, repeating rhythmic patterns left hand, melodies and improvisations right hand) to Jazz Blues. Piano, drums, bass, guitar, horns, vocals Cow Cow Davenport
Roosevelt Sykes
Clarence “Pine Top” Smith
Leroy Carr
Walter Davis
Roosevelt Sykes
Big Maceo Merriweather
Champion Jack Dupree
Sunnyland Slim
and Jimmy Yancey
Otis Spann
Dr. John
Jazz Blues Having the same roots Jazz music is heavily influenced by the Blues, so there are many Blues elements in Jazz music. It combines the 12 bar structure, blue notes and blues phrasing with jazz harmonies and jazz chords. 12 bar structure, blue notes, chord substitution, ii/V progression instead of V/IV, dim chords Guitar, saxophone, piano, horns, bass, vocals Mose Allison
Lonnie Johnson
Roy Milton
Jimmy Rushing
Big Joe Turner
Jimmy Gourley
Bill Heid
Bill Jennings
Chuck Rainey
Freddy Robinson
Bobby Short
Alvin “Red” Tyler
Jimmy Witherspoon
Ray Charles
Charlie Parker
Louis Armstrong
Coleman Hawkins
Chris Barber
Lionel Hampton