Contrary to popular belief, the modern blues scene is alive and well. Guitarists like Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark Jr and Derek Trucks are filling concert halls and arenas with legions of die hard blues fans and garnering attention from a wider audience.
Beyond these giants of the modern blues scene, there are a number of amazing blues artists and bands helping keep the blues alive. As blues music features rarely (if at all) in the mainstream, these musicians are trickier to find; so it’s up to us to help spread the good word. Here are a few of the modern blues artists and bands I’ve discovered recently that have become regular features on my blues playlist:
Iceland isn’t a country best known for the blues, but Kaleo are working hard to change that perception. Their second studio album ‘A/B’, which they released in 2016, was a great success – selling almost 1 million copies worldwide. The single ‘Way Down We Go‘ went platinum in the US and reached number 1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart. This has been followed by a packed touring schedule, the highlight of which was their performance in March this year Lollapalooza. The album features a balanced mix of gritty and intense riffs, alongside slow melodic blues. The track Vor í Vaglaskógi – sung totally in Icelandic – is an unexpected highlight.
Recommend Songs – Way Down We Go, Hot Blood, I Can’t Go On Without You, No Good, All The Pretty Girls
The Marcus King Band
It is a real skill to play blues in a way that resonates with a mainstream audience. Fusing blues and soul, The Marcus King Band have struck that rare balance between catchy melodies and killer guitar solos. The playing is fast, punchy and showcases the ‘sophisticated’ style of blues that has become popular with modern players. Not only is frontman Marcus King a very talented guitarist, he has the vocals to match. He has already gathered the praise and support of blues greats Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. Haynes produced King’s self titled album in 2016 and played on the track Virginia. Trucks – one of Kings’ idols – also appears on the album, joining him for the track ‘Self-Hatred‘. That King has achieved all of this and has only just celebrated his 20th birthday, suggests that he may be poised to become one of the great blues guitarists of our generation.
Recommended Songs – Rita is Gone, Boone, Virginia, Dyin’, Always
Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown
I was lucky enough to see Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown in London shortly before Christmas last year. It was one of the best gigs I’ve been to in recent years. Tyler Bryant is a brilliant guitarist and an unbelievable showman. The set I watched featured a cover version of Muddy Maters’ Mojo Workin‘ and saw Tyler bring out his Dobro and play bottleneck on a couple of occasions.
What I enjoyed most about the gig was the total joy the whole band showed during the performance. They gave the sense that they enjoyed nothing more than than playing rock and blues and this enthusiasm is obviously paying off. They’ve featured as the support act on world tours for both AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses and are gathering a loyal following of their own.
Recommended Songs – The Wayside, Ramblin’ Bones, Jealous Me, Manipulate Me, Heartland
When the British blues scene exploded in the late 1960s, guitarists were lauded for their technical prowess. The guitar formed the centrepiece of so many of those iconic songs. In fact it is rare to listen to blues from the 1960s and 1970s without hearing at least one guitar solo per song. More recently though, modern blues players seemed to have moved towards a more restrained style of playing. Not Philip Sayce.
Here is a guitarist paying homage to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He is a supremely quick player and his solos are blistering and intense. He plays raw blues and the heavy riffing and solos are relentless. Unlike the other musicians on this list, Sayce is a veteran and has six studio albums and a number of additional live recordings to which you can listen. His 2009 album ‘Peace Machine’ is my favourite and a great place to start.
Recommended Songs – Morning Star, Steamroller, Alchemy, Blood on Your Hands, Peace Machine
Jared James Nichols
Joe Perry of Aerosmith described Jared James Nichols as ‘the real deal’ and one of the few modern blues guitarists to whom he enjoys listening. Nichols has supported some of the biggest names in rock – opening for bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Zakk Wylde and Saxon. His playing is fast and furious, and he is quickly becoming famous for his high energy performances and virtuosic guitar solos. Unlike the majority of modern blues guitarists, Nichols doesn’t use a pick and instead opts to play with his fingers. This, combined with the fact that he rips out the neck pickup on all of guitars, has resulted in a unique and fiery sound that’s winning him a die hard fan base. His most recent album – ‘Black Magic’ – showcases his virtuosity in all of it’s glory and is well worth a listen if you want your fix of hard American blues-rock!
Recommended Songs – Honey Forgive Me, The Gun, Last Chance, Keep Your Light on Mama, End of Time
If you play the guitar, you need to listen to Kirk Fletcher. Unlike a number of the other guitarists and bands listed here – who have blended blues with rock or soul elements to produce a more mainstream sound – Kirk Fletcher is fairly niche in his appeal. Much of his discography is instrumental and reminiscent of fusion players like Scott Henderson and Robben Ford. He is a flawless guitarist and has managed to fuse intricate jazz inspired licks with a raw emotion in his playing that is so crucial for the blues. Combine this with his beautiful vintage blues tones and you have in Fletcher a brilliant modern blues guitarist to which any aspiring player should listen.
Recommended Songs – Natural Anthem, Blues for Antone, Congo Square, Ain’t No Way, My Turn
There we have it – just some of the modern blues guitarists and bands who I’m really enjoying listening to at the minute. Did I miss anyone off the list? If you’re listening to anyone that I’ve missed, let me know in the comments!
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share the love 😁 Thank you!
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Marcus King – Washington Post, Jared James Nichols, Joe Perry Quote
Feature Image – Clement Morin / Alamy Stock Photo
List of 6 people as “need to hear” when talking about Blues and it’s legacy… 1 Black guy on the list and no women.
Here’s the true list:
Blind Boy Paxton
Thanks very much for your comment Hilde and for the musicians you’ve added onto the list. As it happens, I have long been meaning to update this article. It was one of the very first I ever wrote for the site around 4 years ago, and it is in need of refreshing.
In fact what I was thinking of doing was breaking the article up into a number of articles – each one covering a slightly different element of the blues. So there would be an article on the best blues guitarists, best blues bands, best blues artists etc. With so many brilliant musicians out there and so many new musicians emerging it will always be tricky to cover everyone, but I hope that will be more comprehensive than this current article. Thanks again!
Blues, only Kirk Fletcher. Others, rock/pop…
Hi Claudio, thanks so much for the comment! For sure Kirk Fletcher is the player here that sticks most rigidly to classic blues. But having said that – all of the guitarists featured here take their inspiration from the blues. This is particularly the case with Philip Sayce, who is most definitely a blues guitarist. Admittedly Jared James Nichols and Tyler Bryant play what could be better defined as rock than blues. But that line has always been a bit blurry, and I think it is particularly so in the modern blues scene!