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Blues rock
Stylistic origins Electric blues, rock and roll, British blues
Cultural origins Early to mid-1960s, United Kingdom and United States
Typical instruments Electric guitar, bass guitar, drums, vocals, Hammond organ, piano, harmonica
Derivative forms Heavy metal,[1][2] hard rock, boogie rock, psychedelic rock, garage rock, stoner rock, southern rock
Fusion genres
Punk blues

Blues rock is a musical genre combining bluesy improvisations over the twelve-bar blues and extended boogie jams with rock and roll styles. The core of the blues rock sound is created by the electric guitar, piano, bass guitar and drum kit, with the electric guitar usually amplified through a tube guitar amplifier, giving it an overdriven character.

The style began to develop in the mid-1960s in Britain and the United States. UK Bands, such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and The Animals and American bands such as the Butterfield Blues Band and the Siegel–Schwall Band, experimented with music from older African-American bluesmen, like Albert King, Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King.[3] While the early blues rock bands "attempted to play long, involved improvisations which were commonplace on jazz records",[3] by the 1970s, blues rock got heavier and more riff-based.[3] By the "early '70s, the lines between blues rock and hard rock were barely visible",[3] as bands began recording rock-style albums. In the 1980s and 1990s, blues rock acts returned to their bluesy roots, and some of these, such as the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan, flirted with rock stardom."[3]


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 might be found in traditional Chicago-style blues. Blues rock bands "borrow[ed] the idea of an instrumental combo and loud amplification from rock & roll".[3] It is also often played at a fast tempo, again distinguishing it from the blues.[3]


The core of the blues rock sound is created by the electric guitar, bass guitar and drum kit. The electric guitar is usually amplified through a tube guitar amplifier or using an overdrive effect. Often two guitars are played in blues rock bands, one playing the accompaniment riffs and chords on rhythm guitar and one playing the melodic lines and solos of the lead guitar part.[3] While 1950s-era blues bands would sometimes still use 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.


Blues rock pieces normally follow the 12-bar blues structure, but often follow a slightly different structure, as seen in "Stormy Monday", which follows the general format of a 12-bar blues, but which the Allman Brothers played with altered chords:

G9 | C9 | G9 | G9 | C9 | C9 | G9 / Am7 | Bm7 / Bbm7 | Am7 | Cm7 | G9 / C9 | G9 / D augmented

...instead of the traditional G | C | G | G | C | C | G | G | D | C | G | G progression. The progression is usually repeated, with only one section of the song, though there are exceptions, some pieces having a "B" section. The key is traditionally major, but can also be minor, a common technique being the use the minor pentatonic scale, with blue notes, over a major chord progression, as employed by Albert King in nearly all of his pieces. The lead guitar typically uses the pentatonic scale, either major or minor, when soloing.

A classic example of blues rock is Cream's "Crossroads" first released on their Wheels of Fire album. It was adapted from Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues" and "Traveling Riverside Blues". It fuses some of the lyrical and musical styles of blues with rock-styled tempo and guitar solos.


While rock and blues have historically always been closely linked, and electric guitar techniques such as distortion and power chords were already used by 1950s blues guitarists (particularly Memphis bluesmen such as Joe Hill Louis, Willie Johnson, and Pat Hare),[4][5] blues rock as a distinctly recognizable genre did not arise until the late 1960s. In 1963, American Lonnie Mack debuted an idiosyncratic, fast-paced electric blues guitar style which confounded his contemporaries, but which later came to be identified with blues rock. His instrumentals from that period were recognizable as blues or R&B tunes, but he relied heavily upon fast-picking techniques derived from traditional American country and bluegrass genres. The best-known of these are the hit singles "Memphis" (Billboard #5) and "Wham!" (Billboard #24).[6] However, blues rock was not named as such, or widely recognized as a distinct movement within rock, until several years later, with the advent of such British bands as Free, Savoy Brown and the earliest incarnations of Fleetwood Mac. The musicians in those bands had honed their skills in a handful of British blues bands, primarily those of John Mayall and Alexis Korner.[7] At that point, Mack's earlier recordings were rediscovered and he soon came to be regarded as a blues rock pioneer. Other American performers, such as Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield and the group Canned Heat are now also considered blues rock pioneers.

Music critic Piero Scaruffi argues that the blues rock genre was defined when John Mayall released the album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton in 1966, which included guitarist Eric Clapton. Scaruffi defines "blues rock" as a "genre of rhythm'n'blues played by white European musicians." Scaruffi claims that the US "equivalent of John Mayall was Al Kooper." Cream "took the fusion of blues and rock to places where it had never been before" by engaging in a "level of group improvisation that was worthy of jazz." He calls Fleetwood Mac (during the Peter Green period in the late 1960s) "one of the most creative and competent British bands of the blues revival".[8] Scaruffi argues that the "British blues musicians were true innovators", in that they did a "metamorphosis" on US blues and "turned it into a "white" music" by emphasizing "the epic refrains of the call and response", speeding up the "Chicago's rhythm guitars," smoothing "the vocal delivery to make it sound more operatic" and adding vocal harmony.[9]

The electric guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix (a veteran of many American rhythm & blues and soul groups from the early-mid-1960s) and his power trios, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Band of Gypsys, has had broad and lasting influence on the development of blues rock, especially for guitarists.[7] Eric Clapton was another guitarist with a lasting influence on the genre; his work in the 1960s and 1970s with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, supergroups Blind Faith, Cream and Derek and the Dominos, and an extensive solo career has been seminal in bringing blues rock into the mainstream.[7] By this time, American acts such as The Doors and Janis Joplin further introduced mainstream audiences to the genre.

In the late 1960s, Jeff Beck, a former member of The Yardbirds, revolutionized blues rock into a form of heavy rock, taking the UK and the US by storm with his band, The Jeff Beck Group.[7] Jimmy Page, a third alumnus of The Yardbirds, went out to form The New Yardbirds which would soon become known as Led Zeppelin and would become a major force in the 1970s heavy metal scene.[7] The Who during their early run was a blues rock standard group, with their posters for their performances including their catch phrase "Maximum R&B". During this period the band covered songs from Bo Diddley, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Mose Allison. The Australian band AC/DC were also influenced by blues rock. Other blues rock musicians influential on the scene in the 1970s included 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.[10] Blues rock had a rebirth in the early 1990s - 2000s, with many artists such as Gary Moore, Mad Season, The White Stripes,[11] Rival Sons, John Mayer,[12] Blues Traveler, The Black Crowes,[13] The Black Keys,[14] Jeff Healey,[15] Clutch,[16] The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion[17] and Joe Bonamassa.[18]

See also


Further reading

  • Bane, Michael. White Boy Singin' the Blues. Penguin, 1982. 270 p. A5, index. ISBN 0-14-006045-6
  • Brunning, Bob. Blues : The British Connection. Foreword by Paul Jones. Blandford Press, 1986. 256 p., index. ISBN 0-7137-1836-6. Rev. & upd. ed. in 1995 as Blues in Britain : The history, 1950s-90s (other sub-title : 1950s to the Present), 288 p. ISBN 0-7137-2457-9. Re-publ. w/ original title by Helter Skelter, 2002, 288 p. ISBN 1-900924-41-2
  • Fancourt, Leslie. British Blues on Record (1957–1970). Retrack Books, 1989. 62 p. A5.
  • Heckstall-Smith, Dick. The Safest Place in the World: A Personal History of British Rhythm and Blues. Preface by Jack Bruce. Quartet, 1989, hb, 178 p. ISBN 0-7043-2696-5. New ed. by Clear Books in 2004, w/ a second part written by Pete Grant, his manager since 2000, now titled as Blowing the blues: Fifty Years Playing the British Blues, w/ a 7-track CD (5 prev. unissued). 256 p. ISBN 1-904555-04-7.
  • Hjort, Christopher. Strange Brew: Eric Clapton and the British Blues Boom, 1965-1970. Foreword by John Mayall. Jawbone, 2007. 352 p. ISBN 1-906002-00-2.
  • Myers, Paul. Long John Bauldry and the Birth of the British Blues, Greystone Books, 2007, 272 p. ISBN 978-1-55365-200-7
  • McStravick, Summer; Roos, John (eds); Foreword by Bob Brunning. Blues-Rock Explosion, Old Goat Publishing, 2001. 286 p A4 + xxxi, index. ISBN 0-9701332-7-8.
  • Schwartz, Roberta Freund. How Britain Got the Blues: The Transmission and Reception of American Blues Style in the United Kingdom. Ashgate (Ashgate Popular and Folk music series), 2007. 282 p., hb. ISBN 0-7546-5580-6.

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