When I started learning to play guitar, it seems that everyone from my homeroom teacher to my little league coach was telling me who their favorite band was and what songs I needed to learn.
“You’ve gotta learn Freebird!” was the collective refrain from the well-meaning South Georgians of my hometown.
But what about the blues? Most of the ‘recommendations’ I would get were all in the classic rock vein. If someone were getting into the blues today, what five songs would you tell them you absolutely have to learn?
Here’s my quick list of great blues songs to learn:
Eric Clapton – Hey, Hey
Like most popular Clapton blues songs, this is a cover of a classic blues song. Big Bill Broonzy originally penned this tune that showed up on Clapton’s Unplugged album.
Hearing this for the first time opened my ears to acoustic blues music and stretched my ideas that blues is the same simple 12 bars over and over.
Clapton’s performance on the track is phenomenal and there are a couple of licks in the tune that are shear genius.
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Life by the Drop
My personal favorite SRV tune is Life by the Drop. The last track on The Sky is Crying, it may not be the most popular SRV tune, but the feeling SRV puts forth in that tune is moving to say the least.
And the playing is, as always, incredible. This acoustic tune offers a beginner the chance to learn the standard SRV shuffle rhythm and throws in a few sweet open position blues licks that are very much a staple in Mr. Vaughan’s playing.
Just have a listen to the opening lick to hear what I’m talking about. For me, this song acted like a gateway drug, helping me build my chops enough play more difficult (and faster) licks a la Pride and Joy.
T-Bone Walker – Stormy Monday
I have played this slow blues tune over and over trying to understand the genius at work here. T-Bone’s chord vocabulary is to be admired and it is clearly at work here.
This arrangement is simply brilliant.
Any new bluesman or woman should spend some time getting inside this song and check out the classic T-Bone chord moves. Some of the chords are complicated, but mastering them will catapult your playing. Learning the chromatic chord shifts can open up a new approach to your rhythm playing by adding a little life to transitioning from chord to chord.
This song is a long-time blues standard and it’s easy to hear why.
Keb’ Mo’ – Perpetual Blues Machine
Keb’ Mo’ is a contemporary blues artist and in my opinion, one of the best guys out there making new music today. Perpetual Blues Machine, from the 1997 Grammy winning album Just Like You is a great track to both get you into Keb’ Mo’ and give your fingers a workout.
This acoustic blues tune opened up my mind to what can be done on an acoustic guitar. I’ve always had an appreciation for someone who can sit down with an acoustic guitar and create a beautiful piece without the need for an entire band.
Keb’ is exceptional at this stripped-down style of playing and getting a couple of his tunes in your repertoire will certainly be a skill-building experience.
Freddie King – San-Ho-Zay
One of the Three Kings of Blues, Freddie King’s style is one to get to know. This tune jumps!
It’s a whole lotta fun to play and is challenging to learn. The opening licks are examples of perfect phrasing.
Learning this tune was a great experience for me and after playing it for awhile I noticed a few of the lick fragments started showing up in my improvised leads.
The best thing about this track’s lead playing is the finesse King employs. Getting the subtle nuances of this track down, will no doubt make a newbie more bluesy.
That’s my list. What’s on your list?