The 20 Greatest Blues Albums Of All-Time


The Blues are the foundation of almost every important musical genre of the 20th century – from Jazz to Rock to Soul to Funk to Hip-Hop and beyond. As Willie Dixon so eloquently put it, “The Blues is the roots, everything else is the fruits.” Here are 20 Blues albums that should be a part of any serious music collection:

Robert Johnson | King Of The Delta Blues Singers
Robert Johnson – King Of The Delta Blues Singers

#1 – It’s hard to overstate the importance of Robert Johnson’s influence on the sound of modern music. His ghostly wail and precise finger picking style, combined with tales of hellhounds and cheating women, set the bar for what a blues singer should sound like (and, since rock was born out of the blues… well, you connect the dots). And his personal background is one of the most interesting and hotly debated stories in the history of music. An oft-told tale has Johnson meeting the Devil at the crossroads and trading his soul for the musical skills that would make him a legend.

But the songs are the real story here: ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man’, ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’, ‘Stop Breakin’ Down Blues’, ‘They’re Red Hot’ and ‘Love In Vain Blues’ – along with nearly everything else he recorded in his short life – would go on to become standards, and have been covered by everyone from Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eric Clapton. Johnson’s influence was particularly rampant during the mid-to-late 1960’s when many young rockers (including Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, and Clapton) turned to him for inspiration as well as material. And while Johnson had a deep influence on the British blues, his hold on musicians continues into the 21st century in the songs of the White Stripes and others. As long as music is being made, Robert Johnson’s influence will continue to resonate.

Howlin' Wolf | The Chess Box
Howlin’ Wolf – The Chess Box

#2 – Howlin’ Wolf (aka Chester Burnett) is, as the Blues Hound says “a singer/persona whose ferocity has never been equaled and rarely even approached.” He stood 6 feet 6 inches tall and tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds and his personality filled every iota of that frame. The guy just rips. “I just be in the field plowing and songs come to me you know…” he says on one of the spoken word segments here. Wolf sowed a number of blues masterpieces for Chicago’s Chess Records, including ‘Smokestack Lightnin’ ‘Back Door Man’ ‘Spoonful’ ‘Killing Floor’ and ‘300 Pounds Of Joy’. These songs – covered by early rock luminaries such as the Grateful Dead, The Doors, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix – represent just the beginning of this treasure trove. For proof that absolute musical intensity doesn’t require ear shredding decibels or quicksilver guitar work, fire up Howlin’ Wolf’s epic Chess Box.

Leadbelly | King Of The 12-String Guitar
Leadbelly – King Of The 12-String Guitar

#3 – Huddie Leadbetter, aka Leadbelly, had a voice as smooth as good liquor, and twice as dangerous. He didn’t mind telling it like it was, and his man-in-the-streets style made him something of a gangsta rapper before his time. Indeed, legendary Library Of Congress field recorder Alan Lomax discovered and first recorded Leadbelly while that latter was serving time in the notorious Parchman Farm Penitentiary for attempted murder. A multi-talented instrumentalist, he specialized in 12-string guitar. All of Leadbelly’s music transcends the Blues – it is music of the highest order. The songs that Leadbelly performed in his lifetime have been covered by an incredibly wide array of performers, including Pete Seeger, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, and Van Morrison.

Billie Holiday | Songs For Distingue Lovers
Billie Holiday – Songs For Distingue Lovers

#4 – To her core, Lady Day was a blues singer. A life filled with hard living, hard relationships, and hard drugs gave her first hand insight into what constituted the blues – and ultimately led to her early grave. But none of that should overshadow her accomplishments as a singer. In terms of vocal phrasing, Holiday stands as one of the finest singers of the 20th century – along with Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and Marvin Gaye. Like those artists, her voice seems to come from within in the song, and any tune she put it to is instantly hers.

She sings like a woman whose heart was recently removed by way of her throat, so it wouldn’t matter if she were backed by Xavier Cugat or Carl Stalling – Billie Holiday always sang the blues. Here, she’s backed by Jimmy Rowles, Ben Webster and Barney Kessel, among other jazz musicians, but her voice epitomizes unendurable pain, endless struggle, and utter hopelessness. Songs For Distingue Lovers is as good a place as any to begin discovering the genius of Billie Holiday. Taking perversely happy songs and lending them her distinct touch, she turns tales of happiness and found love into gut wrenching takes on anguish and loss. Pure and bitter genius.

Mississippi John Hurt | 1928 Sessions
Mississippi John Hurt – 1928 Sessions

#5 – Mississippi John Hurt’s story reads like a blues fairy tale. A farm laborer from Avalon, Mississippi, Hurt recorded a number of sides in 1928 for the Okeh label. But the great depression effectively ended his recording career before it gained any traction, and he returned to Avalon to resume working as a laborer. In 1963, record collector Tom Hoskins pieced together clues from Hurt’s songs, found him in Avalon, and convinced him to resume his music career. Hurt was instantly recognized as a lost treasure, and began a healthy touring and recording schedule, releasing three albums and playing to coffeehouses across the country. Alas, his re-found fame was cut short when he passed away in 1966. 1928 Sessions captures Hurt in his young glory before he went into deep freeze. His finger picking is absolutely unparalleled in the history of Blues music – just listen to ‘Frankie’ for evidence. A mellow, soulful singer, Hurt’s laid back style makes him instantly recognizable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Bessie Smith | The Complete Recordings Vol. 1
Bessie Smith – The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1

#6 – The “Empress Of The Blues” possessed a voice powerful enough to cut through the hiss and scratch of primitive recordings and leap across the chasm of time. No other singer from the 1910’s & 20’s still sounds as fresh, vital, and imposing as Bessie Smith. She was one of the first stars of recorded music, and it wasn’t uncommon for her more popular sides to sell nearly a million copies. The majority of her songs were recorded before 1929, when the Great Depression essentially put the recording industry out of business.

The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 is the first set in a series that collects all of her recorded work on 5 two-disc sets. The music here was recorded between February 1923 and April 1924 and features her mostly just accompanied by piano. From ‘Downhearted Blues’ all the way through to ‘Hateful Blues’ Smith’s voice is equal parts iron and velvet, and she sings like a woman who would – and has – spit in the face of the devil himself.

Before she died in 1937 – at age 43, from injuries sustained in an automobile accident – she laid a foundation of blues songs that have influenced generations of female singers, including Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, & Norah Jones. But there’s only one Bessie Smith, and she’s right here, waiting to reach out across nearly 100 years’ time and tell you just how it is.

Reverend Gary Davis | Harlem Street Singer
Reverend Gary Davis – Harlem Street Singer

#7 – Davis was born partially blind and lost his sight completely before he reached adulthood. He turned to the church in part to cope with this burden, and in 1933 was ordained as a Baptist minister. In the late 50’s he found favor with the secular folk crowd, and began to have an influence on players of that era including Dave Van Ronk, Bob Dylan, and eventually, Jerry Garcia. His picking style was born out of a badly broken and poorly set left wrist that forced him to finger his notes at an odd angle. But his vocal intensity was no accident – Davis sang with a fire that matched the brimstone in his songs. Harlem Street Singer displays the eclectic mix of song styles – ragtime, marches, gospel, field songs, and more – that he brought together through his incomparable voice and singular style.

Big Bill Broonzy | Trouble In Mind
Big Bill Broonzy – Trouble In Mind

#8 – Though not as often-referenced as other blues giants, Broonzy was a pioneering artist and influence on many of the men whose shadows he would come to stand in. Trouble In Mind is an excellent collection of singles he recorded during the 30’s for labels such as Vocalion, Columbia, and ARC, and it’s an excellent place to delve into his work. Broonzy brought a well-developed sense of humor to a genre that could have used more of it. But only someone with his slick genius could consistently put a smile on your face while singing the genuine blues.

Skip James | The Complete Early Recordings Of - 1930
Skip James – The Complete Early Recordings Of Skip James – 1930

#9 – Early Recordings is one of the scariest albums ever recorded in any genre, under any circumstances. James’ unearthly wail is the sound of a tormented spirit corkscrewing away from its earthly body. When he sings “Jesus is coming to this world again/Coming to judge the hearts of men“, he sounds like a leering devil who sees all your sins and gleefully knows how you’ll be judged. The quality of these recordings is terrible, but the sheets of hiss and scratch sound like black rain and actually add to the overall creepy effect. Refreshingly spared the digital sanitization that almost every other reissue of the compact disc era has undergone, this is a hair-raising journey down the darkest side street of the Blues.

Albert King | Born Under A Bad Sign
Albert King – Born Under A Bad Sign

#10 – “He can take four notes and write a volume,” guitarist Mike Bloomfield once said of Albert King. His minimalist blues styling is in a perfect setting here, backed by the Memphis Horns, Booker T. & The MG’s, and many other Stax/Volt luminaries. More a collection of singles than a proper album, Born Under A Bad Sign influenced a who’s who of rock, including Clapton, Hendrix, Peter Green, and others. More importantly, it fused soul, R&B and the Blues into a stout mixture that would reinvigorate interest in a sagging genre and ensure that King would be forever (and rightly) known as a Blues legend and one of the most influential musicians of all-time.

Mance Lipscomb | Texas Sharecropper And Songster
Mance Lipscomb – Texas Sharecropper & Songster

#11 – Beau De Glen Lipscomb’s nickname was short for “emancipation” but he sang like a man welded permanently to the chain gang. His acoustic Texas blues style didn’t find an audience until the 1960’s – by which time Lipscomb had been performing for nearly 30 years – but he was still quite prolific, recording nearly 90 original songs before passing away in 1976. Texas Sharecropper And Songster compiles the better part of two of his early-60’s albums for the Arhoolie label, and it’s an excellent introduction to one of the most gifted and original voices to sing the Blues.

John Lee Hooker | Alternative Boogie: Early Studio Recordings 1948 – 1952
John Lee Hooker – Alternative Boogie: Early Studio Recordings 1948 – 1952

#12 – Start with the voice: a slow drawl that’s as thick and sweet as molasses. Then there’s the backbeat: driving things along at a casual but insistent rate – like a ‘57 Chevy cruising down smooth, freshly-laid blacktop. The combination would carry Hooker to a magnificent career that spanned nearly 60 years and see him cross over to rock audiences time and again in ways that must have left his contemporaries wondering and envious. This collection contains early, alternate versions of songs that Hooker would go on to re-record, and it’s an impeccable look at the formative years of a Blues genius. To hear a fine slice of the other (funk/rock) side of Hooker, be sure to check out 1974’s excellent and underrated Free Beer And Chicken.

Lonnie Johnson | The Complete Folkways Recordings
Lonnie Johnson – The Complete Folkways Recordings

#13 – Lonnie Johnson is the Velvet Underground of the blues. A bluesman’s bluesman, his wide-ranging influence sits in inverse proportion to his meager popularity. Luminaries such as Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan have cribbed from his phrasing, picking, and knife-edge vocals. After Mississippi John Hurt, Johnson is the most laid back singer on this list, but he still sounds like a man singing like his life depended on it.

Muddy Waters | At Newport 1960
Muddy Waters – At Newport 1960

#14 – At the 1960 Newport Folk Festival, Muddy Waters wasn’t yet a Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame inductee or Chicago Blues titan – he was simply a man with a band trying to impress a whole bunch of white people. This soulful yet blistering set did the trick, and then some – igniting interest in electric blues and sending Waters on his way to all those accolades. “Put A Tiger In Your Tank” is a perfect example of the barely restrained ferocity that marks the whole set. The band featured Otis Spann on piano and James Cotton on harmonica, and they provide the underpinning for Waters’ smooth growl. Muddy made many exceptional albums throughout his career, but none surpass the locomotive chug of At Newport 1960.

Blind Willie McTell | The Definitive Blind Willie McTell
Blind Willie McTell – The Definitive Blind Willie McTell

#15 – “Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell” sang Bob Dylan in his song named and written for this blues titan. Virtually ignored in his lifetime, McTell wrote songs like ‘Three Women Blues’ – “one for the morning/one for late at night/I got one for noon time/to treat your old daddy right” that sound like a cross between Luther Campbell and Robert Johnson. That is, impeccably sung tales of love, lust and betrayal. And – like virtually every other name on this list – McTell has a long list of disciples (including Taj Mahal, Nirvana, Dylan, and White Stripes) and sings like he’s haunted by the very hounds of hell.

Bo Diddley | Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger
Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger

#16 – Of all the great blues artists, Bo Diddley most directly influenced the formation of rock-n-roll from the blues. His hits – including ‘I’m A Man’ and ‘Who Do You Love’ – contained a propulsive beat that foreshadowed the sound of rock, and not surprisingly, dozens of rock greats have covered his songs. His trademark square-bodied guitar (and matching glasses) makes Diddley an instantly recognizable figure. In fact, he’s been recognized by nearly every hall of fame that’s associated with music. And who could forget his classic ‘Bo Knows’ Nike commercial with Bo Jackson? Still going strong after 50 years in music, he recently headlined a concert fundraiser to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. [Editor’s note: Bo Diddley passed away in June of 2008]

R.L. Burnside | Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down
R.L. Burnside – Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down

#17 – The most recently made album on this list by 32 years (Albert King’s Born Under A Bad Sign was made in 1968), Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down is nonetheless the real deal. Fat Possum Records has carried the blues torch proudly into the 21st century, and R.L. Burnside was perhaps the label’s most exciting artist until his death in late 2005. He puts on a fierce display of blues virtuosity here – melding Muddy Waters electrified intensity with Howlin’ Wolf’s larger than life presence, Skip James’ deathbed dread, and a healthy dose of modern effects like scratching and sampling. ‘Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues’ ‘Got Messed Up’ ‘Chain Of Fools’ and others prove that – even if Burnside is no longer with us – grimy, honest blues are alive & well.

Magic Sam | West Side Soul
Magic Sam – West Side Soul

#18 – Mississippi-Delta born Sam Maghett died in 1969 at the age of 32, and before he had a chance to establish himself as a great bluesman. Now considered the undisputed king of Chicago West Side Blues, his recorded legacy boils down to two great albums, West Side Soul and 1968’s Black Magic. Like Robert Johnson before him, Magic Sam left a towering if abbreviated take on the blues that continues to thrill listeners and influence musicians of every persuasion.

Jimmy Reed | Blues Masters: The Very Best Of Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed – Blues Masters: The Very Best Of

#19 – Covered by a wide range of artists including The Yardbirds, Neil Young, Elvis Presley, and the Grateful Dead, Reed is one of the most influential musicians to ever pick up a guitar. The quality and thoroughness of this compilation is as much a tribute to the excellent work of Rhino records as it is to Reed himself. Too many blues greats are undermined by shoddy and inferior ‘greatest hits’ packages that have more holes than a rack of bowling balls, but The Very Best Of Jimmy Reed hits all the high points, and there are plenty. Reed died at age 50 in 1976 from complications related to alcoholism, but his place in music history (not to mention his plaque in the Rock & Roll hall of fame) had been long ago secured.

Lightnin’ Hopkins | The Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings (Box Set)
Lightnin’ Hopkins – The Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings (Box Set)

#20 – Texan Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins strayed beyond the usual blues topics (bad women, tough times, hard liquor, etc) and reported on the happenings of his day, including aerospace travel, the wars in Vietnam and Korea, and natural disasters of all shapes and sizes. Worth the splurge, this seven disc box collects 12 of his albums from the 1960’s. Considering that he recorded more than 50 albums in a nearly 40-year recording career, this is a great way to start getting acquainted with a Blues legend.


Other Shades Of Blue…

Bukka White – The Complete Bukka White
Buddy Guy & Junior Wells – Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues
Tommy Johnson – Canned Heat (1928-1929)
Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup – That’s All Right Mama
Elmore James – Shake Your Moneymaker: The Best Of The Fire Sessions
Charley Patton – Pony Blues
Otis Rush – Cobra Recordings: 1956-1958
Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown – Original Peacock Recordings
Sonny Boy Williamson [II] – One Way Out
Pink Anderson – Ballad And Folksinger – Vol. 3
Etta James – The Chess Box
Furry Lewis – Shake ‘Em On Down
Willie Dixon – I Am The Blues
Lightnin’ Slim – Rooster Blues
Albert Collins, Robert Cray & Johnny Copeland – Showdown!
Son House – Father Of The Delta Blues: The Complete 1965 Recordings
Memphis Minnie – The Essential Memphis Minnie
T-Bone Walker – The Complete Imperial Recordings: 1950-1954
Smoky Babe – Hottest Brand Goin’


6 More Greats That Didn’t Quite Fit…

Ray Charles
Ray Charles

John Fahey
John Fahey

John Mayall
John Mayall

Roy Buchanan
Roy Buchanan

Ali Farka Toure
Ali Farka Toure

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal


10 From The Next Generation(s)…

Jimi Hendrix
The Allman Brothers Band
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Steve Miller Band
JJ Cale
Terry Reid
White Stripes
Black Keys
British Blues (Bluesbreakers, Yardbirds, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, Faces, Led Zeppelin, Pretty Things, Downliners Sect, Kinks, etc)


A Few Great Blues Compilations

Martin Scorcese Presents The Blues (Box Set)
Chess Blues (Box Set)
The Great Bluesmen (Vanguard)
Anthology Of American Folk Music (Box Set)

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271 Responses to “The 20 Greatest Blues Albums Of All-Time”

  1. 20 Greatest Blues Albums - Cover Art « dkpresents… Says:

    […] the complete liner notes for this […]

  2. davido Says:

    This is a good list. I found some things to listen to here (looking for a Mance Lipscomb today). I would say that Son House should be in your Top Ten, not your “other” list, but I’m sure you grappled with that already.

    But, where I REALLY take issue here (all in fun, of course), is NO BB KING??? Really? The man IS the blues. He’s Rolling Stone magazine’s 3rd greatest guitarist of all time, and his style, while less fierce than some of the others, brought blues to every corner of the globe. Please listen to “Live At The Regal (1964)’, and then see if it places somewhere in your top 20. (^_^).

    Lastly, in your Next Generation, I’d like to give a shout to Olu Dara. HIs album “In the World: From Natchez to New York” (1998) is in my personal top ten.

    Anyway, great fun. Thank you.

    • reVerb Says:

      They named jimmy page #3. RS actually has two lists for this the other one page Page is #9. im not even kidding.

  3. dkpresents Says:


    Thanks so much for the great feedback. I know all about ‘Live At The Regal’ and I’ve listened to it many a time (same with ‘Live At Cook County Jail’) and all I can say is that neither of these albums lit my socks on fire. I know Regal is supposed to be one of the great ones, but it just sounds a little too slick to me. Not sure if this is a byproduct of the horns, King’s (admittedly) above-average guitar work, or his (to me) so-so singing.

    In the run-up to writing this list, I listened to a lot of Blues and spent plenty of time with BB trying to change my own mind. But for me it came down to this: if my house was burning down and I could grab only 40 Blues albums, which would I take? BB may someday get on my good side, but for now he’s not on that list.

    And as you pointed out, he’s already pretty well-known and lauded, so that made me less troubled about the omission. My buddy Furr’s comment on this list was “If that thing sells even one copy of the Lightnin’ Hopkins box, it’ll be worth the effort.” He’s absolutely right, and that clocked in at #20, so it isn’t like the competition wasn’t really top grade. It’s also worth saying that all of the albums mentioned in the ‘Other Shades Of Blue’ section are incredibly highly recommended. Just because they didn’t break the Top 20 doesn’t mean I don’t hold them in the highest regard (including the Son House, which I did indeed grapple with). Thanks for the Olu Dara recco, I will check that out soon.

    Regarding your comment in the ‘About’ section of this blog – I think the ‘songs influencing songs’ idea is an excellent one and I’m starting to look into it. Realistically it will probably be next month before it shows up as a column, but please keep looking in, and thanks for the great suggestion.

    Again, I really enjoyed your feedback. Thanks for taking the time to sit down and read my stuff and present some thoughtful criticism. It is always appreciated.

    • ravi Says:

      hi,well B.B. himself said in an interview that he couldn’t figure out why R and how Regal made it into the top …whatever.He personally considered it a very average album.

  4. davido Says:

    Cool, I’ll keep reading. I look forward to it.

    Right — you promised the BEST 20 CDS, not the “most important artists”. I see. You know, though, so many cats (even the more recent ones, from Hendrix to the Edge) called BB their hero. His name comes up all the time. There must be something to the playing that players themselves got a lot out of. Many guys said their careers started because of BB, and no one might have heard them anyway without BB’s appealing to just about everyone. Just thinking… the CD might feel more pure with him included. It’s a great mix though. I shouldn’t have assumed you hadn’t listened to “Live at the Regal”, when you’re obviously well-schooled in all these blues heads.

  5. davido Says:

    By the way… the Olu Dara’s not going to knock your socks off either. He’s a reeeeally mellow dude. I just like the color of it. Rain showa. Dead flowa. In the Mississippi mud…. The track “Harlem Country Girl” is like… the soundtrack for a dream I once had.

  6. dkpresents Says:

    I totally agree with your comments above. There’s no doubt that BB has played a huge role in influencing guitartists of every persuasion. By leaving him off my list, I’m in no way trying to refute his accolades or claim that his music is no good. In fact, I truly believe that you and the critics are right, and I just haven’t heard his stuff in the right way yet. But I will say that I’m happy to have left him off the list, not only to stay true to my real feelings, but because it’s opened up a conversation about the man that has me thinking about him slightly differently than I did yesterday. And discussions like this are one of the main reasons I started this blog, so big thanks for contributing to the conversation.

    I will give the Olu Dara a fair shake, and thanks again for the recco!

  7. 233MHz · Where John Prine Got His Style Says:

    […] 20 greatest blues albums […]

  8. 233MHz · More Archive Goodness Says:

    […] Public Domain mp3s Internet Archive A great list of 20 great blues albums […]

  9. Random Propaganda VI « dk presents… Says:

    […] Kimbrough * You Better Run: The Essential Junior Kimbrough – This one was on the verge of cracking my Blues list, but I just hadn’t had enough ear time with it to give it the nod. It’s amazing that […]

  10. Peter Kasin Says:

    Thank you for putting your list on the ‘net. I haven’t yet listened to Jimmy Reed or R.L. Burnside, but you’ve sparked my interest in checking out those CDs.

    I want to throw in my two cents worth on two recordings that would be on my list, and am wondering if you had considered them for yours: “Little Walter: His best” (one of the Chess 50th anniv compilations), and the first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album.

  11. Mo’ Better Blues: 10 More Great Blues Albums « dk presents… Says:

    […] Better Blues: 10 More Great Blues Albums During the course of compiling my list of the 20 Greatest Blues Albums Of All-Time, I purchased and listened to a lot of different records. Some of these didn’t embed […]

  12. dkpresents Says:

    Mr. Kasin, you must be a mind reader. Please see my post from today for my shoutout to Little Walter and some other overlooked blues artists.

    Thanks for the note. Now get back to bending spoons with your mind…

  13. blues king Says:

    screw bb king. wheres luther allison?! when you want to talk about the blues and what it means. just listen to his voice. he sings with such passion and angst it makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. and his guitar playing is great. greatest blues song ever, bad news is coming…screw this list.

  14. dkpresents Says:

    I’ll check out Luther Allison! Thanks for your kind words there, BK…

  15. Roy Says:

    You must listen to Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. After that you will be looking for a spot for them on your list.

  16. dkpresents Says:

    Thanks for the recco Roy. I’ve got a couple of Sonny Terry/Brownie McGhee discs in the stacks here, so I’ll be sure to spend a bit more time with them.

    Appreciate you stopping by…

  17. alabamleft Says:

    veru nice list and constructive discussion. while i feel ratings are irrelevant, the inclusion of varied styles is what it’s all about. olu dara and ali farka toure are nearly gods to me. the blues are as basic as breathing. and that exists most everywhere in the world. just for curiosity sake, does anyone know of any eastern european blues? some russian music is quite visceral but i don’t know any names.

  18. Suresh Gundappa Says:

    The best On Blues I have read, Could’t agree with you more, I have at least 20 of these albums but some of them i am still searching. I love these guys these true blues players


  19. tony ruck Says:

    never thought bb was the real deal. las vegas music or even supermarket music. a shout out for magic slim, the real deal

    • Joe Says:

      Mr. BB king is the real deal. I spent time with him between shows at a small theater in Brussels in the mid ’70s. Talked quite a bit about that double live with Bobby Blue Bland. I don’t think he sings while Lucile sings. He really has a style all his own. He is a very nice man and downright scientific in the way he plays and sings that comes from years of repetition. None the less he is the real deal for my generation.

  20. Sammy Z Says:

    I reccament Duane Allman – An Anthology, and Otis Rush’s Mourning in the Morning. Both phenominal albums – An Anthology is one of my favorite albums to date!

  21. mmannaxx Says:

    The original masters are great but from the next generation I would include John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton (Beano album) and the first two Paul Butterfield albums. Both are great examples of electric blues by ‘mostly’ white guys in the 60s!

  22. Robin Says:

    For extra credit my professor every week leaves a song on his website and we must find, research the composer and title of the song.
    The song goes like this:
    I’m freezing, freezing all the time. If I don’t quit this shivering and shaking I believe I’m gonna lose my mind.

    He continues to say that he is wearing 2 wool sweaters.
    Who wrote this and what is the title?

  23. dkpresents Says:

    Consider me stumped.




  24. SeánO Says:

    This is an excellent list for anyone interested in getting a good grounding in blues music. For my money, the Charlie Patton boxset ‘Screamin’ and Hollerin’ The Blues’ should definitely be in the top five. Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan are legends, but i don’t consider them to be in the same league as the great masters of old such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. John Mayell’s ‘Bluesbreakers’ album is very enjoyable, but sounds, to my ears, like a carbon copy of Chicago blues men such as Otis Rush. I agree with previous reviewers about Duane Allman, whom i think transcends genre’s and is a truly original guitarist.

  25. janne Says:

    thanks for the excellent blues page! How about Earl Hooker? Have you checked out Two Bugs And A Roach by him? I think of him as a kind of predecessor to Magic Sam (and Jimi Hendrix)? He certainly is one of the best blues guitarists I have heard.

  26. pannonica Says:

    Excellent list. Mine wouldn’t be exactly the same although there’d be major overlap; minor quibbling is useless for this sort of thing. Despite its perennial hipster cred, not enough people really investigate blues music, so heartfelt and informative posts like this are invaluable if they motivate even just a few people.

  27. Will G. Says:

    I second Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues. Also, as good as Muddy Waters’ Live at Newport is, the Anthology should be included ahead of it. I understand the influence of King of the Delta Blues Singers, but his Complete Recordings has all of Johnson’s known songs. I don’t mean to sound disparaging because this is a great list. Everything in it is classic blues. Good job!

  28. dkpresents Says:

    Thanks for the comment Will. I completely agree with your take on the Muddy Waters album – the argument in favor of Anthology or The Chess Box is pretty compelling. Those are incredible sides that redefined The Blues and influenced a generation of British rockers, and they should be a part of any collection, for sure. Live At Newport represented a pivotal moment in Muddy Waters’ career, and it’s a shit-hot show to boot – in other words, it was a nice change of pace for this particular list. But I agree with the spirit of the comment…

    However, I do stand by the selection of King Of The Delta Blues Singers, rather than the Complete Recordings. For one thing, the former album was THE album that inspired so many great artists of the 60s. But more importantly, Complete Recordings is sequenced so that both versions of a particular song are back-to-back, making for a rather tedious listening experience. The complete recordings are nice to have, but in terms of the quality of the listening experience, King Of The Delta Blues Singers can’t be beat.

  29. crash Says:

    I would take a long listen to Pink Anderson, he is top 5 in my opinion. Thanks great list.

  30. Bob Krueger Says:

    Anyone ever hear of one of the greatest Chicago bluesmen that ever lived, died at age 57 ……… J.B. Hutto, you might want to add him to the list.

    • dkpresents Says:

      Good call Bob. Hutto’s 1968 debut, Hawk Squat, is one of the really great blues albums of all-time. Unfortunately, I didn’t get into it until after this list was compiled…

      Thanks for weighing in!

  31. James P Funk Says:

    I dig the list. Some thoughts:

    R.L. Burnside was one of the best. However, before he started with the sampling, guest musicians, etc., he recorded the album R.L. Burnside – First Recordings back in the sixties. This album makes you look over your shoulder walking down the street on a cold dark night…scary.

    Buddy Guy and Junior Wells were probably the best blues duet to ever play (imo). They did an album in the seventies in Paris called Alone and Acoustic. This album is truly fantastic. Their originals come to life in the acoustic setting. There are some well worked covers on this album as well. They give a twist to Catfish Blues, Boogie Chillen, and Rollin’ and Tumblin’ that nobody else could’ve pulled off.

    Some others to check out if you haven’t already:

    Joe Callicott – Ain’t A Gonna Lie To You
    Honeyboy Edwards – Mississippi Delta Bluesman
    Junior Kimbrough – (Open to suggestions on the album)
    Mississippi Fred McDowell – I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll
    Elizabeth Cotton – Shake Sugaree
    Robert Lockwood Jr. – Legend Live
    Robert Belfour – Pushin My Luck

    • dkpresents Says:

      Thanks for the comment James. I haven’t heard of Joe Callicott or Robert Belfour, but I’ll put them on my wishlist along with that Honeyboy Edwards album.

      If you’re looking for a good Junior Kimbrough album, I suggest You Better Run: The Essential JK. Great stuff…

      Hard to believe I couldn’t find a spot for Freddie King. His album Hide Away has been knocking my socks off lately…

  32. Sen O'Keeffe Says:

    Picked up that R.L. Burnside album First Recordings based on the recommendation above and agree that it’s top drawer. Might I also suggest an album entitled Gospel, Blues and Street Songs featuring Rev. Gary Davis and Pink Anderson. I agree with dk that in terms of its influence and historical importance King of the Delta Blues Singers is the more essential purchase, but any blues fan worth his salt will want to own everything Robert Johnson ever recorded.

    P.S. Went to see John Mayall in Dublin last night and he put on a top show. What a legend! Still in great form at 75 years of age!

  33. LD Says:

    This is a solely classic blues list. I can’t believe Alice In Chains was not mentioned.

  34. LD Says:

    Strike 2nd “as a whole”. lol

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  36. revlmftblog1 Says:

    Nice list. I still like Live Wire/Blues Power by Albert King, but the album’s a great idea.

  37. KM Says:

    Good list, but I would add the other “King” to this list – Freddie King. Despite his short life (he lived to the age of 42) the albums The Texas Cannonball and Burglar are quintessential blues records and he helped pioneer a form of blues that combined the Chicago sound with a Texas flavor and influenced many later blues greats such as Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

    • dkpresents Says:

      This comment is spot on. I’ve been picking up some Freddie King albums recently and he’s one of the best. I particularly enjoy his 60s instrumental blues, and almost anything he recorded in the 70s. Good ear!

  38. James Traill Says:

    Please can you let me know if I can buy a high res image of Ray Charles Smoking from your blog site.

    many thanks

  39. Tommy g Warren Says:

    Great stuff, and yes there are other great Blues Artist, that has entertained us over the decades. There also are some Music Artist today that’s inspired from the song writing and singing of these old “Blues” artist and I for one am so glad they did. Blue is from the soul that tells the stories of peoples trials and human conditions over time, happy and sad, hard and easy, love and hate, work and fun, alive and dead, and all from the truth of the spirit and soul within… Tommy G.

  40. Jeffro Says:

    Love the list and commentary in this post! great to see Mance Lipscomb up there, and many of my other faves :) Bo Diddley – excellent. I will keep my eye out for RLBurnside. You must have come across Frank Frost? Worth a listen too.

  41. Martien Says:

    Really good list which unlike most other music websites/magazine refers to the old blues masters as well as the more contemporary ones (British invasion, SRV, The White Stripes etc.)

    Also I would like to make an suggestion for Rory Gallagher’s Live Irish Tour album, which I think is a classic! Rory has a real soulful/emotional voice and his guitar playing seems to come straight from the heart! What do you think of him?

    • dkpresents Says:

      Thanks Martien – totally appreciate the comment and recco. An old boss of mine was a big Rory fan and he got me intrigued. I can’t say I’ve spent a ton of time with his stuff, but his album Rory Gallagher Live is pretty great – not sure if that’s the same one you’re referring to above, but I’ll definitely look into it…

    • David Says:

      Rory live is the thing: the studio albums were uneven. Irish Tour 74 and best of all the Montreux dvds… Now though, youtube does it brilliantly: you can see all the intensity and sheer bloody joy and endless impro in spades.

      Try these

    • Carlos Says:

      It’s nice to see wherever is a “best blues players of all times” or something like that, there is always someone to point out that Rory Gallagher is missing.
      He wasn’t a mainstream artist, but when you have the luck to listen to his songs, you never stop doing it.

  42. mICAH Says:

    Hey late comer here browsing your list and can’t find too much wrong with it in my opinion (small quibbles like moving Elmore into the top 20)..

    The only omission that glares at me, but I realize don’t glare at everyone because to each his own: I would rec Duster Bennett’s “Complete Blue Horizon Sessions” he was a huge influence on his best friend Peter Green and penned my favorite blues song “Jumping at Shadows”. Short life much like Elmore James and Freddie King but never really broke out of England. Anyways hope you check it out if you haven’t already.

    • dkpresents Says:

      Hadn’t heard of that, but it’s now on my wishlist – thanks for the suggestion and comment…

      • mICAH Says:

        Yea he’s probably my favorite harp player. Search “Shady Little Baby” on youtube.. blistering! In a lot of his earlier sessions he was backed by the original Fleetwood Mac lineup.

  43. The Misanthrope Says:

    pretty good list it is very tough to come up with a list like this. probably the BEST album that no one has heard is The Heartbroken Man by Booba Barnes. true old style mississippi blues worthy of RL burnside and Junior Kimbrough. Check it out!

    my top one in no order:

    The Heartbroken Man
    A Ass Pocket of Whisky – RL Burnside
    Blues by Jimi Hendrix
    Me and mr. Johnson- Clapton
    Chulahoma- The Black Keys
    BB King Live at the Regal
    Showdown!-Albert Collins et al
    Hard Again Muddy Waters
    In Session by Albert King
    Live at Cafe Au Go Go JL Hooker
    Luthers Blues – Luther Allison
    Pushin My Luck Robert Belfour
    Very Best of Big Joe Turner

  44. brad Says:

    Good Job man! I totally agree on leaving out BB king. He definately deserves his legendary status. I just don’t think he’s in the same league as an original artist personally find him very m.o.r.

    Just can’t deal with you leaving out son house though that’s crazy. He would be would be in my top 3 for sure.

  45. stuart munro Says:

    a good list but no blind blake
    unless he’s under ragtime

  46. bluesdoug Says:

    I was thinking about this last night as I was listening to It’s My Life by Junior Wells with Buddy Guy. I believe this to be the best example of what Chicago blues was in its prime. Live cuts mixed with some studio cuts. It shows Buddy at his best. The rhythm section is sublime. Next on my list would be Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign. Although I have tired of BB and his endless touring and too long solos these days his Blues is King live album showcases him during his best years. Much better than the Regal. Glad to see the Wolf up at the top. I am inclined to go for Paul Butterfield’s first as well as his Pigboy Crabshaw albums in any list too.

  47. black and blue Says:

    Very good list with a couple of glaring omissions. The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson and The Essential Little Walter. 2 virtual primers on Chicago Harmonica Blues.

  48. mtho Says:

    Just want to say thank you for the list, and all of the comments from everyone that helped to round it out. As an intro, I have not found anything better.

  49. habz Says:

    Great List!! but come on, where is the greatest blues singer ever Bobby “Blue” Bland

  50. bluesdoug Says:

    Yeah Bobby Bland-great voice and some fantastic blues songs but a fair amount of his work could be classified more as soul/ballads as well. Is there a definitive Bobby Bland blues album?

  51. BrothaRic Says:

    Yeah it is a good list..

  52. Amit Singh Says:

    want to thank dk …(aka ‘dkpresents’ )
    A great way to explore the genre which i agree is a mother genre and an original religion :) rather than a sect . I feel that the discussion is too refined for a newbie like me to participate in .But i really appreciate the write-up and the comments , its like a dialogue .

    a request – i think an discography of the first twenty years of the 18th century would be very interesting .

    • dkpresents Says:

      Thanks Amit – I think you mean the first 20 years of the 20th century, which is a great idea that I’ll spend some time on…

      • Amit Says:

        hi dk ,
        what i mean is go as far back as possible in time , from the roots , music which reproduces the oldest strains of the blues . like some blues artist of the 1920’s or 1930’s saying this is what my grandma sing . I know the desire is tough and too academic but worth a try . :)

  53. Denim Says:

    Fantastic list, thanks for the time and effort with this. I got Blue Yule: Christmas Blues and R&B Classics on repeat currently and started looking around for some other Blues Christmas tunes which somehow led me here…glad it did!

  54. SHines Says:

    I love the list – so good that the few I haven’t heard of will get a listen. Also, thanks to some of the other voices answering – I know most but will listen to the rest.

    I personally think that The Natchel Blues by Taj Mahal is right up there (along with the eponymous album).

  55. tony Says:

    there is no such thing as the top twenty blues albums of all time…….what an absurdist statement…….and by the way… king is the best elevator blues musician of all time

  56. tony Says:

    ive always wondered why noone has ever heard of luther tucker…….a beautiful voice and a wonderful underrrated pleyer

    • Alecia Says:

      Thanks for your suggestion. I like the original list of 20, but the comments are like going to a school to appreciate the blues. I found more music on these comments than anything else I have seen online.

  57. rdjelliott Says:

    Brilliant list!! Just what blogging should be about. What do you think of Hound Dog Taylor? Or Corey Harris?
    Please carry on the pleasure!!

  58. Alecia Says:

    I really like the comments associated with this list because they give a lot of suggestions for the blues novice. I checked out Junior Kimbrough and loved it as I did Luther Allison. I also like Otis Rush and Elmore James. Does anyone have any other suggestions that may not be on the list or the comments?

  59. black and blue Says:

    Dock Boggs Country Blues oop but a great set,
    The Essential Leroy Carr – Robert Johnson borrowed heavily from him
    Blind Willie Johnson Praise God I Am Satisfied
    Sam Collins Jailhouse Blues – Early pioneer
    Mississppi Sheiks Stop and Listen

  60. big brother Says:

    This is a great list. I’ll add my two cents (some may already have been quoted but I didn’t read every single post above).

    Little Walter – His Best
    Paul Butterfield Blues Band – East West
    -> those two have already been mentioned

    Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, Stephen Stills – Super Session
    -> ok this may not be blues strictly speaking, but it contains a number of blues sides and is definitely one of my faves.

    Various Artists – Blues Jam in Chicago Volume 1
    -> this is an amazing blues jam featuring the british band Fleetwood Mac with a number of blues legends (Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, etc). The Elmore James slide covers are particularily enjoyable (check Madison Blues – really great version imho).

    – Various Artists : Chicago/The Blues/Today! Volume 1
    -> This is the first volume of the famous 60’s compilation. My favorite J.B Hutto sides, great Junior Wells songs, and good songs by Otis Spann

    Casey Bill Weldon and Kokomo Arnold – Bottleneck Guitar Trendsetters of the 1930’s
    -> Great compilation of two amazing 1930’s country blues guitarists. Don’t stick to Robert Johnson or Big Bill Broonzy, there are others.

    R.L Burnside – Raw Electric 1979-1980
    -> Early Burnside recording. My favorite album by him.


  61. big brother Says:

    Honorable mentions :

    – Tampa Red – The Essential Recordings
    -> great country blues guitarist. Gotta love Seminole Blues

    – Corey Harris – Fish Ain’t Biting
    -> great stuff

    Junior Wells – Hoodoo Man Blues
    -> must-have Chicago blues

    Buddy Guy – Chess 50th Anniversary Collection
    -> same

    Carey Bell Blues Harp – eponymous album
    -> one of the best Chicago Blues harmonicists

    Mighty Joe Young – eponymous (compilation)
    -> Chicago Blues guitar

    Long John Hunter – Border Town Legend
    -> heavy guitar Texas blues

    Muddy Water – Hard Again
    -> good electric Muddy Waters album

    Robert Lockwood Jr – Delta Crossroads
    -> apparently one of Robert Johnson’s buddy. But this one lived till the mid 00s and released this great Delta blues revival album at 85

    – I mentioned Chicago/The Blues/Today! in the previous post. Volumes 2 and 3 are also definitely worth getting. As well as a more recent Chicago blues compilation : Living Chicago Blues Vol. 1 (great pieces by Jimmy Johnson and Carey Bell among others)

  62. tony Says:

    heres the deal… cant go wrong with a good blues album….there are so many great albums…..aside from the traditional delta /chicago bles “black” artists……….what about great “white” blues players…..musselwwite butterfield hammond downchild burgin norton buffalo etc etc etc…….the list is endless

  63. Bob Nisi Says:

    Hey, Love your blog!! Just wanted to offer a tip on an utterly fantastic comp: Broke, Black & Blue: An Anthology Of Blues Classics and Rarities on Proper Records out of the UK. Just sensational!! 4-cd set 100 tracks, AMAZING SOUND!, and a steal at $13.59 used on Amazon! Every track is stunning!!

  64. Alecia Says:

    Question, I am a blues novice who is just getting into the blues. So far, my favorite blues album is John Lee Hooker Live at the Cafe Au Go Go. Is there anything you could recommend that might be similar?

    The comments on here are like a lesson in blues for me…

    • dkpresents Says:

      Live blues albums worth exploring include the Muddy Waters album recommended above (Muddy Waters At Newport 1960), as well as Albert King’s Live Wire/Blues Power and (even though they’re not my own personal favorites) B.B. King’s Live In Cook County Jail and Live At The Regal.

      I totally agree, the comment trail on this post is the best thing about it. Many worthy reccos…

      • Aleceia Says:

        Thanks DK, I learned more about the blues from the original post and the comments than anything else. This page is like a blues appreciation class. I checked out so many of the suggestions on here and was totally surprised at how much I loved it. I know at the Cafe Au Go Go it was Muddy Waters’ band. I just like the sound on that recording with the piano being prominent….

      • Aleceia Says:

        DK, I checked out Luther Allison Live in Chicago and that blew me away…. Did you ever check his stuff out?

  65. Darin Says:

    What about Jonny Lang? I know he’s barely 30 years old and granted, his influence on the blues does not compare to 20 on this list. If nothing else he should’ve made honorable mention. He is, after all, one of the youngest inductees to the Blues Hall of Fame.

  66. Mark Says:

    Great list and interesting forum but how about Earl Hooker? He was one of the greats and played for a lot of other artists. Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, and his cousin John Lee Hooker all come to mind quicky and there were many others. “Two Bugs and a Roach” is also an excellent album of his. Someone on this page mentioned it but I saw no response.

    • dkpresents Says:

      Yes to Earl Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers, and Corey Harris.

      I’m not sold on Johnny Lang – I picked up one of his albums (Lie To Me) years ago and wasn’t really blown away. Got the impression people were as impressed by him being 15 years old as they were by what he was doing with the Blues…

      • Mark Says:

        I will have to check out Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers…not familiar with them. Also I have been impressed with Otis Rush and his half bends and tone. He has a unique style. Johnny Lang from my understanding had a good first album but after that fell off the planet but again I would have to hear them before I could say for sure. Critics can be tough.

      • Alecia Says:

        I agree with mark on Otis Rush. I love his early recordings such as Double Trouble and those he did with Albert King. Again, so far in my early exploration of the blues, the best that I have heard so far is John Lee Hooker Live at the Cafe Au Go Go which really blew me away. Second to that would be Otis Rush’s Door to Door with Albert King. Rush’s Cobra recordings were amazing, but I have not found his newer stuff to be as powerful. Blind Willie Johnson is one that I found on the comments here that I liked a lot. His voice is very unique. So far, my favorite blues songs are John Lee Hooker’s live version of “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” and “Double Trouble” by Otis Rush. Who knows though, I have been checking back here to see what the comments say in the hopes of coming across something else I really like. A lot of it has piqued my interest and I have at least tried to same most of the suggestions on You Tube… We are lucky to have people so knowledgeable on blues music commenting here..

  67. Benjamin Says:

    thanks a lot for this list. i didn’t know anything about blues, i searched the web for some information and found your site.
    i bought the albums by rev. gary davis, robert johnson, blind willie mctell and mississippi john hurt. and i love them all! great great music. thank you so much!

  68. Peter Brown Says:

    Mid life crisis, just getting into serious Blues after a life of R&B Soul and Jazz. I am making a wish list from all messages and sampling from a well known on line muisc site. Have you “spotted” it yet?

    Any good on line Blues radio to listen to as here in England, Blues was almost forgotten until Hugh Laurie and his great new album.

    Still learning at 50+

  69. Edgar Says:

    Thats sweet, you forgot Luther Allison though!! Check out his album Hand Me Down My Moonshine, it’s unreal – acoustic.

  70. brad Says:

    SON HOUSE!!!!!!!!! come on people

    Doesn’t anyone think he should automatically be in top 20

  71. sourav Says:

    Paul Butterfield blues band in not the one of the most influential??

  72. jc Says:

    has anyone mentioned “hoodoo man blues” by junior wells and buddy guy? if not, it’s a shame. it preceded that magic sam album from above and is a better chicago blues album too…they have both been influential

  73. Jen Says:

    Colin James’ Bad Habits. This album is sooo underrated. I never get tired of hearing it 10 some years later. What a talent – voice, guitar, wow love him.

  74. Kolja Says:

    What about T-model Ford? Not a classic, sure. But I really, really loved his first album (Pee Wee got a gun). Keep playing it in the car every now and then. Especially when the world is upside down.

  75. frank jacques Says:

    thanks so much for mentioning a lot musicians that a person can
    easily forget. i must mention that in my somewhat narrow (not real narrow) exposure to blues (saw muddy waters at 17 which kinda was my exposure to quality blues) i stumbled and bumbled around.
    then a college friend slid me the allman brothers band live at the fillmore east. i listened but couldn’t get through their sound. it was too much to absorb. i gave the album back to him. a couple of days he gave it back to me insisting i absolutely must keep listening. there were some good songs, original sound and beautiful iterplay between the musicians. i hadn’t been exposed to extended jams which have to be listened closely to understand the coherency of the piece. i still gave it back to him. there was still good music everwhere. i had picked up a cassette in a bargain bin. the first song i heard was the classic “statesboro blues “, live in atlantic city. it was riveting, exolosive , smooth as smooth can be with a blues singer who that had to be heard to be believed. i went back to reborrow live at the fillmore east. i listened. i was awed. where to start. musicianship – soul- great singing – solos/extended jams that never lose thread of the heart of the song – energy/enthusiasm
    very tight – very clean- lyrics and the allman sound
    they are my go to band. if you can listen to “stormy monday’ and not shed tears and get down on your hands and knees and thank the almighty for letting you in your lifetime hear
    abb perform this. seek and ye shall find !

  76. Troy Says:

    Long John Baldry
    Jimmie Vaughn
    Colin James
    David Gogo
    George Thorogood
    Jimmy Rodgers
    too mention a few more who have fellow in the foot steps!

    • Aaron Says:

      George Thorogood – you’re kidding, right? I mean, “Bad to the Bone” is a good song, but after that?

  77. Troy Says:

    Jeff Healey R.I.P.
    Robert Cray
    John Hammond
    Mike Bloomfield
    Johnny Winter
    The list goes on, its endless!

  78. Jay Rock Says:

    no BB KING?? WTF????????

    • Pete Brown Says:

      To be absolutely contentious, BB, despite being a tad younger than Methuselah, appears to be unable to play Lucille and sing at the same time. How about the lad from Geordie land in the UK, Chris Rea?

  79. Pete Brown Says:

    For Chris Rea try –
    The Blue Jukebox
    Stony Road and the latest
    Santo Spirito Blues or
    If you have the time the AudioBook called Blue Guitars with 11 CD’s

  80. Jax Says:

    1. Luther Allison
    2. Bobby Blue Bland
    3. Robert Johnson
    4. Mighty Sam McClain
    5. Keb Mo
    6. Robert Cray

  81. Jax Says:

    Oh yeah, I left off Joe Bonamassa.

  82. Eddie Says:

    My dad lived the blues like most of us can only imagine. By the time he was 18 in late fifties Texas he owned a pool hall and a black convertible Caddilac. In the early 60’s he spent 5 years in a Houston prison for dealing pot out of that pool hall. A tough place for Mexican Americans in the early 60’s. The story goes on and on and only gets better, but the point is that BB King was his soundtrack. My dad’s almost 80 now, a retired very successful businessman, and I can still find him in his garage, smoking a joint, sipping whisky and listening to worn out BB King tapes while he washes his Caddilac. BB King may not represent the root of the Blues, but he’s been pure blues since before people took the time to consider these things.

  83. Alexandra Says:

    Thank you so much for your list! I am compiling a huge set of CD’s for Christmas, for my father, a blues lover who hasn’t spent time honing his collection. I’ve spent 3 days studying this site and listenting, reading others’ comments and suggestions. I’ve come up with a great list that I think my father will love. Thank you so much! There really aren’t any other good lists like this on the internet, that I could find…

    If you have any suggestions for new artists or new albums coming out, that people in this genre would enjoy, I would love to hear about those too!

  84. Ruby Lee Says:

    I haven’t heard a few of these but based on the rest of the list, I will for sure check them out. Have you heard Geeshie Wiley, last kind words? It’s fantastic. There’s nothing out there like it.

    Love your blot!

  85. T-Bone Says:

    The best to me without a doubt…anything by Lightnin’ Hopkins.

  86. Jax Says:

    To Alecia. Try Luther Allison Live in Paris and anything you can find by Lightnin’ Hopkins.

  87. David Monahan Says:

    I’m digging this blog. Just to widen out the debate, I would like to nominate a few artists who stand a fair chance they might join such hallowed ranks in the future. One such unlikely bet is Joanne Shaw-Taylor (recommend “Diamonds In The Dirt”). Firstly, she is female (obviously). Secondly, not from the Mississippi Delta region but from England. And thirdly, she is still in her twenties. Anyone who has seen her play will be able to testify to her formidable power as a Blues great in the making. Sure, she needs to learn to master the slow tunes. But Man she is smoking. Also, surprised no one yet has picked up on the burgeoning (so called) desert blues scene. If you like your blues to be trance-like then Tinariwen (try “Aman Iman”) is a must have. I tend to agree with the sentiment expressed already that BB King’s style is too cabaret-orientated and I think his Glastonbury performance last year demonstrated this. I agree that Robert Belfour will be discovered by Blues lovers and duly revered. Surprised not much mention of Seasick Steve and I’m wondering if his high profile is actually hindering people thinking of him as a truly amazing musician. For me Mississippi Fred McDowell (recommend “Down Home Blues – 1959” 2 CD which includes other famous folk blues field recordings cut by Alan Lomax at the same sessions) has to be featured in anyone’s all time Top 20 listing? Regarding the British Blues Boom (2nd wave), I would point enthusiasts in the direction of the underrated Steamhammer who did, admittedly in common with others, push in the direction of jazz fusion and progressive rock. For a more eclectic brew of blues, I would recommend sampling “California Blues (Redux) 2 CD set by Spirit. Actually, for genre-spanning (psychedelia, hard rock, blues, singer songwriter, jazz, progressive, space rock) fusion music, Spirit just about top the pile by boasting, in Randy California one of the all time great guitarists, and in Ed Cassidy, undisputedly one of, if not the, greatest drummer of all time. I have a couple of sides by R L Burnside waiting for me at the post office which I am eagerly anticipating. Keep on blogging everyone.

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  90. Michael Crowl Says:

    Great list! Thanks for introducing me to a few I hadn’t heard of. A bunch of these are available at, and I’ve thrown them into my collection. Gonna sit down for some hours of blues later.

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  93. Michael Collins Says:

    3 more deserving consideration ~

    Blind Lemon Jefferson ~ “The Best of Blind Lemon Jefferson” (Yazoo). Lemon was probably the most popular (best selling) country bluesman of the 1920s. Played on Dallas street corners with Leadbelly around the 1916-1918. Huge influence on Texans Mance Lipscomb & Lightnin Hopkins. Harry Smith included 2 BLJ songs on his seminal “Anthology of American Folk Music” collection.

    Blind Blake ~ “The Best of Blind Blake” (Yazoo). Blake is considered the best ragtime-blues guitar player ever. Ridiculously fast right hand drives a one-man-band ragtime bounce with good vocals and lyrics that are sometimes funny, sometimes violent. Sold a lot of records in the 1920s. Even Rev. Gary Davis admired him, which is no mean feat.

    Blind Willie Johnson ~ “The Complete Blind Willie Johnson” (Legacy/Columbia). Johnson is considered by many to be the greatest blues slide guitar player ever, despite recording only 30 songs, only half of which he used the slide. Vocals were sometimes rough and sometimes tender, even in the same song (e.g., “Let Your Light Shine on Me”). His ethereal instrumental recording “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” was1 of 27 songs included on the 1977 launch of the Voyager spacecraft — the Voyager records were intended portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them.

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  95. Sean Says:

    I’ve been listening to a lot of blues lately and this list has been very helpful in finding “new” blues artists…thank you!…I also love the mentions of Taj Mahal and Ali Farka Toure, two of my favorites right now.

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  99. Railway Taffy Says:

    Where is Sonny & Brownie, plus Memphis Minnie would not be out of place, but of course there is something for everyone, how hard it is to choose.

  100. Blues Journal Says:

    You have a very nice web page about the blues. I really enjoyed reading it. Keep up the good work, keeping the blues alive.


  101. playdablooz Says:

    Nice list, I did a search for best acoustic blues of all time just to see if Mance Lipscomb would be mentioned, and this page came up as a result. Glad too see mance is on here ( but should be closer to number 1) He was playing before and at the same time as all of these guys. He also taught himself the majority of his repertoire. In the book I say for me a parable, he talks about going from Navasota TX to Brenham TX (27 miles) on foot to listen to a juke box, going back home and learning the song by ear. He was just incredible. He makes me think of a player piano when I watch footage of him. It was said by many that he would fall asleep playing at all night parties and keep going till he woke back up. Due to his late discovery as you mentioned, he is shamefully underrated among the greats such as Charley Patton, Son House and others. He began playing as a youth so he was playing much longer than 30 years prior to his discovery. Some of his repertoire dates back to the 19th century i.e fiddle music adapted to guitar. If you ever get a chance you should read the book “I Say For Me A Parable” by Glynn Alan. It is the best Blues read I have ever read. The new Son House book is real good too. I may be a bit biased as I used to live in Navasota and know people that knew Mance. I also got to meet Glynn Alan before he passed away. Very good list you have and thanks for including Mance,

    • Blues Journal Says:

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciate you took time to write your thoughts. I will follow your blog page.

  102. Sid Says:

    I appreciate this list as I haven’t heard some of these albums. But no B.B. King? C’mon man. That instantly makes this list suspect.

  103. Shakin'Chills Says:

    Great list buddy, and lots of great comments. I applaud you all for your good taste!

    Of course, every list has to have omissions, but….disappointing not to see Elmore James, Memphis Slim, Blind Willie Johnson, Charlie Patton and Son House in the top list.

    Not to mention:
    Tampa Red;
    Freddie King;
    Earl King;
    Big Mama Thornton;
    Koko Taylor;
    Big Joe Williams;
    Sister Rosetta Tharpe;
    Mississippi Fred MacDowell;
    Johnny Guitar Watson;
    Guitar Slim;
    Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee;
    T Model Ford;
    The Animals;
    Joe Bonamassa;

    Etc etc

    And a brilliant DVD – The American Folk-Blues Festival (The British Tours 1963-1966).

    Now I’m off to check out Mance Lipscomb!!

  104. Robert Says:

    Billie Holiday-great singer and great album, but in my humble opinion, it just ain’t blues to me; it’s jazz. Thanks for the list though (‘guess it’s hard to please everyone), and I’m working my way through some names that are new to me.

  105. Aaron Says:

    I suggest 3 great albums: “Hound Dog Taylor & The House Rockers”, “The Paul Butterfield Band”, & Robert Nighthawk’s “Live on Maxwell Street” (the best of these 3 – it should be in the top ten of any blues collection). As a bonus, you can add almost anything by Sonny Boy Williamson II.

  106. jc Says:

    this list is garbage.. BB King is Blues…..i almost got sick.

    • ER Says:

      I’m with you JC. He may be ‘modern’, more commercialized and less critically acclaimed than those on the list, but I know from personal experience that BB King’s music was the soundtrack of many who truly lived the blues in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc…

  107. Chi-TownBluesluvah Says:

    Otis Rush should be on here. Junior Wells as well. I’m from chi-town myself so maybe that’s a little bit of egoism on my part but whatever. Regardless, a great list-really as long as you got Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson on, you really are free to put on whatever you please

  108. Homoade04 Says:

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  109. candude Says:

    Hi. late comer to the party. i’m 46 yrs old and until now my blues exposure was from the 80’s – George Thorogood and one SRV CD – Family Style. And the Crossroads movie with Ralph Macchio. A few days ago I was speaking with a friend about how he loves Eric Clapton as a blues guitarist. okay, i thought Clapton is/was pretty big but i have the Timepieces 1 CD and, other than Layla and maybe After Midnight, nothing there too heavy on the guitar, and certainly not much in the way of blues guitar. Needed to see what I was missing. First stop was Allmusic. Okay, Clapton goes a little deeper than Timepieces. But I know that the blues was a big influence on many a 70’s and 80’s rocker. I needed to get to the root of it all. so i Googled best blues album and your blog came up.

    I’m I glad that I found you! who knew there was so much to pick from?!? So far, I have Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf and Clapton’s Crossroads single from his days with Cream. Wow!
    Robert Johnson – how does so much sound come from one man and a guitar???
    Howlin Wolf is great! Heavy but some fun as well.
    And the Cream/Clapton The Crossroads just solidifies the link and influence the blues had on rock.
    I’ll keep going through your list as finances permit.
    So thanks to you and thanks to all the others commenting before me. I have built a huge list of blues music to digest from your 20 and all of the suggestions everyone else has made. It’s going to be a great journey of musical discovery!

  110. candude Says:

    I Also Found This Page From

    Blues Album For Beginners
    Twelve essential albums to get you started
    By Reverend Keith A. Gordon, Guide

    A lot of overlap from above but I think at least a couple not yet previously mentioned.

    Here’s his list… (but check out the page for more details and reviews):
    1. Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry – ‘Sing’ (Smithsonian Folkways, 1958).
    2. Buddy Guy – ‘I Was Walking Through The Woods’ (Chess Records, 1970).
    3. The Fabulous Thunderbirds – ‘The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ (Takoma Records, 1979).
    4. Howlin’ Wolf – ‘Howlin’ Wolf / Moanin’ In The Midnight’ (Chess Records, 1962).
    5. John Lee Hooker – ‘The Legendary Modern Recordings 1948-1954’ (Ace, 1993).
    6. John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – ‘Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton’ (Polydor, 1966).
    7. Junior Wells – ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’ (Delmark Records, 1965).
    8. Muddy Waters – ‘Hard Again’ (Blue Sky Records, 1977).
    9. Paul Butterfield Blues Band – ‘The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’ (Elektra, 1965).
    10. Robert Johnson – ‘King of the Delta Blues Singers’ (Columbia Records/Sony, 1961).
    11. Sonny Boy Williamson – ‘The Real Folk Blues’ (Chess Records, 1965).
    12. Stevie Ray Vaughan – ‘Texas Flood’ (Epic Records, 1983).



    The top 20 Is fine but how can u for get Mr ELMORE JAMES HE IS the main influence of today main post war Blues musicians .

  112. Rob Says:

    +1 for the Olu Dara recommendation. ‘From Natchez to New York’ sounds a bit like a Fela Kuti record in places but with a real down home feel. Definitely worth a listen.

  113. Says:

    an absolutely horrible list. how about Son Seals, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Fenton Robinson (to mention a few)? omg!

  114. Grayson Says:

    who sings “freezin all the time”. if i don’t quit this shivering and shakin–I believe I’m going to lose my mind

  115. Pat Thornby Says:

    Rory Gallagher ‘ Deuce’ his second solo album from 1971, has to be one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time – Pat Thornby

  116. Canadian Blues Says:

    I don’t buy the whole “No B.B. King, therefore the list is garbage” line of thinking, but I do understand why so many posters are up in arms over his exclusion. As with any other art form, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am a guitar player and lifelong blues explorer, and have a deep appreciation for B.B.’s tone, phrasing, sweet sweet vibrato… but when it comes down to it, if I need a fix, it ain’t B.B. that I’m reaching for. I like my blues a little dirtier, more dynamic, more despondent… the kind of singing and playing that can make you stop breathing while you wait for the next note… I don’t think it’s fair to say that B.B. is “elevator music”, but for me, his stuff just doesn’t have that gut-wrenching quality that I love so much about blues. Others may disagree (and I guess that’s why they make chocolate AND vanilla ice cream).

    While I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a “best” blues album or player, these kinds of lists are always a good conversation starter. I always end up learning about a bunch of new stuff, too. So here’s my gift to all of you, particularly guitar lovers: check out Ronnie Earl. May not be a Top 20, but brilliant and often overlooked. Start with “Blues for the Homeless”.

    By the way, if I had to choose, my two guys would be Albert King and SRV.

    • lawdeedawdi Says:

      I think people who disagree with this list should realize it’s titled
      “The 20 Greatest Blues Albums Of All-Time” not the 20 greatest Blues artists. I agree with what you that there are different styles of blues guitar, and B.B. King’s is a cleaner version. We all like what we like. B.B. King’s vibrato is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard. :-) I love the other artists as well. I wish SRV was still around. :-(

  117. diptondj Says:

    The Original Vanguard release of the Great Bluesmen is a great place to start. Contains many tracks from artists in your Album list. Note the newer CD has a changed lineup with many of the original tracks replaced.

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  126. Labu Rahman Says:

    i love blue playing for a long time….like 38 years.. i play my staff..but cant leave BB or Jimi out of your head…whatever you think or playing…. they are deep in your soul ……………

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  131. Mark Says:

    I used to play guitar with a blues pianist who would only play tunes that were from his very narrowly-defined list of blues players (Leadbelly, Robert Johnson,…,) – nothing past the 50’s.

    I played some Clapton for him…. “Too pop”.
    I played some Robert Cray for him… “Too funky”.
    I played some Hendrix for him… “Too rock”.
    I played some early Zeppelin for him… “Too British”.

    He asked me “What is the blues to you?” I told him the beat, the 12-bar chord progression, the blue notes, the choice of instruments, the type of lyrics,.. His eyes glazed over. Nothing was approved as the “blues” to this guy, unless it came from his extremely limited CD collection.

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  135. Bob Castner Says:

    Thank you DK for a wonderful blog. I have much to research here.The blues has been my life for many years and all your suggestions are valid. Thanks for sharing.

  136. Drayton Henner Says:

    I appreciate the idea that someone put a list out like this and although there is no “black and white” when it comes to art, I found the list to be quite good. No mention of Little Walter anywhere is a little questionable, though.

  137. cornbiscuit Says:

    Hard to pick 20 huh…? Great list- here is my top 10 as of today- changes regularly: obviously with a modern twist… in no particular order- wow this is tough…
    T-Bone Walker: T-Bone Blues- can’t get enough
    Showdown: Cray, Collins, Copeland- wore out a tape and a CD
    SRV: Texas Flood-classic SRV
    Muddy- Hard Again- great stuff from Muddy and Johnny Winter
    Wolf- 20 Greatest Hits- Wolf- what else can be said?
    JLHooker- The Healer- love the Hook- he could play with anyone
    Robert Cray: Midnight Stroll- best Cray album (besides Showdown!)
    Otis Rush- Ain’t Enough Coming In- late model Rush- excellent
    Led Zeppelin I- some serious blues
    Willie Nelson- Milk Cow Blues- always thought of WIllie as a bluesman- listen to Georgia and tell me that ain’t blues (yes I know it is a Ray Charles song) go see Willie live… it is the blues man!

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  204. SDB Says:

    Thanks for the list. I’ve been diving deeper into blues and this helped me branch out a little. I like that you went as far to recommend what album to listen to. Best find so far is Mance Lipscomb!

  205. Tom Says:

    Seriously No Paul Butterfield Blues Band, i know that some of them were white but c’mon, they brought the blues to a new audience and were incredibly influential, especially with mike bloomfield on the first two albums. Paul Butterfield is one of the all time greatest harp players, Bloomfield and Bishop are likewise some of the greatest blues guitarists of the latter half of the twentieth century. East-West should definitely have been mentioned somewhere on this list, for christ sake it spawned of psychedelia with one song and blended the blues with modal jazz. otherwise a pretty good list.

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    There will never be a “perfect greatest blues albums” that will sit well with everyone. For me it’s pretty much anything by Keb’ Mo’, SRV, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williams and Albert King to name but a few that rock my world.

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  217. politologist Says:

    Thank you so much. I sometimes hear blues music that I really like, but have no idea who it is or what to do to get a playlist together. Fortunately, there are people like you and those in the comments who can help guide me to find what I like. I will now have to start gathering and listening to the music. Peace, out.

  218. EnEijE Says:

    Great site, very helpful. Cudos (The Misanthrope) very nice list and thanks for adding the Black Keys, one of my favorites. And well placed, high on your list but under jimi! And (Bluesing) “screw bb king. where’s Luther Allison?!” Couldn’t agree more!!

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  220. Jimjim Says:

    I’m a blues novice. Great suggestions much appreciated DK! I’ve added a bunch of your recommendation to my playlist.

    I too wish Elmore James made it higher on your list but I understand this is YOUR personal picks.

    John Fahey on the greats that didn’t fit in… Nice. He’s one of my favorites.

  221. andrew hill Says:

    Does anybody know a compilation called something like “Blue-Eyed Blues”? I think it was on the “Blues’N’Roots” catalog.

  222. andrew hill Says:

    I see they don’t.

  223. Gilberto M. Casillas Says:

    This is fine relationship, the grat are in there, but I’m not agree with inclusion of this artists:
    Jimi Hendrix
    The Allman Brothers Band
    Steve Miller Band
    JJ Cale
    Terry Reid
    White Stripes
    Black Keys
    British Blues (Bluesbreakers, Yardbirds, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, Faces, Led Zeppelin, Pretty Things, Downliners Sect, Kinks, etc)

    When we talk about blues we need to talk around the blues.

    I only accepted Stivie Ray Vaughan becuse he is a
    Texas man.

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  225. chris nord Says:

    I gotta record by sonny boy Williamson called final sessions I think it ranks pretty high

  226. Paul Says:

    –>> Andrew Hill, There was a “Blue-eyed blues” issued by Charly records no. 20. The Yardbirds also issued a compil called “Blue-eyed blues”.
    While I don’t agree with some of dk’s list, it is his list and is completely subjective, just like anybodys list would be. To listen to some people writing on here the list would be 100 bluesmen long, but then there would still be others saying “what about so and so ?”. In the British blues section I would add Jo-Ann Kelly. Another live album comes to mind too “Shakey Vick at Mothers”. Only made one album but did a great job on stage. The Pretty Things and Downliners Sect come to mind too, not for purists but opened up a whole new musical world for some of us in the ’60’s.

    • andrew hill Says:

      Tnaks, Paul, for your information. That record is difficult to find. I had it but foolishly gave it away.

      You’re right about the list

      • paul Says:

        Hi Andrew, if you are quick on Amazon. com (US) they have a second hand CD of “blued-eyed blues” on Charly, quite cheap too.

      • andrew Says:

        Thanks again, Paul. I looked, but can’t find it. Only thing I found is this

        Blue Eyed Blues Charly Blues, Vol.20 by Clapton, Beck and Page1992, at ·$ 100.98.

      • paul Says:

        Which one are you looking for then Andrew ?

  227. paul Says:

    If that is the one I saw it at 1$xxx unless I’ve gone blind or stupid or something similar……

  228. paul Says:

    Just found it again, here’s the URL

    • andrew hill Says:

      Dear Paul, you have not gone blind or stupid or anything. That’s the one I found and you kindly had referred me to. It’s interesting alright, and cheap to boot, but the shipping ups the cost to $ 16.80. I have been looking for another one, though, also by this Charly, which was a compilation of white blues singers. The cover was a blue-eyed guy with a guitar, in color. It’s me that maybe went blind or stupid, cause I can’t find it in available form. Years ago I stupidly gave the one I had to someone who wasn’t even my friend.

      On another note altogether, I don’t like Joe Bonamassa, but I like Warren Haynes…

      All the best.

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