10 Contemporary Blues Artists Who Are Keeping the Blues Alive


The Blues Will Never Die

Almost without fail, great musicians seem to have taken to music early in life, most starting in childhood. For some, acclaim comes easily, others spend a lifetime making music before suddenly coming into the spotlight. The diversity of this list illustrates how many different styles are encompassed within the Blues genre.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana on June 12th 1977, Kenny Wayne Shepherd's name has almost become synonymous with "young blues guitarist." He is a self-taught guitarist and gifted songwriter. His father was a radio personality and concert promoter. Inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughan, whom he met through his father, Shepherd has been playing guitar since childhood.

Shepherd had unusual commercial success at an early age. He was signed to a multiple record contract by Giant Records and released his first album, Ledbetter Heights, when he was just 18. He has had seven singles in the Billboard top 10, won two Billboard Music Awards, and has been nominated for five Grammys.

Album Pick - How I Go

Kenny Wayne Shepherd's brand of Blues-Rock comes down a lot closer to the Rock and Roll side. If you want your blues loud and powerful, his album, "How I Go," is the album for you.

Joe Bonamassa

Born in New Hartford, New York, on May 8th 1977. Bonamassa comes from a musical family. By making his career in music Bonamassa is following the family tradition dating back to his great-grandfather.

The Blues-Rock guitarist and singer says he has always been drawn to British and Irish blues such as Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood and Rory Gallagher more than to traditional American blues, and it shows in his music. His style is a hard-driving electric blues or hard-rock.

Many people may be familiar with Bonamassa's work with Black Country Communion a hard-rock band made up of Bonamassa, Glenn Hughes, Derek Sherinian, and Jason Bonham.

Album Pick - Live At Radio City Music Hall

Bonamassa's album, "Live At Radio City Music Hall," was released October 2, 2015. As the title implies, it was recorded at the Radio City Music Hall in January of 2015.

Michael Burks

Michael Burks was born in Milwaukee Wisconsin on July 30th 1957. Sadly, he died of a heart attack on May 6th 2012, at the age of 54. Michael Burks played electric blues and soul. He was known for his fierce and intense electric guitar, smoky vocals, and gripping on-stage charisma which earned him the nick-name Iron Man. Burks was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Guitarist of the Year 2012. The blues world has suffered a sad loss with the passing of Michael Burks.

Album Pick - Iron Man

On this album, "Iron Man," which was destined to be his last, Michael Burks delivered some powerful electric blues. His string-bending guitar style is reminiscent of Freddie King or Robert Cray, and his strong, clear vocals really pack a punch.

The material on this album is fresh and original, as Michael Burks wrote seven of the songs on the album.

Janiva Magness

If anyone has the right to sing the blues it's Janiva Magness. The blues and soul singer and songwriter was born in Detroit Michigan on January 30th, 1957. As a child she lost both of her parents to suicide and then went into foster care. By the time she was 16 she was an emancipated minor and a pregnant teen who later gave her child up for adoption.

Magness found her salvation when the music of Otis Rush drew her to the blues. The music spoke to her in a way nothing else had, and while singing the blues served to help heal her troubled soul, she found that it also provided a means to make a living. Known for her smoky, sultry voice, Magness has received a total of seventeen Blues Music Award nominations, the most recent one for 2012's Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year.

Album Pick - Stronger For It

Janiva Magness wears her heart on her sleeve on her soulful album, "Stronger for It." Her rich, smoldering vocals are deeply heartfelt and emotional.

When I first saw the video below, I just could not stop playing it.

Tab Benoit

This accomplished guitarist, singer and songwriter was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on November 17th 1967. Delta blues with a Cajun-influence is the heart of Tab Benoit's style. Devoted to his swampy blues, he has no interest in pursuing a more hard-rock style for the sake of popularity.

Preserving the swamps of Louisiana is a cause close to his heart. Benoit founded an organization,'Voice of the Wetlands,' to promote awareness of the receding of the coastal wetlands of Louisiana.

Album Pick - The Best of Tab Benoit

Tab Benoit is joined by many of his talented friends, including Billie Joe Shaver, Waylon Thibodeaux and Jimmy Hall, on "The Best of Tab Benoit," an album of classic, primal Delta Blues. Benoit has an easygoing, low-key personality, but that doesn't mean this Louisiana boy can't boogie.

Marcia Ball

Born in Orange, Texas on April 20th 1949, Marcia Ball grew up in Vinton, Louisiana, she played piano from an early age and went to Louisiana State University in the early '60s. At that time she joined a Psychedelic Rock band called Gum. In 1970 she started a progressive country band called Freda and the Firedogs.

Ball went solo in 1970. She's got a rockin' upbeat boogie-woogie piano style influence by Zydeco, Louisiana Swamp Blues and Texas Blues. She cites Erma Thomas as her biggest vocal influence. Through decades of constant touring Ball has developed a loyal following in the Gulf Coast region of the country. She has won many awards during her long career.

Album Pick - The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man

"The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man" is Marcia Ball's latest album. It was released in September of 2014. As always, the first lady of boggie woogie piano delivers a soul-shaking, foot stomping good time!

Marcia Ball - The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man

Robert Cray

Robert Cray was born on August 1st 1953 in Columbus, Georgia. He was an Army brat, his family moved all over the country before finally settling in Tacoma, Washington in 1968.

Cray became fascinated by soul music and blues; when Albert Collins played at his high-school graduation, he was hooked. Cray spent some time playing backup for Collins, but soon went out on his own. After some local success he was signed with Mercury Records. He made several albums with that label and began to gain wider appeal.

He was soon touring and opening for major stars like Eric Clapton. He also played with the legendary John Lee Hooker on his album "Boom Boom." During his career Robert Cray has won three Grammy awards and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.

Album Pick - 4 Nights of 40 Years Live

Robert Cray has never been one to rest on his laurels. He's always putting out new material, yet his musical integrity remain the same. "4 Nights of 40 Years Live" celebrates his many years of playing the Blues. The live album was released August 28, 2015.

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette was born Betty Haskins, January 29th 1946. She was born in Muskegon, Michigan and grew up in Detroit. This talented singer and songwriter has an eclectic style ranging from soul and blues to rock, gospel and country.

Interested in music from childhood, she made her first record when she was only sixteen. Her single, "My Man - He's a Lovin' Man," became a Top Ten R&B hit. This led to a tour with musicians who included Ben E. King and Otis Redding. But fame can be fleeting in the music industry, and her success was intermittent until LaVette's 2005 album "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise" brought her back into the spotlight only 45 years after that first hit single.

Album Pick - Worthy

After more than 50 years in the music business, Bettye LaVette release her latest album, "Worthy" on January 27, 2015. The album features 11 songs composed by artists including Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, Bob Dylan and Lennon and McCartney.

The song on the video below is not on Worthy, but I just loved it so much I had to include it here, I hope you enjoy it too.

Joe Louis Walker

Joe Louis Walker is best known for his electric blues guitar, he is also a singer, songwriter and producer. Walker was born in San Francisco, California on Christmas Day in 1949. He has been playing guitar since the age of 8, and by the time he was a teen-ager he was a regular on the Bay Area music scene.

He played with many famous blues artists and was good friends and roommates with famed blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield up until Bloomfield died from an apparent heroin overdose in 1981. His friend's death prompted Walker to go back to school to earn degrees in Music and English, but eventually he returned to his first love, the blues.

Album Pick - Everybody Wants A Piece

Joe Louis Walker's brand new album, "Everybody Wants A Piece," was released October 9, 2015.

Susan Tedeschi

Tedeschi Trucks Band

Susan Tedeschi has an earthy singing voice, which has been compared to Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt. Her guitar playing has been influenced by dynamic artists like Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Born on November 9th 1970, in Boston, Massachusetts. Susan Tedeschi sang from an early age, even performing in a Broadway musical at the age of 6. By the time she was 13 Tedeschi was singing in bands and she formed her first band at 18. She started the Susan Tedeschi Band in 1994.

The Susan Tedeschi Band gained recognition by opening for acts like B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan and The Allman Brothers. They opened for The Rolling Stones in 2003 gaining national exposure.

Married to Derek Trucks, slide guitarist from the Allman Bothers Band, since 2001, Tedeschi and Trucks merged their bands and toured under the name "Soul Stew Revival." Now they have both forgone their solo groups and formed a new band, the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Album Pick - Everybody's Talkin'

Susan Tedeschi's vocals are in fine form on "Everybody's Talkin.'" Besides that, anybody who thinks a girl can't play blues guitar has not heard her yet. Tedeschi's voice compliments her husband, Derek Trucks' intense slide guitar. With an eclectic array of cover songs, they bring their own approach to each song, making it their own.

The title song was a bit controversial. Many people think it's too changed from the original song. However, that's part of the reason I love it. It's a great song made new again.

Comments 14 comments

B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 2 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

Up, Useful, Interesting, Awesome, and shared.

I love the best examples of about any kind of music, but I love the blues the best. Thank you for introducing me to these performers.

I think this article is well written and laid out.

Act 3 profile image

Act 3 2 years ago from Athens, GA

I tend to dig around in search of interesting music a lot, so I knew most of these folks, but not Michael Burks. A nice find - thanks!

Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 2 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA Author

@B. Leekley - I really appreciate your stopping by, thank you for your compliments. Nice to meet a fellow blues lover.

@Act 3 - I discovered Michael Burks shortly after his untimely death. I was so shocked and disappointing that he was already gone before I knew of him or had a chance to see him live. I'm glad to hear that you put some effort into finding good music.

rcrumple profile image

rcrumple 2 years ago from Kentucky

Sherry - Nice article. I was surprised, and somewhat honored, when I got to the end and found you'd linked up with my hub on Joe Bonamassa. Well done and many thanks!

twoseven profile image

twoseven 2 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

Very cool! I had only heard of Robert Cray and Susan Tedeschi (who I love!!) before this. I will check some of these out. My young sons love guitar playing, and I'll use some of your videos to introduce them to some new artists!

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