10+ Contemporary Blues Artists Who Are Keeping the Blues Alive
The blues will never die. Almost without fail, great musicians seem to take to the genre early in life. 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. These are only a few contemporary blues artists you may not have heard. Make sure to do more research on your own. There are so many great artists to discover!
10 Great Modern Blues Artists
The numbers are not a ranking system, they are in no particular order.
- Kenny Wayne Shepherd
- Joe Bonamassa
- Michael Burks
- Janiva Magness
- Tab Benoit
- Larkin Poe
- Robert Cray
- Bettye LaVette
- Joe Louis Walker
- Susan Tedeschi
This article will explore the diverse landscape of modern blues music. Like all musical genres, the blues has evolved and absorbed elements from other musical traditions. These great artists pay homage to the tradition of blues, while also pushing forward into new territories. For more info on each artist, read the paragraphs below.
1. 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.
Best Kenny Wayne Shepherd Album, How I Go
Released: August 2, 2011
Formats: CD, DI, LP
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. How I Go is dark and classical, despite sharp production. The disc cries and wails with pure intensity. Shepherd is on point. He's every bit as good as he was back in ’99.
What Makes How I Go Such a Great Album?
- Shepherd works to expand the definition of blues
- His guitar work is diverse
- The album doesn't suffer from the samey-ness that so many other albums succumb to
2. Joe Bonamassa
Born in New Hartford, New York, on May 8th 1977. Bonamassa comes from a musical family. Making his career in music, Bonamassa followed the family tradition dating back to his great-grandfather.
The blues-rock guitarist and singer says he has always been drawn more to British and Irish blues such as Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, and Rory Gallagher than to traditional American blues. It shows in his music. His style is hard-driving electric blues and 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.
Best Joe Bonamassa Album, Live At Radio City Music Hall
Released: October 2, 2015
Label: J&R Adventures
Formats: CD, 2LP, DL
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. The set spans over 75 minutes and includes two newly recorded songs and nine unreleased live tracks. The set is presented in a beautifully designed package that will satisfy even the most critical of fans.
What Makes Such a Great Album?
- At 75 minutes long, you get your money's worth
- It's exciting to hear unreleased tracks in their fresh stages
- You can feel Bonamassa's passion throughout every minute of the album
3. Michael Burks
Michael Burks was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 30th, 1957. Sadly, he died of a heart attack on May 6th, 2012. He was only 54. Michael Burks played electric blues and soul. He was known for his fierce and intense electric guitar, and smoky vocals. His gripping on-stage charisma earned him the nickname "Iron Man." Burks was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Guitarist of the Year in 2012. The blues world has suffered a sad loss with the passing of Michael Burks.
Best Michael Burks Album, Iron Man
Label: Alligator Records
Formats: CD, 2LP, DL
On Iron Man, which was destined to be his last album, Michael Burks delivers some powerful electric blues. His string-bending guitar style is reminiscent of Freddie King or Robert Cray. 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. This is amazing contemporary blues played with devastating intensity.
What Makes Iron Man Such a Great Album?
- Ferocious guitar playing
- Soulful singing
- Phenomenally powerful lyrics
4. Janiva Magness
If anyone has the right to sing the blues it's Janiva Magness. The blues and soul singer/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 singing the blues 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. Her most recent nomination was for 2012's Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year.
Best Janiva Magness Album, Stronger For It
Label: Alligator Records
Formats: CD, 2LP, DL
Janiva Magness wears her heart on her sleeve on her soulful album, Her rich, smoldering vocals are deeply heartfelt and emotional. Stronger For It is Janiva's declaration of independence. She had recently come through an intensely difficult period in her life. Here Magness has found power in her music. She lays her soul bare, singing of loss and recovery, pain and redemption. Stronger for It.
When I first saw the video below, I just could not stop playing it.
What Makes Stronger For It Such a Great Album?
- It's Produced by Dave Darling (Brian Setzer, Meredith Brooks, Dan Hicks, John Waite)
- Recording Stronger For It was as cathartic for Magness as listening to it will be for her fans
- Her voice is full of soul and wisdom
5. 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 at 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 the organization Voice of the Wetlands to promote awareness of the receding of the coastal wetlands of Louisiana.
Best Tab Benoit Album, The Best of Tab Benoit
Released: April 3, 2012
Label: Vanguard Records
Formats: CD, 2LP, DL
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. His brand of Louisiana swamp blues is all his own, and for some 20 years now he has paved the way for those who wish to expand the definition of blues.
What Makes The Best of Tab Benoit Such a Great Album?
- Diverse sound
- Powerful lyrics
- It's too hard to choose just one of his albums, so why not hear a little bit of each?
6. Larkin Poe
As a fan of the blues, I don't know how I have missed these incredible young women for so long. I just recently heard them for the first time, and they blew me away.
Larkin Poe is their band name. The band is lead by sisters Rebecca Lovell (born January 30, 1991) and Megan Lovell (born May 12, 1989) from Atlanta, Georgia.
Rebecca is amazing on lead vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo and piano. Megan is fantastic on back up vocals and lap-steel. Their voices blend together as if they are one.
Best Larkin Poe Album, Venom & Faith
Released: November 9, 2018
Label: Tricki-Woo Records
Formats: Digital Download, CD and Vinyl
This isn’t your basic blues rock. It’s like nothing else out there. While the album is firmly rooted in the swampy Delta mud, these young women bring a fresh youthful energy that is just what the blues needs.
What Makes Venom & Faith Such a Great Album?
- Romping, stomping beats
- Gritty southern blues
- Edgy and evocative
7. 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.
When Albert Collins played at his high-school graduation, Cray became fascinated by soul music and blues. 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.
Best Robert Cray Album, 4 Nights of 40 Years Live
Label: Revolver Recordings
Formats: Digital Download and CD
Robert Cray has never been one to rest on his laurels. He's always putting out new material, yet his musical integrity remains the same. 4 Nights of 40 Years Live celebrates his many years of playing the Blues. The live album was released August 28, 2015. This album celebrates 40 years of his career. It's inspiring to see a musician going strong after so many years.
What Makes 4 Nights of 40 Years Live Such a Great Album?
- Spans 40 years of his career
- You get to hear how each song changes when it's played live
- You get to hear a master doing what he does best
8. Bettye LaVette
Bettye LaVette was born Betty Haskins on 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.
Best Bettye LaVette Album, Worthy
Released: January 27, 2015
Label: Red Cherry
Formats: Digital Download and CD
After more than 50 years in the music business, Bettye LaVette released her latest album, , on January 27, 2015. The album features 11 songs composed by artists including Mick Jagger & Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, and Paul McCartney. Colin McGuire, over at PopMatters, described why she loved the album saying, "...Bettye LaVette knows her strengths. She knows what makes that voice of hers so timeless, and she knows how to make songs sound like they are her own, even if she had no part in writing them. If these 11 tracks were designed to remind the world of a criminally forgotten musical treasure, they succeeded and then some." Worthy
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.
What Makes Worthy Such a Great Album?
- Universally loved by musicians and critics alike
- Her voice is riveting throughout the album
- Her production team did an incredible job on this album
9. Joe Louis Walker
Joe Louis Walker is best known for his electric blues guitar, but 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 (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 he eventually returned to his first love, the blues.
Best Joe Louis Walker Album, Everybody Wants A Piece
Released: October 9, 2015
Formats: Digital Download and CD
Joe Louis Walker's brand new album, "Everybody Wants A Piece," was released on October 9, 2015. Walker is known around the world as one of the genre’s top musical trailblazers—a mesmerizing guitarist and soulful vocalist. He was inducted into The Blues Hall Of Fame in 2013. He was also asked to introduce B.B. King into the Hall of Fame. That's an incredible honor!
What Makes "Everybody Wants A Piece" Such a Great Album?
- Soul-testifying vocals
- Heart-wrenching lyrics
- Some of the most astonishing guitar playing that you'll ever hear
10. Susan Tedeschi
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 Brothers 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.
Best Tedeschi Trucks Band Album, Everybody's Talkin'
Released: May 22, 2012
Label: Sony Masterworks, Sony Music Entertainment
Formats: Digital Download and CD
Susan Tedeschi's vocals are in fine form on 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. Everybody's Talkin.'
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. This band transitions seamlessly between R&B, blues, rock, gospel, and jazz.
What Makes Everybody's Talkin' Such a Great Album?
- Its balance of sonic precision and stage-born kinetics is perfect.
- The band transitions seamlessly between R&B, blues, rock, gospel, and jazz.
- This album is what every live album should be: an exciting reflection of a band's best work!
More Great Contemporary Blues Artists
Aynsley Lister was born November 14th, 1976 in Leicester, England. Lister's music is blues based, but incorporates contemporary influences. His rhythms and guitar solos are reminiscent of early Eric Clapton.
"Need Her So Bad"
Keb' Mo' began his musical career playing steel drums and upright bass in a calypso band. Later, he went on to play in blues bands throughout the 70s and 80s.
"Shave Yo' Legs"
Born in Santa Monica, California in 1951, Coco Montoya grew up listening to jazz, salsa, and rock ‘n’ roll. In 1969, Montoya saw a live performance of Albert King, and that changed his life.
"Women Have a Way With a Fool"
Jimmy Thackery was born May 19th, 1953, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a blues and rock singer, guitarist, and songwriter. Raised in Washington D.C., Thackery co-founded The Nighthawks in 1972. They recorded over twenty albums.
Born in New Orleans on October 14, 1957, and raised in Baton Rouge, Kenny Neal began playing music at an early age. He learned the basics from his father, singer and Blues harmonica master, Raful Neal.
"Blues Fallin' Down Like Rain"
Harper was born in Pomona, California on October 28th, 1969. He began playing guitar as a boy. He was raised by his mom, and learned his love of music through his maternal grandparents' music store.
"Brown Eyes Blue"
Born Charon Shemekia Copeland in Harlem, New York on April 10, 1979. Shemekia is an electric blues vocalist. Her father is Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland.
"Married to the Blues"
Warren Haynes Gvm’t Mule
Born April 6, 1960 in Asheville, North Carolina, Warren Haynes began playing guitar at the age of 12. He cites Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Johnny Winter as musical role models.
"Just Got Paid"
Anders Osborne was born in 1966, in Uddevalla, Sweden. He left home at age sixteen, hitchhiking and playing music throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the US. He finally settled in New Orleans in 1985.
"Mind of a Junkie"
Born April 15, 1955, in San Jose, California, Tommy Castro is a guitarist, songwriter and singer, playing Blues, soul, Southern rock, Chicago blues, rock and roll, and soul-blues.
"Lucky in Love"
Born in Orange, Texas on April 20th, 1949, Marcia Ball grew up in Vinton, Louisiana. She's has a rockin' upbeat boogie-woogie piano style influenced by Zydeco, Louisiana Swamp Blues, and Texas Blues.
"The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man"
To see a complete write up and videos of some of the artists listed in the table above, see my other article "10 Living Blues Artists You Might Not Know."
Questions & Answers
How is it possible you failed to list Gary Clark Jr. as an outstanding Blues musician?
There are way more than 10 blues artists, or even 20. No way is this anywhere near a complete list. I'm not really familiar with Gary Clark Jr. but thanks for the recommendation. I will check him out.Helpful 7
What do you think about Samantha Fish?
I know she is quite popular, and seems to be getting a lot of publicity. Honestly, I don't love her as much as a lot of people do, and part of my purpose here was to publicize artists people may not have heard so much about.Helpful 2
© 2014 Sherry Hewins