10 Contemporary Blues Artists Who Are Keeping the Blues Alive

Updated on July 7, 2018
Sherry Hewins profile image

I love music of many genres. Attending concerts and festivals is one of my passions. Music brings a lot of joy to my life!

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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

  1. Kenny Wayne Shepherd
  2. Joe Bonamassa
  3. Michael Burks
  4. Janiva Magness
  5. Tab Benoit
  6. Marcia Ball
  7. Robert Cray
  8. Bettye LaVette
  9. Joe Louis Walker
  10. 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

Label: Roadrunner

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

Released: 2008

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

Released: 2012

Label: Alligator Records

Formats: CD, 2LP, DL

Janiva Magness wears her heart on her sleeve on her soulful album, Stronger for It. 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.

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. 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 developed a rockin' upbeat boogie-woogie piano style influenced heavily 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.

Best Marcia Ball Album, The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man

Released: September 23, 2014

Label: Alligator Records

Formats: Digital Download and CD

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 boogie-woogie piano delivers a soul-shaking, foot stomping good time! On The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man, Ball pulls her listeners into her music with memorable melodies and imaginative imagery. She paints vibrant pictures, detailed with characters, flavors, and scenes straight out of Louisiana, Texas, and the Gulf Coast.

What Makes The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man Such a Great Album?

  • Memorable melodies
  • Imaginative imagery
  • Great lyrical storytelling

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

Released: 2015

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, Worthy, 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."

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

Label: Provogue

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 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. 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!

10 More Great Contemporary Blues Artists

Artist
Bio
Suggested Listening
Ansley Lister
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'
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"
Coco Montoya
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. The music he heard that night grabbed his emotions in a way nothing else had. He had found his calling.
"Women Have a Way With a Fool"
Jimmy Thackery
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. He was with The Nighthawks for 14 years.
"Solid Ice"
Kenny Neal
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. He was playing in his father’s band by the time he was 13.
"Blues Fallin' Down Like Rain"
Ben Harper
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"
Shemekia Copeland
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
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"
Tommy Castro
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. He began playing guitar at the age of 10 and he has cited Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Elmore James and Freddie King as inspirations.
"Lucky in Love"

To see a complete write up and videos of the artists listed in the table above, see my other article 10 Living Blues Artists You Might Not Know

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Sherry Hewins

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      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        3 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        Steve Clancy, These are in no particular order, and Chris Cain is wonderful and a contemporary blues artist. Perhaps I need to make a third list. Of course there will always be some deserving person left off, but that's a good thing. It goes to show that there are still plently of great blues artists to be discovered and loved.

      • profile image

        Steve Clancy 

        3 months ago

        Chis Cain should be at the top of the list. He is one of in fact the all time greats. Of you don't know he is check him out on youtube. An absolute monster player.

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        6 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

      • profile image

        Stihlworking 

        6 months ago

        Where is warren Haynes

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        9 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        I agree with you Robert C. Bruce. I love this cover!

      • profile image

        Robert C. Bruce 

        9 months ago

        "Talkin`" `bout a COVER. OMG! Has this song ever sounded better? That`s rhetorical, of course.

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        9 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        If you haven't seen this article yet, you might check it out. Some of those you mentioned are there. https://spinditty.com/genres/Ten-Best-Blues-Albums

      • profile image

        RonTon 

        9 months ago

        Ana Popovic, Popa Chubby, Mike Zito, Robben Ford, Government Mule, Sonny Landreth, and Samantha Fish to name just a few more!

      • profile image

        Wes C 

        14 months ago

        Crow Black Chicken & Big Boy Bloater :)

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        15 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        Eric Hideman - Well, I do love him, but my list is certainly not all-inclusive. He was kind of in a dormant period when I wrote this article in 2014.

        My husband and went to the Sturgis motorcycle rally in 2000, and the schedule of our trip was built around seeing Jonny Lang at the Buffalo Chip campground. It was everything we expected and more!

        https://hubpages.com/travel/What-to-Take-on-Your-6...

      • profile image

        Eric Heideman 

        15 months ago

        What about Jonny Lang??????????

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        15 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        Marcus Ellis, Thanks for the tip, I surely will.

      • profile image

        Marcus Ellis 

        15 months ago

        Check out Davy Knowles!

      • profile image

        jay 

        19 months ago

        Beth Hart + Joe Bonamassa - a great pair!

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        19 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        Each generation makes music that draws on what came before. All those great rock band from the sixties were playing blues rock.

      • LiveMusicLoverLyn profile image

        Lyn 

        19 months ago from England

        Thank you for sharing... some here I'd have not thought of, some I didn't know. Interesting how some are almost cross genre too. I love the blues and grew up with it - only I thought it was called "jam session" many musicians warm and play blues for pleasure. blues music is from the heart :0)

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        21 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        Thanks Jomo

      • profile image

        Jomo 

        21 months ago

        Missing Gary Clark Jr :)

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        21 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        There are plenty of worthy artists that are not represented here. I am not familiar with Beth Heart, but I shall rectify that situation.

      • profile image

        Jayar 

        21 months ago

        No Beth Heart? Shameful omission.

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        23 months ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        Thanks for the suggestions Real Texan. I have heart Ronny Earl, but not Mike Wheeler. This article is, by no means, a complete list of contemporary blues artists. That would be a long list indeed.

      • profile image

        Real Texan 

        23 months ago

        Don't see any mention of Ronnie Earl out of Philly. Check out his channel on Pandora. The guy is incredible and wide ranging in his blues styles.

        Also worth checking out is Mike Wheeler Band, which I saw this week at Kingston Mines in Chicago. Terrific performer with some original music.

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Congrats on HOTD, Sherry. Though I never heard of any on these blues artist before, I've heard of Kenny Wayne. This is a great insightful hub on 10 blues artist who's keeping the art of blues music alive.

      • nuffsaidstan profile image

        nuffsaidstan 

        2 years ago

        Hi, great article, love the Blues. If i may suggest take a look at Joanne Shaw Taylor a young Blues guitarist from my home town of Birmingham , England.

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        3 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        Good choice, love her!

      • Sarah Galli profile image

        Sarah Galli 

        3 years ago from Sicily

        Yes listening to Janiva now! Amazing!

      • EsJam profile image

        Essie 

        3 years ago from Southern California

        My husband and I are blues fans, so I knew quite a few of your listed artists, but ... there were some I didn't . I have their names and will be checking them out. Another great hub! You rock! Voted up!

      • Mel Carriere profile image

        Mel Carriere 

        3 years ago from San Diego California

        I have only heard of Robert Cray. I thought the blues died with Stevie Ray Vaughn. Good to know it is alive and kicking. Great hub!

      • DJLARAI profile image

        DJLARAI 

        3 years ago

        Oh wow..it would seem we are in the same area..smiles wonder how close you are to me!.. also being in the Sierra Foothills, CA...grins.. you are very welcome..I consider myself a "student of the blues" I am totally lost when I do not have them!..

      • twoseven profile image

        twoseven 

        4 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!

      • rcrumple profile image

        Rich 

        4 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!

      • Sherry Hewins profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Hewins 

        4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

        @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.

      • Act 3 profile image

        chet thomas 

        4 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!

      • B. Leekley profile image

        Brian Leekley 

        4 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.

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