10 Living Blues Artists You Might Not Know
When most people think of great blues artists, they think of the past, and legendary artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, or Stevie Ray Vaughan. All those guys were great, but the blues did not die with them.
Most people are aware of the influence blues music had on rock and roll. They are almost inextricably connected. However, the blues still continues as its own genre, and it continues to influence almost every genre of modern music. Here are some of the people who are keeping the flame alive for the next generation.
- Keb' Mo'
- Koko Montoya
- Tommy Castro
- Anders Osborne
- Jimmy Thackery
- Kenny Neal
- Ben Harper
- Shemiaka Copeland
- Warren Haynes
1. Aynsley Lister
Aynsley Lister was born 14 November 1976 in Leicester, England. He is a British blues-rock guitarist, singer and songwriter.
Lister's music is blues based, but he incorporates contemporary influences with harder rhythms and guitar reminiscent of early Eric Clapton.
Lister was the only British artist to be featured in Classic Rock's 2007 "Top 10 Contemporary Blues Artists," along with such notables as The White Stripes, The Black Keys, John Mayer, Jon Spencer, Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, Derek Trucks and the North Mississippi Allstars.
Lister has opened for such artists as Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Lynyrd Skynyrd , ZZ Top and John Mayall, He headlines major festivals in Europe.
Everything I Need was his debut US release in 2006. It received wide critical acclaim. Lister's 2007 album, Upside Down was the first to contain only original material, and was self-produced.
In 2014, Lister won awards for "Best Songwriter" and "Best Song" at the British Blues Awards.
His album Home (2013), is the debut release for his own label "Straight Talkin' Records.
2. Keb' Mo'
Keb' Mo' is a musical force to be reckoned with. Born Kevin Roosevelt Moore in Compton, California on October 3, 1951. He is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and three-time American Grammy Award-winner.
He played the guitar from an early age, and began his musical career playing steel drums and upright bass in a calypso band. He went on to play in several blues and backup bands throughout the 70s and 80s.
His first recording was with Jefferson Airplane violinist Papa John Creach. A song he co-wrote with Papa John, "Git Fiddler," was featured on Jefferson Starship's album, Red Octopus.
He released his debut album, Rainmaker, as Kevin Moore, on Chocolate City Records in 1980. He spent time playing with Bobby "Blue" Bland and jammed with Albert Collins and Big Joe Turner.
In 1994, Keb' Mo' released his self-titled album, Keb' Mo' on Okeh Records. In 1996, he released Just Like You, which won his first Grammy Award. In 1998 Slow Down, got him a second Grammy, and in 2004, Keep It Simple earned him a third.
This was only the beginning for Keb' Mo.' With 11 albums in total, he is still a rising star, well on his way to becoming an American Blues legend.
3. Coco Montoya
Coco Montoya is a masterful blues guitarist, with a smooth as velvet voice I just can't get enough of. The fire and intensity of his live shows make it hard to stay in your seat.
Born in Santa Monica California in 1951, Coco Montoya grew up listening to big band jazz, salsa, and rock ‘n’ roll. In 1969 Montoya saw a live performance of Albert King, and that, he says, changed his life. The blues music that he'd heard that night grabbed his emotions in a way nothing else had, and he had found his calling.
Montoya was first drawn to the drums, and in the mid '70s he was playing in some local rock bands, when he met Albert Collins, who was playing at the same club. When he heard Collins play, all those emotions he'd had when he heard Albert King came rushing back. When Collins was going on tour and needed a drummer he offered Montoya the gig. Montoya would play with Albert Collins for the next five years, during that time Collins took him under his wing, taught him the secrets of his own, “icy hot” guitar style.
When British blues icon John Mayall wanted Montoya for his band, the Bluesbreakers, he accepted, with Collins' blessing. He had some big shoes to fill, taking the spot once occupied by the likes of Eric Clapton. For the next ten years he toured almost non-stop with the Bluesbreakers, honing his guitar skills and often opening the show with his blistering blues guitar.
Montoya stepped out on his own in 1993. After ten years with the Bluesbreakers, the time was right and with encouragement from both of his mentors, Albert Collins and John Mayall, he put a band together and took it on the road.
Montoya released his first album "Gotta Mind To Travel" in 1995 to wide acclaim. In 1996, he was nominated for four Blues Music Awards and was named Best New Blues Artist at the Blues Music Awards in 1996.
With eight albums, as bandleader, to his credit, Coco Montoya averages more than 150 live shows every year and continues to build his fan base playing major blues festivals all over the world.
4. Tommy Castro
Tommy Castro is a road warrior. He tours aggressively and has played thousands of shows, winning fans at every venue. Tommy has never really hit it big, but has a solid following. He is a strong songwriter. His lyrics are intelligent and relevant.
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. He has cited Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Elmore James and Freddie King as inspirations.
By his 20s he was playing in a variety of San Francisco-area blues and soul bands. Since 1991, he has led his own bands. He formed his current band "The Painkillers" in 2012.
His record Exception to the Rule won the 1997 Bay Area Music Award for Outstanding Blues Album. Castro also took the Outstanding Blues Musician award that same year.
Castro opened for BB King on his 2001 AND 2002 summer concert tours, and joined him onstage for the finale each night.
In 2010, the Blues Foundation awarded Castro Blues Music Awards for Blues Male Artist of the Year, Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, and Band of the Year.
Don't miss the opportunity to see Tommy Castro if he comes to your town!
5. 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.
As a teen, Anders learned to play guitar. He appreciated Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, and Joni Mitchell. He loved the vocal styles of Ray Charles, Van Morrison and Lowell George. When he heard Robert Johnson and the sounds of African drumming, everything fell into place. "Blues connected everything together for me," Osborne recalls. "The early rock, the R&B, the jazz, the singer-songwriters. Blues was like a thread running through everything."
He started playing in Open D tuning, which gives his fretwork a signature sound.
He says. "I first heard Open D on Joni Mitchell's Blue and my fingers just fit the tuning."
6. Jimmy Thackery
Jimmy Thackery was born May 19, 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. Thackery was with The Nighthawks for 14 years.
In 1986 he began touring with a new band, The Assassins. Since the Assassins 1991 break-up, he has been leading Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers.
In 2002 Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers released, We Got It, and in 2006, In the Natural State. In 2007, he and The Drivers released Solid Ice. His latest album, Wide Open, was released in 2014.
7. 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.
Kenny Neal cut his first album, initially released by Kingsnake Records as Bio on the Bayou, in 1987. It was later reissued by Alligator Records as Big News from Baton Rouge!! Since then he has recorded several albums on various record labels.
Kenny blends his gritty Louisiana swamp roots with sophisticated Chicago/Memphis soul for a sound truly his own.
8. Ben Harper
Ben Harper is an American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He plays an eclectic mix of blues, folk, soul, reggae and rock music. He has received accolades for his guitar-playing skills, slide guitar, vocals and live performances.
Harper was born in Pomona, California on October 28, 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.
At the age of 9, Harper attended a performance by Bob Marley in Burbank, California. That was an important musical influence in his life.
Harper has won three Grammy Awards. One for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and one for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in 2005, and Best Blues Album in 2014.
9. Shemekia Copeland
Shemekia Copeland is the new "Queen of the Blues."
Born Charon Shemekia Copeland in Harlem on April 10, 1979. Shemekia is an electric blues vocalist. Her father is Texas blues guitarist and singer Johnny Copeland.
She began singing as a child appearing at the Cotton club when she was only ten years old. She toured with he father, as his open act, when she was in her teens. This helped her establish her reputation.
Her debut album, Turn the Heat Up! was release in 1998. She promoted it by appearing at numerous blues festivals in America and Europe. She released her second album, Wicked, in 2000. It included a duet with one of her idols, Ruth Brown. It got 3 Blues Music Awards.
Her album, Talking to Strangers, was produced by Dr. John, and in 2005 she released The Soul Truth, produced by Steve Cropper.
At the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival, Copeland was presented Koko Taylor's crown, and honored as the new "Queen of the Blues," by Koko Taylor's daughter, Cookie Taylor.
In 2016, Copeland won a Blues Music Award in the Contemporary Blues Female Artist' category
In October 2015, her album Outskirts of Love peaked at number 6 in the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart.
10. Warren Haynes
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.
Warren Haynes is a guitar player, singer and songwriter. He is associated with southern rock, blues-rock, soul and blues. He gained notoriety when he played guitar with The Allman Brothers Band. He is also the founder of the jam band Gov't Mule.
In his younger days he played guitar for David Allan Coe and The Dickey Betts Band.
He is also associated with surviving members of the Grateful Dead. He tours with Phil Lesh and Friends and The Dead.
He is co-founder and manager of Evil Teen Records. A New York City based record label begun in 1996.
This is the second article I have written about contemporary blues artists. If you don't see your favorites here, or you just want more, check out my first list:
© 2017 Sherry Hewins