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by Justin Farrar

July 16, 2013

Blues Rock 101

by Justin Farrar  |  July 16, 2013

The first bands to fuse rock 'n' roll and the blues came to prominence in the mid-'60s. In America, blues rock's earliest practitioners were Canned Heat and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (whose 1966 album East-West is arguably the movement's first masterwork). Meanwhile, over in England, British Invasion stars such as The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds were busy cutting their teeth on the vintage Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James. These shaggy upstarts quickly spawned a full-blown British blues movement, one led by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (featuring a young Eric Clapton on guitar), Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Savoy Brown, Free and the Groundhogs. At that very same time, psychedelia produced Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience; while neither was a blues rocker exclusively, both helped to expand the genre's parameters in wildly unexpected ways.

By the '70s, blues rock had grown so popular and pervasive that it became nearly indistinguishable from hard rock and Southern rock. In the States, Johnny Winter, The Allman Brothers Band and ZZ Top were certainly pivotal in blending these various subgenres. But so were U.K. exports Robin Trower (a devoted disciple of Hendrix) and Irish guitar god Rory Gallagher, both top concert draws throughout the decade despite their middling record sales.

The '80s and '90s were dark decades for the movement. Though Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble (along with solid acts George Thorogood, The Jeff Healey Band and The Fabulous Thunderbirds) kept blues rock's flame proudly lit, Vaughan's tragic death in 1990 damn near destroyed the genre. Indeed, by the turn of the century, blues rock was all but dead. Then something amazing happened: A pair of cool dudes from Ohio calling themselves The Black Keys brought it roaring back to life while also giving it a hip new varnish. Nowadays, blues rock is as popular as ever, with artists such as Derek Trucks, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Clark, Jr. and Patrick Sweany all making music that is modern and current, yet rooted in blues rock's rich history as well.

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