Blues rock

Blues rock is a fusion genre combining elements of blues and rock. It is mostly an electric ensemble-style music with instrumentation similar to electric blues and rock: electric guitar, electric bass guitar, and drums, sometimes with keyboards and harmonica. From its beginnings in the early- to mid-1960s, blues rock has gone through several stylistic shifts and along the way it inspired and influenced hard rock, Southern rock, and early heavy metal. Blues rock continues to be an influence in the 2010s, with performances and recordings by popular artists.

Blues rock started with rock musicians in the UK and the US performing American blues songs. They typically recreated electric Chicago-style blues songs, such as those by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf, and Albert King, at faster tempos and with a more aggressive sound common to rock. In the UK, the style was popularized by groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, and the Animals, who placed several blues songs into the pop charts. In the US, Lonnie Mack, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Canned Heat were among the earliest exponents and later "attempted to play long, involved improvisations which were commonplace on jazz records".[3] John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac also developed this more instrumental, but traditional-based style in the UK, while late 1960s and early 1970s groups, including Ten Years After, Savoy Brown, the Climax Blues Band and Foghat became more hard rock oriented. In the US, Johnny Winter, the Allman Brothers Band, and ZZ Top represented a hard rock trend.

Along with hard rock, blues rock songs became the core of the music played on album-oriented rock radio, and later the classic rock format birthed in the 1980s.[4]

Although around this time, the differences between blues rock and hard rock lessened,[3] there was also a return to more blues-influenced styles. In the 1980s, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan, recorded their best-known works and the 1990s saw guitarists Gary Moore, Jeff Healey, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd become popular concert attractions. Groups such as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and the White Stripes, brought an edgier, more diverse style into the 2000s, as do contemporary artists such as the Black Keys.


Blues rock can be characterized by bluesy improvisation, the twelve-bar blues, extended boogie jams typically focused on the electric guitar player, and often a heavier, riff-oriented sound and feel to the songs than found in typical Chicago-style blues. Blues rock bands "borrow[ed] the idea of an instrumental combo and loud amplification from rock & roll".[3] It is also often played at a fast tempo, again distinguishing it from the blues.[3]


The core blues rock sound is created by the electric guitar, bass guitar and drums. The electric guitar is usually amplified through a tube guitar amplifier or using an overdrive effect. Two guitars are commonplace in blues rock bands: one guitarist focused on rhythm guitar, playing riffs and chords as accompaniment; and the other focused on lead guitar, playing melodic lines and solos.

While 1950s-era blues bands sometimes used the upright bass, the blues rock bands of the 1960s used the electric bass, which was easier to amplify to loud volumes. Keyboard instruments, such as the piano and Hammond organ, are also occasionally used. As with the electric guitar, the sound of the Hammond organ is typically amplified with a tube amplifier, which gives a growling, "overdriven" sound quality to the instrument.

Vocals also typically play a key role, although the vocals may be equal in importance or even subordinate to the lead guitar playing. As well, a number of blues rock pieces are instrumental-only. Sometimes bands also included a Richter-tuned harmonica or "harp".


Blues rock pieces often follow typical blues structures, such as twelve-bar blues, sixteen-bar blues, etc. They also use the I-IV-V progression, though there are exceptions, some pieces having a "B" section, while others remain on the I. The Allman Brothers Band's version of "Stormy Monday", which uses chord substitutions based on Bobby "Blue" Bland's 1961 rendition, adds a solo section where "the rhythm shifts effortlessly into an uptempo 6/8-time jazz feel".[5] The key is usually major, but can also be minor, such as in "Black Magic Woman".

One notable difference is the frequent use of a straight eighth-note or rock rhythm instead of triplets usually found in blues. An example is Cream's "Crossroads". Although it was adapted from Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues", the bass "combines with drums to create and continually emphasize continuity in the regular metric drive".[6] Cream also uses some of the lyrics from "Traveling Riverside Blues" to create their own interpretation of the song.

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