30 Best All-time Blues Albums

Our "30 Best All-time Blues Albums" has not been compiled from a scientific study but from the memory of those favorite Blues Albums that helped set the mood, as the Blues so often does.  Remembering those favorite Blues Albums that will never be forgotten. As the votes roll in albums may come and go, as there are so many deserving Blues Albums worthy of being part of this distinguished list.  Votes are still being counted.

#1: The Complete Recordings by Robert Johnson

King of the Delta Blues. Legend says this haunted young man sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his extraordinary skills on guitar. Robert Johnson's complex, polyrhythmic technique influenced every generation of guitarists that followed, and he wrote some enduring Blues classics. His total recorded output was confined to two sessions in Texas in Nov. '36 and June '37, comprising twenty-nine songs. The 42 tracks here include some alternate versions and are arguably the most influential music of the whole 20th Century.

#2: Born Under a Bad Sign by Albert King

A guitar virtuoso and a smoothly soulful badass, King earned the nickname "The Velvet Bulldozer" and became known for his unorthodox style of playing, playing right-handed guitars lefty and using strange tunings. His standout 1967 album was his first recorded for Stax and featured the label's house band, Booker T. and the MGs, including Isaac Hayes on piano, and the Memphis Horns. The first two songs alone, the title track and "Crosscut Saw," would've been enough to seal King's status as one of the all-time greats.

#3: Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble

Stevie Ray Vaughan picked up where the previous blues giants left off. He displays a tremendous level of technique and control of the instrument that was rare for a Blues player at that time.  He is known for guitar tones that are still extensively imitated today. Texas Flood is the first album from the blues master, and one of the most influential. It might seem a disservice to the countless artists who preceded him, but "Texas Flood" establishes him as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time. Released in 1983, it remains the high watermark of traditional blues albums.

#4: Singin' The Blues by B.B. King

The one and only B.B. King (Riley B. King) is arguably the king of the blues. With just a few notes he could grab your emotions and penetrate your soul. Singin' the Blues displays B.B. King's exceptional taste and blues DNA. This album is a compilation of his classic hits and most of the songs included have become a staple of the blues around the world. B.B. King is in top shape in this album and his legendary tone and vibrato can be heard throughout.

#5: T-Bone Blues by T-Bone Walker

This album displays the pioneer of the jump blues and electric blues sound. T-Bone Blues was released in 1959 under the Atlantic label and is still highly influential today. Rolling Stone magazine ranked T-Bone Walker as one of the greatest guitarists of all time and T-Bone Blues is one of the reasons for that. It is another great example of great Chicago blues.

#6: Moanin' in the Moonlight by Howlin' Wolf

Growing up around the Mississippi Delta blues, Chester Burnett cut an imposing figure at well over 6 feet tall and around 300 pounds. After finding success in Memphis with help from Sam Phillips, he moved to Chicago in the '50s to team up with Chess Records, and with guitarist Hubert Sumlin following him. His debut album, Moanin' in the Moonlight, highlighted his rough and raw vocals and intimidating persona, with backing from legends like Willie Dixon and Otis Spann, as well as a young Ike Turner who played piano on "How Many More Years." But the standout is still "Smokestack Lightning," with its hypnotic riffs and the Wolf's high-pitched bawling.

#7: At Newport 1960 by Muddy Waters

Five years before Bob Dylan would get booed for going electric at the same festival, Chicago's Muddy Waters brought his swaggering blues to the Newport Jazz Festival, with his powerful voice and the harmonica playing of James Cotton carrying the performance. You can hear it somewhat on the recording, but the video of the majority-white crowd clapping along as his band cooks through the set reinforces just how transcendent this performance was for its time.


#8: John Lee Hooker - The Ultimate Collection 1948-1990

This is essentially a musical biography of one of the titanic figures in the story of the Blues. His distinctive voice and primitive guitar technique make John Lee Hooker a unique performer. The early, stripped-down hits for Modern and VeeJay; the Chess years; 70s collaborations with Canned Heat; his late revival with Bonnie Raitt, they are all here. The 31 tracks on this double-CD trace the journey John Lee, and the Blues, made from the Delta to the city, and on to the whole world.

#9: Blues Breakers John Mayall with Eric Clapton

Known as ‘The Beano Album’, this opened up the Blues to a new young audience on both sides of the Atlantic. Eric Clapton had left the Yardbirds because he thought they were going ‘commercial’ and this album, recorded with John Mayall’s superb band, is a powerful statement of his intent. Clean production allows the passionate energy of the music to shine through, and it set a high benchmark for others to aspire to. It's probably no exaggeration to say Blues-Rock starts here, and it's devastating stuff.

#10: Little Walter - His Best

Little Walter made the Blues Harp, or 'Mississippi Sax', an essential part of the Chess Records sound as he played those big, fat tones in Muddy's band. He went on to be a solo star, and the 20 tracks in this compilation are all taken from his hit singles, including 'Juke', 'My Babe', 'Mean Ol' World' and 'Boom, Boom, Out Go the Lights'. These original tracks show off Little Walter's unique, pioneering talents that became a blueprint for the Chicago sound that still powers Blues Bands today.

#11: Elmore James - The Definitive Collection

Listening to the overdriven sounds of James' innovative slide guitar playing, it'd be easy to think he didn't come along until later in the '50s or early '60s, when electric blues was finding its sound. But no, James' style gained traction with his 1951 cover of Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom" and, after his 1963 death, influenced the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones and Duane Allman, among many many others.

#12: Bessie Smith: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1

Known as the “Empress of the Blues,” the highly influential Bessie Smith patented a distinctively earthy and soulful vocal style that brought her much fame and wealth in the 1920s. She cut a slew of memorable 78-rpm singles that included the chart-topping, “Down Hearted Blues” – featuring just piano accompaniment – from 1923, which is one of the numerous highlights of a 2-CD retrospective that stands as a monument to Smith’s remarkable legacy. Among those influenced by her were Dinah Washington and Janis Joplin.  

#13: Where Did You Sleep Last Night: Lead Belly Legacy, Vol. 1

Lead Belly's (Huddie Ledbetter) earliest songs in the Library of Congress were tracked by John and Alan Lomax when he was in Angola Prison. An innovator on the 12-string guitar, he crossed over to white audiences in the '30s thanks to the popularity of his renditions of spirituals and folk songs, such as "Goodnight Irene," "Midnight Special," and "C.C. Rider." Even with the most primitive recording techniques, Lead Belly's commanding power is unmistakably eternal. He was the quintessential old-time traveling songster, whose career fully spanned the first half of the twentieth century, from the cat-houses of Shreveport to the stages of Paris. 

#14: At Last by Etta James

Nicknamed “Miss Peaches,” this Los Angeles-born songstress was an ever-present figure on the US R&B charts between 1955 and 1978. A Top 5 R&B hit, the timeless “At Last,” was her bluesy reconfiguration of a 1942 tune by big band jazzman, Glenn Miller. The parent album arranged by Riley Hampton, varied from rocking R&B numbers (“Tough Mary” and “Girl Of My Dreams”) to sophisticated jazz-tinged ballads with strings (“Stormy Weather”), proving that James was much more than an earthy blues mama.          

#15: Lightnin' Hoplins: Lightnin' Hopkins (1959)
Hopkins’ career began spectacularly in a meteoric fashion during the late 1940s and early 50s when he scored a string of big US R&B hits like “Shotgun Blues.” But just as fast, his popularity began to wane. It was rekindled at the end of the 50s by young white Americans fascinated by their nation’s folk and blues heritage. His self-titled Folkways album helped revitalize Hopkins’ ailing career, putting him back into the big time. Consisting of just voice and guitar, the LP captured the visceral intensity of Hopkins’ performances via tracks such as the mournful “Penitentiary Blues” and livelier boogie-style “Come Go Home With Me.”
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