If you’ve ever wondered who influenced the greatest classic rock artists, keep reading. In this article, you’ll learn how classic rock was heavily influenced by blues music.
We’ll examine the music of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, and connect it back to its blues origins.
You might even discover that you’re already a blues fan, but just didn’t realize it.
Blues Songs by Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton became interested in blues music as a young teenager,
when he was first learning to play guitar. Early influences were acoustic blues
artists such as Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, and the guitar/harmonica duo,
Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. A UK tour by Muddy Waters in 1958 was hugely
influential in introducing electrified blues. Waters also became one of
By 1962, Clapton was busking in a blues duo, and by 1963 he had joined the Yardbirds, a Chicago blues influenced rock and roll band. They toured England with American bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson II. Clapton joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in 1966 and played on and off with them for a few years. It was during this time that he gained his “Clapton is God” reputation as the best blues guitarist on the circuit.
By 1967 Clapton had formed the rock super-group, Cream, but as you can see by the examples below, he continued to reference his blues influences while playing them in his own unique way.
Crossroads – Eric Clapton with Cream
Crossroad Blues – Robert Johnson
Spoonful – Eric Clapton with Cream
Spoonful – Howling Wolf
Have You Ever Loved A Woman – Eric Clapton
Have You Ever Loved A Woman – Freddy King
Further On Up The Road – The Band With Eric Clapton
Further On Up The Road – Bobby “Blue” Bland
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan was influenced to play guitar by his
older brother, Jimmie Vaughan. Texas was a longtime hotbed of blues artists
such as T-Bone Walker, so exposure to blues and an affinity for it came about
By age 21, Stevie was playing at Antone’s Blues Club in Austin, Texas, where he had an opportunity to sit in and become friends with great blues artists such as Albert King. Stevie wrote many of his own songs, but he also continued to cover blues songs from older artists.
Texas Flood – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Texas Flood – Larry Davis
Sky is Crying – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Sky Is Crying – Elmore James
Mary Had A Little Lamb – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Mary Had A Little Lamb – Buddy Guy
Things That I Used to Do – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Things That I Used to Do – Guitar Slim
The Allman Brothers
Gregg Allman was exposed to music through Jimmy Banes, a mentally handicapped neighbor of his grandmother, who introduced him to the guitar.
He got a paper route to earn money to buy a Sears Silvertone guitar, which both he and his brother Duane played.
influential event occurred in 1960, when Gregg and Duane attended a concert in
Nashville with Jackie
Redding, B.B. King, and Patti LaBelle.
A Daytona Beach area electric blues and soul guitarist, Floyd Miles, was also an influence. They began to jam with his band, the Houserockers. “I would just sit there and study Floyd … I studied how he phrased his songs, how he got the words out, and how the other guys sang along with him”, Gregg recalled.
The Allman Brothers Band was a mixture of blues, rock, gospel, jazz, and country which became known as southern rock.
Besides their own original compositions, they often covered blues songs re-arranged in their own style.
Statesboro Blues – Allman Brothers
Statesboro Blues – Taj Mahal
One Way Out – Allman Brothers
One Way Out – Sonny Boy Williamson
Trouble No More – Allman Brothers
Trouble No More – Muddy Waters
Done Somebody Wrong – Allman Brothers
Done Somebody Wrong – Elmore James
You Don’t Love Me – Allman Brothers
You Don’t Love Me – Junior Wells
Stormy Monday – Allman Brothers
Stormy Monday – Bobby “Blue” Bland
Hoochie Coochie Man – Allman Brothers
Hoochi Coochie Man – Muddy Waters
Blues by Jimi Hendrix
Along with rock and roll artists, Hendrix’s early influences were electric blues guitarists such as Muddy Waters, Elmore James and BB King. During Hendrix’s time in the US military, he listened to blues artists Jimmy Reed, Albert King, and Howling Wolf. Wolf’s song “Killing Floor” was often part of his live shows.
Killing Floor – Jimi Hendrix
Killing Floor – Howling Wolf
Catfish Blues – Hendrix
Rolling Stone – Muddy Waters
Mannish Boy – Jimi Hendrix
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
Johnny Winter, born in Beaumont, Texas, had a musician father who nurtured his musical talents. Johnny, as well as his brother Edgar, were performing as early as age 10.
As a child, Winter dreamed of playing with the blues guitarist Muddy Waters. His first recording, at age 15, was called “School Day Blues”. Around this time, he was also able to see live performances from blues artists such as Muddy Waters, BB King, and Bobby Bland.
His first album, “The Progressive Blues Experiment” on an Austin, Texas label includes covers from a number of blues artists, including B.B. King (“It’s My Own Fault”), Sonny Boy Williamson II (“Help Me”), and Slim Harpo (“I Got Love If You Want It”). Muddy Waters (“Rollin and Tumblin), and Howling Wolf (Forty Four), as well as his own compositions.
On Winter’s first Columbia album, Johnny Winter, he featured several blues musicians, bassist and composer, Willie Dixon, and Big Walter Horton on harmonica. His signature songs “Good Morning Little School Girl” (Sonny Boy Williamson) and “Be Careful With a Fool” (BB King) also appear on this album.
In 1974, he fulfilled his childhood dream of playing with Muddy Waters at the Blues Summit in Chicago concert. Winter later went on to produce several albums for Waters – “Hard Again”, “I’m Ready”, and “Muddy “Mississippi” Waters – Live”.
It’s My Own Fault – Johnny Winter
It’s My Own Fault – B. B. King
Help Me – Johnny Winter
Help Me – Sonny Boy Williamson
Got Love If You Want It – Johnny Winter
Got Love If You Want It – Slim Harpo
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ – Johnny Winter
Rollin’ and Tumblin’ – Muddy Waters
Good Morning Little School Girl – Johnny Winter
Good Morning Little School Girl – Sonny Boy Williamson
Be Careful with a Fool – Johnny Winter
Be Careful With a Fool – B. B. King
Blues By Led Zeppelin
Guitarist Jimmy Page was first inspired
by Lonnie Donnegan’s skiffle hit “Rock Island Line” to pick up guitar. “Rock
Island Line” was originally recorded by the American folk and blues singer,
Page closely studied American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Leadbelly.
He also became a prolific session guitarist, contributing to numerous rock, blues, and pop songs.
In 1966-67 he joined the Chicago blues influenced rock and roll band, the Yardbirds, replacing Jeff Beck, who had himself replaced Eric Clapton. During this later era, their live show mixed blues standards with experimental psychedelia.
When starting Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, not having enough original material, reworked a number of old blues songs. Led Zeppelin was a continued exploration of blues and psychedelia.
You Shook Me – Led Zeppelin
You Shook Me – Muddy Waters
When The Levee Breaks – Led Zeppelin
When the Levee Breaks – Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie
Lemon Song – Led Zeppelin
Killing Floor – Howling Wolf
I Can’t Quit You Baby – Led Zeppelin
I Can’t Quit You Baby – Otis Rush
Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
You Need Love – Muddy Waters
Blues songs By The Rolling Stones
Both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were already fans of
Chicago blues music, when they ran into each other on a train. They each
noticed the other was carrying a Muddy Waters record, and through this mutual
interest, they became friends and band mates.
Before writing their own songs, they played mostly blues and rock and roll – artists like Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry.
The band’s name itself comes from a Muddy Waters song called “Rolling Stone”.
Like Eric Clapton, the American Folk Blues Festival was also a huge influence. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Mick Jones recount how they were awestruck by Howlin’ Wolf’s performance in 1962.
Their debut album in 1964 contained several blues covers including Wolf’s Little Red Rooster, Slim Harpo’s I’m A King Bee, and Muddy Waters’ I Just Want to Make Love to You.
They continued to reference blues songs throughout their career, and in 2016, they even recorded an entire album of blues covers “Blue and Lonesome” to pay homage to their roots.
Little Red Rooster – Rolling Stones
Little Red Rooster – Howlin’ Wolf
I’m a King Bee – Rolling Stones
I’m a King Bee – Slim Harpo
I Just Want To Make Love To You – Rolling Stones
I Just Want To Make Love To You – Muddy Waters
Love in Vain Blues – Rolling Stones
Love in Vain Blues – Robert Johnson
You Gotta Move – Rolling Stones
You Gotta Move – Fred McDowell
Stop Breaking Down Blues – Rolling Stones
Stop Breaking Down Blues – Robert Johnson
Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Allman Brothers
The Rolling Stones