Still singing the Blues: The artists and instruments that defined a genre

Written by Laura | Published 21 January 2019 | Updated 12 January 2023

Many of the rock and roll legends we know and love today were inspired by the blues. Recorded blues has its roots in the early 1920s, but the blues itself can be traced back to African music. Fast forward to the mid-1960s and the electric blues albums reached the UK, inspiring a host of British bands in the process who led the British Blues invasion which included the likes of The Rolling Stones, Cream, Yardbirds, Them and Fleetwood Mac. But the instruments they used set them apart and introduced a genre that was both mournful and magical. 


One of the best-recognised instruments in blues music is the harmonica. A solo musician can carry out the traditional call and response style on his own; he sings, and the harmonica responds. One of the best-known blues harmonica players was Sonny Boy Williamson II. His influence extended to the British blues rockers and he recorded with big names such as the likes of Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin, with Robert Palmer even procuring one of Williamson's harmonicas. Beyond those names, Stevie Wonder and Mick Jagger were so profoundly inspired by the blues that they even learned to play the harmonica too (and did so well).

Sonny Boy Williamson II. Image credit: Gilles Petard/Redferns


Many types of guitars have been added over time, notably the electric guitar which helped develop the blues as a genre. One unique guitar used in the blues is the Dobro or resonator guitar. These instruments are special because rather than carrying the sound through the soundboard (the top of the guitar), the vibration of the string goes over the bridge to a resonator or multiple resonators. The use of resonators was implemented in order to amplify the sound of the guitar, however electric amplifiers have since solved this problem, but the resonator guitar is still prized of its unique sound.

The inspiration for many starting blues guitarists is Robert Johnson. Legend has it that he met the devil at a crossroad where he traded his soul for the gift of music, and what a gifted musician he was. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards said that "Robert Johnson was like an orchestra all by himself." He introduced Johnson’s music to bandmate Brian Jones who at first could barely believe that there were not 2 guitars on the recording, only Johnson.

Robert Johnson. Image Credit: americanbluesscene.com

Another guitarist that needs mentioning is BB King. As a singer, guitarist, songwriter and record producer, he is considered to be the most influential blues musician of all times. With his guitars, he left a legacy on the world of blues forever. 


Both the bass guitar and the upright, or double bass are used in blues music. Although the upright bass can be played with a bow, it is more popular in blues music for the bassist to pluck the strings, a technique called pizzicato, to create rapid, walking bass lines. The most influential blues bassist is Willie Dixon, who was famous for saying “the blues is the roots, the rest is the fruits”, a statement true of the blues’ influence on other genres.

Willie Dixon. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons. 

Another recognisable name among blues bassists is Donald “Duck” Dunn. He made an appearance in the film Blues Brothers. Aside from his film career and his contributions to the development of the blues, he backed many other artists including Freddie King and Eric Clapton. 


Not only do the drums carry the beat of the music, but they are also often given solo sections as well. One major name among drummers is Steve Jordan. After accompanying Stevie Wonder, he went on tour with the Blues Brothers, although he did not appear in the eponymous 1980 film.

Mick Fleetwood. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

And that's not to forget Mick Fleetwood, the founder of Fleetwood Mac and the drummer in his own blues band – a legend as much for his drummer as his dynamic live performances. 


Begin your own blues journey and explore our musical instruments sections and start marching to the beat of your own mournful song. Or register as a seller.

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