BB King Photo courtesy of Gary Miller Photography

Often when I pick up my guitar I find myself going back to the same riffs over and over again. Same thing if I’m in a guitar store trying new guitars, like I did this past weekend while checking out Gibson’s 2016 model lineup. I’ve always loved playing the blues - anything from old masters like Hubert Sumlin, and Buddy Guy, to contemporary guitarists such as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Joe Bonamassa. So, today I thought I would list some of my favorite blues riffs and melodies. Who knows, maybe it’ll inspire you to try out something new next time you’re playing the guitar!

John Mayall - “All Your Love”

Eric Clapton’s guitar playing on John Mayall’s Beano album is the stuff of legends. My favorite lick of his is the main riff in “All Your Love.” It’s so much fun to play around with on guitar, and to sort of weave in your own little flourishes - makes for a nice afternoon blues session.

Jimi Hendrix - “Voodoo Chile”

The main riff from the intro to Henrix’ 15-minute blues “Voodoo Chile” is also one of those riffs that are so much fun to play around with on guitar. I like to play along to a simple drum track, and just mess around with that one sequence - so inspiring!

Howlin’ Wolf - “Spoonful”

Hubert Sumlin, and Freddie Robinson’s guitar work on “Spoonful” is so raw and bluesy. The main riff sort of follows Howlin’ Wolf’s vocals in the chorus - one of my favorite techniques when it comes to the blues. As was often the case, this song was written for Wolf by Willie Dixon.

Buddy Guy - “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues”

Any riff buy Buddy Guy is iconic if you ask me, but the one that stands out to me is “Damn Right, I’ve Got The Blues” from Buddy’s 1991 comeback album of the same name. I like the combination of Buddy’s piercing guitar tone set against the slow blues groove in combination with his raspy vocals.

Albert King - “Born Under A Bad Sign”

Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” might be more R&B than blues, but it still belongs on this list. King knew how to convey every type of emotion through “Lucy” - his Gibson Flying V. Albert King was a big inspiration to legends like Jimi Hendrix, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you’re not familiar with his work, I’d advice you to check out King Of The Blues Guitar.

Howlin’ Wolf - “Smokestack Lightning”

Another Howlin’ Wolf classic with the amazing Hubert Sumlin on guitar. It’s a simple song in the sense that it basically just repeats the same riff over and over - but what a riff it is! Just like the “Voodoo Chile” riff we talked about, it’s one of those I never get tired of playing around with - it’s fun to come up with your own little variations. Check out this video of Sumlin demonstrating how to play it:

Jimi Hendrix - “Red House”

The intro to “Red House” by Jimi Hendrix is one of my all time favorite blues intros. I feel that the sign of a great guitarist is how he or she is able to do so much with so little, and it is certainly true in this case. Jimi takes what is a fairly simple blues intro lick, and makes it sound larger than life - just like Hendrix himself!

Elmore James - “Dust My Broom”

This electrified version of the great Robert Johnson’s “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” has one of the quintessential slide guitar riffs in blues history. It’s not surprising that James has been called “King of the Slide Guitar,” since his playing has inspired numerous blues guitarists over the years.

Johnny Winter - “Highway 61 Revisited”

While we’re on the subject of slide guitar we can’t forget about the late Johnny Winter. His version of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” was one Winter’s live staples - it’s slide guitar on speed! Johnny was such a natural, he almost made the delicate art of slide guitar on his Gibson Firebird look easy.

B.B. King - “The Thrill Is Gone”

B.B. King had such a gentle but forceful touch to his playing. Just listen to this live recording of “The Thrill Is Gone” from Montreux Jazz Festival in 1993. King famously told U2’s Bono that he doesn’t play chords, so while there are no riffs per-se in “The Thrill Is Gone” it is nonetheless a great song to study for any budding blues guitarist who wants a lesson in conveying your emotions through a guitar. B.B. and his Gibson ES-355 “Lucille” were masters at that!

Photo courtesy of Gary Miller Photography