Top 10 Must Know Blues Riffs

Posted by Michael Mueller on May 28, 2009 at 4:47 PM

What guitarist doesn't like to sit in on a rippin', roarin' 12-bar blues jam? I can't think of many in my experience. So to help edify your blues knowledge as well as instill a new sense of confidence at that Tuesday night open jam, here are 10 must-know blues tunes, whose riffs form the basis for a majority of the blues you'll ever hear.

10. "Hide Away" Freddie King
Arguably the greatest blues instrumental ever recorded, this tune moves through seven different choruses, including a fun take on the "Peter Gunn" theme.

9. "Born Under a Bad Sign" Albert King
Constructed in the not-so-common key of C#, King's ominous riff drives an unusual blues form consisting of eight-bar choruses and four-bar verses.

8. "Boom Boom" John Lee Hooker
"How! How! How!" And how! This fundamental blues riff is another open-position E blues gem that is so much fun to play you just can't stop.

7. "Killing Floor" Howlin' Wolf
Played by longtime Wolf man Hubert Sumlin, this honkin' riff uses treble-voiced chord inversions and diatonic 6ths intervals to create a riff as big as Wolf's overpowering roar.

6. "Dust My Broom" Elmore James
Elmore James' reworking of the Robert Johnson classic became his signature tune, and it is one of the most recorded blues songs ever.

5. "I'm Tore Down" Eric Clapton
Clapton's version of Freddie King's rollicking blues swings harder than Prince Fielder! The traditional Chicago blues bass line riff and the stop-time in the chorus combine to make it a blues guitar all-star.

4. "Pride and Joy" Stevie Ray Vaughan
Vaughan's combination of boogie bass line and muted chord stabs made it sound like there were two SRVs playing at once!

3. "Rollin' Stone (Catfish Blues)" Muddy Waters
A traditional Delta blues theme born from K.C. Douglas, Muddy Waters's version of the open-position E blues riff so inspired  Mick and Keef they named the world's greatest rock 'n' roll band after it!

2. "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" Muddy Waters
Put simply, it don't get any bluer than this Willie Dixon-penned 12/8 slow blues riff!

1. "Sweet Home Chicago" Robert Johnson
The standard E blues shuffle of E5-E6-E7-E6 is hands-down the most ubiquitous guitar riff in history, and it's all based Robert Johnson's cut boogie pattern in "Sweet Home Chicago."

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Dana on May 29, 2009 at 9:06 AM

Blues players may want to check out Berklee faculty member and blues/R&B artist Thaddeus Hogarth demonstrate his approach to the basic blues foundation, bending, etc. Check it out at YouTube.