This list of the Top 10 Blues Rock Guitarists of the 1970s was compiled by a process of elimination that included dozens of guitar players. The criteria for choosing who makes the list was based on a number of factors, the first of which was that they had to be a blues rock guitarist at some point in their career. Second, they had to be performing and recording during the 1970s. Third, their impact or contribution to the genre of blues rock had to be substantial and have a lasting impact at least up to and including this time period. In some cases, there are great guitarists that could be included that would fit better in other decade lists, like Muddy Waters or Stevie Ray Vaughan. So it was with all this in mind that this list was compiled.
10. Steve Miller
By the age of six, Steve Miller as a guitar prodigy was a pupil of his godfather, guitarist Les Paul who was one of the creators of the first solid body electric guitar. His childhood was studded with interactions with a variety of musicians including T Bone Walker because his physician father was a serious amateur recording engineer. The turning point was when Miller arrived in San Francisco in 1966 and became part of the Haight Ashbury psychedelic scene. He formed the Steve Miller Blues Band and by the mid-1970s he was playing to stadiums with some of the most amazing clean blues rock guitar accompanying a series of chart topping blues based pop chart radio hits. He’s released 18 studio albums and another 15 live and compilation releases that have sold 24 million albums just in the US.
9. Bonnie Raitt
In a world dominated by men Bonnie Raitt became part of the emerging guitar driven blues music scene in 1971 when she released her eponymous debut album Bonnie Raitt. She began playing guitar at the age of eight when she received the instrument as a Christmas gift. Raitt grew up in an artistic home since her Father John Raitt was a successful actor and singer staring in Broadway productions of “Oklahoma” and “Carousel” and her mother “accomplished pianist/singer” Marge Goddard. She’s on both Rolling Stone’s top 100 list of singers and guitar players, has won a total of ten Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as well as the Blues Hall of Fame.
8. Rory Gallagher
Rory Gallagher was born in 1948 in Ireland and began playing guitar at the age of nine. He was influenced by American and English artists like Leadbelly and Lonnie Donegan and earned his chops on the showband circuit where he played cover versions of popular radio hits. In 1966 he formed his own power trio called Taste and they opened for Cream’s farewell shows at the Royal Albert Hall. Gallagher quit the band in 1970 because he wanted to be in total control of his musical direction and he felt limited by Taste. While hanging out in Belfast he formed his new trio and by January 1971 they were in the studio recording. Gallagher was writing and producing his own music and he mixed it up with blues, folk and jazz as the trio toured Europe and America in support of his initial self titled solo release. Over the decades his guitar playing has influenced everyone from KISS and Judas Priest to Curt Cobain and Joe Bonamassa. He released over a dozen solo albums along with a half dozen with Taste as well as over a dozen compilation albums and boxed sets prior to and after his death in 1995. He is listed as #57 on Rolling Stones “Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
7. Alvin Lee
The late Alvin Lee is another amazing blues rock guitarist that increased his popularity exponentially after his group Ten Years After appeared at Woodstock. He grew up in England and began playing guitar when he was 13 and put together an early version of Ten Years After when he was just 15 called the Jaybirds. By the early 1970s, Ten Years After released eight studio albums, and Lee began a solo career that produced a dozen studio albums. He was known as the fastest guitar player in the West with his “distinctive, soulful, rapid fire guitar playing.” The first album after Ten Years After was a collaboration with Mylon Lefevre a gospel music rock star called On the Road To Freedom and it included Mick Fleetwood, Ron Wood, Steve Winwood and George Harrison. Harrison was a frequent guest on Lee’s albums and was included on 1985’s Detroit Deisel and 1994 which was re-released as I Hear You Rocking. The latter album included “The Bluest Blues” which one reviewer called, “the most perfect blues song ever recorded.”
6. Robin Trower
Robin Trower was born in England in 1945 and began playing guitar as a teenager before he entered the London music scene in the early 1960s. After playing guitar for various groups including an R&B group called the Paramounts he joined Procol Harum in 1967. Trower was part of the band during its early years and left it after their fifth album Broken Barricades was released because he felt that he wasn’t able to fully express himself on guitar. After he left the group he formed a power trio and in 1973 he released his first solo album Twice Removed From Yesterday. In 1974, Trower released his landmark album Bridge of Sighs which peaked at number seven in the US Top 10. It drew attention to the fact that his guitar playing was “eerily similar” to the late Jimi Hendrix’s style of playing, yet it was uniquely his own. Over the next five decades he has released over 23 albums along with compilations and collaborations with Jack Bruce.
5. Mick Taylor
Mick Taylor was 8 years when he attended a Bill Hailey and the Comets’ show and began playing the guitar soon afterwards. He began forming music groups when he was ten years old and by the age of 14, he became interested in the blues. He was influenced by people like Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Freddie King and by the age of 16 he moved to London and began playing with bands. One night in 1965, Taylor was attending a John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers show. Guitarist Eric Clapton failed to show up for the gig and Taylor convinced Mayall to let him sit in. Nearly two years later when Peter Green left the group, Mayall hired Taylor to replace him. Over the next few years Taylor honed his blues skills and added a jazz aspect to the band. When Rolling Stone guitarist and founding member Brian Jones quit the group in 1969, Taylor replaced him just before his tragic death. After five years with the Stones he left the band in 1974 and recorded some albums with people like Jack Bruce, Ron Wood and Little Feat. In 1979 he released his first self titled solo album and over the next four decades he continued to perform as a solo artist as well as working with everyone from Bob Dylan to reuniting with the Rolling Stones. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Rolling Stones in 1989 and was ranked as #37 by Rolling Stone Magazine in its 2012 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
4. Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana grew up in Mexico where his father was a musician and Carlos began playing guitar at eight. He played in Tijuana bars as a teenager where he was exposed to the blues. After his family moved to San Francisco he formed the Santana Blues Band and they played Afro-Latin-blues-rock fusion at the Fillmore West. After playing a set at Woodstock Santana’s debut album Santana produced “Evil Ways” as the first Top 10 Hit and stayed on the charts for two years. He’s sold over 100 million albums, won ten Grammys, and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is #15 on Rolling Stones Greatest Guitarist List and has scored at least one Top 10 album for six consecutive decades since the 1960s.
3. Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter was born in 1944 in Beaumont, Texas and his brother Edgar was born two years later. They both became interested in music and Johnny took up guitar and Edgar keyboard and formed a music group together recording and releasing School Day Blues, a 45rpm record in 1959. Over the next seven years Johnny recorded a series of singles on a variety of record labels until 1966 when he ended up on Billboard’s Hot 100 with a cover of “Harlem Shuffle.” By 1968 he decided to concentrate on blues rock and formed a power trio with Tommy Shannon on bass and John “Red” Turner on drums. Soon after he was written up in Rolling Stone in 1968 as being the biggest music sensation from Texas since Janis Joplin. He signed what was then the largest advance to a solo recording artist with CBS Records. His first self-titled album for Columbia was released in April 1969 and secured his place at the Woodstock Festival in August. By 1971 after forming a new band and having a successful live record album he was at the peak of his success but took a nose dive due to heroin addiction and was out of commission until 1973 when he released his comeback album Still Alive and Well. During his career until he died in 2014 he released over two dozen albums and produced three Grammy Award winning albums by Muddy Waters. He was the first non-African-American performer to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and he posthumously won a Grammy in 2015 for Step Back as the best blues album.
2. Jeff Beck
Jeff Beck is an English guitar player that was born in 1944 and is #5 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Players. He was one of the three guitar players in the Yardbirds that included Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. His influence on the group turned them on to psychedelic experimentation as he integrated electronic gadgets into transforming his guitar playing technique. The style that he played was called Raga Rock because it mimicked the sound of an Indian sitar. He mixed jazz aspects to his playing and helped develop what would eventually be called Heavy Metal. After leaving the Yardbirds he formed the Jeff Beck Group and released Truth. The band included Rod Stewart on vocals and future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood playing bass guitar. Beck’s ability to effortlessly produce some of the most transcendent sounds imaginable with his axe has earned him seven Grammy Awards and two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after six decades of performing and releasing over two dozen albums.
1. Jimmy Page
Jimmy Page was born in 1944 in England and began to play guitar by the time he was 13. After developing his skills on guitar he was able to work as a session musician in the early 1960s until he joined the Yardbirds in 1966. While in the Yardbirds he met Jeff Beck and the two collaborated and “Beck’s Bolero” was written by Page. The song was Beck’s first recording after leaving the Yardbirds with Page putting together the backup band and playing on it. Page continued with the Yardbirds and when they disbanded he formed the New Yardbirds to fill the upcoming tour dates. The band was comprised of Robert Plant (vocals), John Paul Jones (bass and keyboards), John Bonham (drums) and Jimmy Page (guitar). When they released their first album they changed their name to Led Zeppelin. After releasing eight successful studio albums, at the pinnacle of their success, John Bonham died and the band disbanded. Page retired to his mansion that Satanist Aleister Crowley owned on the Loch Ness until 1982 when he began to play guitar again. He did collaborations with Robert Plant and formed the Firm with Paul Rodgers. Over the decades there were more collaborations along with Led Zeppelin reunions for special occasions using Jason Bonham on drums. Jimmy Page has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice and is one of the most important guitar players in blues rock history and is listed as #3 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists.