Fifteen Blues Artists to Watch in 2014
Every generation has an underground music scene that only an elite group of fans and the NSA know of. In the '60s, psychedelic music, for example, exploded onto the hippies' counterculture scene with music by The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. (And let's not forget the Velvet Underground.) In the '70s, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Ramones dominated garages and small venues across England and North America until bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica accepted the mantle in the early '80s, with rappers N.W.A., Public Enemy and Run DMC emerging out of Compton, Long Island and Queens to carry on the underground tradition when the headbangers moved into the arenas.
Christian McPhate Jason Elmore
And yet the earliest incarnation of the underground music scene actually occurred as far back as the '20s when Delta bluesmen such as Freddie Spruell, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson crooned "Milk Cow Blues," "Honey Bee" and "Crossroads" in small smoky shacks that served homemade whiskey and deals with the devil for that perfect tone.
So in honor of the new year, we here at the Observer have consulted with the wisdom of the blues' seers at KNON, blues artists from across the DFW area and the Net to generate a list of blues artists that doesn't include John Mayer (although he's an amazing guitarslinger), to watch in 2014 (and hopefully inspire a few program directors to change their formats). Here it is in no particular order. Enjoy.
See also: The 10 Greatest Dallas Blues Artists
For a majority of the 20th century, the blues stayed underground, until the British invasion brought it to the forefront of mainstream media with guitarists like Eric Clapton of Cream, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and George Harrison of The Beatles channeling the old blues masters' licks.
"Blues rock" is what some media outlets called it. And bands like the Allman Brothers, Lynard Skynard and ZZ Top solidified the blues movement popularity among Southerners, making it even more mainstream. And the Three Kings -- Albert, Freddie and B.B. -- soon found a new wave of fans attending their shows, as well as a generation of guitar players aspiring to recreate that perfect tone.
Since the death of Texas blues' rising star Stevie Ray Vaughan, who took the devil's tone and made it his own, the blues has slowly slipped back into the obscurity of its underground roots, despite record companies' best efforts to keep it at the forefront with a slew of guitarists imitating Vaughan's style.
Today, the blues is an underground scene that thrives on websites such as Live Blues World, Reverbnation and Live365.com, which offers a slew of Internet radio stations playing the blues. Mainstream radio stations, on the other hand, are too busy regurgitating the same old shit from the '90s and early 2000s and the assigning words of talk show hosts to pay attention to this vibrant movement igniting laptops, iPads and data phones globally.
15. Larry Lampkin
This Fort Worth bluesman has been traveling the country backing various blues acts before stepping in front of the microphone. Since releasing his first album When I Get Home in 2011, he's been playing various clubs like Stumpy's and Mambo's in the DFW area and blues festivals like the Bedford Blues Festival. His set at Don O's 30th Anniversary show at Poor David's Pub felt like traveling through time to listen to some of the old blues masters in their heydays.
14. Doyle Bramhall II
This Texas blues guitarist has been called "Eric Clapton's secret weapon" and a "Texas guitar god." Growing up in household where a father jams with such music legends as Lightnin' Hopkins, Freddie King and Stevie Ray and Jimmi Vaughan, this Texas bluesman literally had the blues inflused into his cells long before he was born. Bramhall recently finished sessions playing guitar for Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi and Bettye Lavette. And next year he's releasing a new Arc Angel DVD.
13. Royale Rhythmaires
This vibrant band from across the Trinity has been packing clubs in Fort Worth with a dynamite singer whom Don O at KNON calls "bad ass." Jai Milano is a powerhouse vocalists, and along with saxophonists Douglas Brown and Alex Hernandez, upright bassist Ed Cannon, pianist Daniel Porter and drummer Brendan Fenno, she's playing "the blues houtin', horn honkin', hand clappin', foot stompin' sound of the '40s and '50s Rhythm and Blues" by covering music of Lavern Baker, Little Richard, Sam "The Man" Taylor, Ruth Brown and Ike Turner.
12. Joe Bonamassa
Growing a reputation as "one of the world's greatest guitar players" seems like an impossible task with guitar legends like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satrinai and Eric Clapton still thriving in the future. But it's a challenge this former child prodigy is willing to accept. Since accepting it, Bonamassa has won a number of awards and honors, including Guitar International's "Guitarist of the Year" (2011) and Billboard's Blues Artist of 2010. He was also ranked number 48 in Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
11. Eric Gales
Legend has it that Gales started playing guitar when he was four years old shredding to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Albert King and B.B. King. He's a right-handed person who learned to play the guitar upside down while using his left hand to ignite his guitar. Paying homage to Jimi Hendrix with Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II and Brad Whitford in Experience Hendrix, a tribute to the godfather of blues rock, is just another slice of heaven for this Delta bluesman whose appearances are becoming legendary.