A dictionary definition of “the blues” would go something like this: An American musical genre born in or around the Mississippi Delta and pioneered by, among others, guitar legend Robert Johnson. While there’s nothing inaccurate in the above statement, anyone who loves the blues recognizes immediately how inadequate it is.
Because the blues is more than a mere genre; it speaks to us, it cries out to us in ways that resonate within. The wail of a blues harp or the pained cry of the perfectly bent note on a guitar moves us in much the same way a human cry can. They demand attention and, at the same time, invite us to participate in a sort of sonic soul-searching.
Today, many of the most accomplished and influential guitarists on the scene are either blues players or rely heavily on the blues. Is it any wonder, then, that so many beginner guitarists are drawn to the genre?
If you’re looking to learn blues guitar songs, here are some easy blues songs for beginners:
Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker
Widely considered to be electric blues pioneer John Lee Hooker’s best pop song, “Boom Boom” blends modern and classic blues styles. Instrumental breaks frame the song’s refrain with powerful results.
John Lee Hooker’s style helped pave the way for Texas blues, influencing blues musicians as iconic as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Joe Bonamassa. Beginner guitarists can learn a lot from learning Hooker’s work, especially the epic “Boom Boom.”
The Thrill Is Gone – B.B. King
Any guitarist familiarizing himself with the blues will need to become acquainted with the music of B.B. King. A modern blues legend, King could say more with one note than many guitarists can in an entire composition.
An excellent track for beginner blues guitarists to learn is “The Thrill is Gone.” It’s a relatively uncomplicated song; it’s fun to play and will familiarize new initiates to the blues with B.B.’s rich-toned, signature style.
Lucille – B.B. King
Another B.B. King song novice blues players should tackle is “Lucille.” An homage to King’s signature semi-hollow body guitar (or guitars, as they were reportedly a few “Lucilles”), this twelve-bar-blues shuffle is in the key of E flat.
Aside from the benefits of becoming more familiar with the style of a genuine blues (and cultural) icon, “Lucille” also makes a good introduction for blues beginners to the 12/8 time signature.
Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
Recorded in 1971, Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine” quickly became a huge hit. The somber, gripping performance, once heard, simply can’t be unheard.
The song follows a standard sixteen-bar blues structure and comprises four chords: Am7, Em7, G, and Dm7. “Ain’t No Sunshine” should be on every aspiring blues guitarist’s to-do list.
I Put A Spell On You – ‘Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Every once in a while, a song transcends the barriers of its genre to become more than a perennial hit. “I Put A Spell On You” is one such song. Covered by countless blues players, including, perhaps most notably, Credence Clearwater Revival, “I Put a Spell On You” achieves an eerie, ethereal quality perfectly consistent with its lyrics.
Guitarists learning the blues will definitely want to know this unique twist on the genre. Eighth-note strumming and string muting are used to lend the song its signature mesmerizing vibe, techniques every blues guitarist should become familiar with.
Smokestack Lightning – Howlin’ Wolf
This blues classic, which was penned by Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett and his guitarist Hubert Sumlin, was recorded in 1956 at Chess’s Studio in Chicago.
The tune employs alternate picking and pull-offs, two quintessential blues techniques. The driving rhythm punctuated by pauses makes for some great blues that are relatively easy and fun to learn.
Damn Right I Got The Blues – Buddy Guy
Following a period of limited productivity, blues legend Buddy Guy delighted fans with his 1991 album, “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues.”
Built on just three chords (A7/D7/E7) and utilizing hammer-ons, the title track of this album is great practice for novice blues players.
I Can’t Quit You Baby – Led Zeppelin
Though written by Willie Dixon, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” was originally recorded by Chicago blues player Otis Rush. The song has been covered many times, most notably by Led Zeppelin on their self-titled debut album.
“I Can’t Quit You Baby” makes a great song for beginner guitarists, as it is a great tune and uses only three chords: G7, C7, and D7.
Got My Mojo Workin’ – Muddy Waters
This blues classic was written by Preston Foster and first recorded in 1956 by Ann Cole. Muddy Waters popularized the song when he recorded his definitive version a year later.
“Got My Mojo Workin'” is a relatively easy blues rhythm to learn, making it an excellent song for budding blues players.
Cross Roads Blues – Robert Johnson
It’s no exaggeration to say that Robert Johnson’s late 1930s recordings defined the Delta Blues for generations to come. Johnson’s facility with the acoustic guitar was such that rumors spread of his having sold his soul to the devil, a legend that persists to this day and proved to cement his place in blues history.
“Cross Road Blues,” which alludes to Johnson’s supposed meeting with old Scratch, has a twelve-bar-blues structure, and was later covered (or perhaps reinterpreted) by Eric Clapton and Cream. The mutes and double stops in this version are great practice for novice and intermediate blues guitar players alike.
Born Under A Bad Sign – Albert King
Released in 1967 on Stax Records, Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” quickly became a big hit.
With its slow pace and R&B style rhythm and bass, “Born Under A Bad Sign” is a great song that’s relatively easy to learn. Also, it’s good practice for guitarists working on the pentatonic scale.
Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett
First recorded in 1965, “Mustang Sally” is another great blues song for beginners. Power chords and single-note partitions make this classic blues song relatively easy to learn, and the driving blues rhythm makes it incredibly fun to play.
All Your Love – John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
Everything Eric Clapton touched seemed to turn gold during the sixties and seventies. From the Yardbirds to Cream and beyond, a group with Clapton on guitar was something to pay attention to.
The Blues Breakers, featuring Clapton on lead guitar, is another example. “All Your Love” is the opening track of the Blues Breakers’ debut album and ranks among the best easy blues songs on guitar. The riff is relatively simple, and the fills make a great introduction to the blues scale.
Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
While the man in black is known more for country-western and folk music, his iconic “Folsom Prison Blues” bridges the gap between the aforementioned genres and the blues. Composed by Cash in 1955, the song’s guitar fills are relatively simple and lend the otherwise country tune a bluesy lilt.
If you’re looking for blues guitar songs for beginners, “Folsom Prison Blues” makes an excellent primer.
I’m A Man – Bo Diddley
Because of its power and simplicity, “I’m a Man” by Bo Diddley has to rank among the best beginner blues guitar songs.
Composed by Diddley in 1955, the song’s riff consists primarily of two power chords. The tune follows a classic blues progression and is a great song for the greenest of beginners.
The Sky Is Crying – Elmore James
Written and recorded in 1959 by legendary blues composer Elmore James, “The Sky is Crying” quickly became a blues classic. The slow pace of this tune places it among the best blues songs for beginners.
Alberta – Eric Clapton
Written and composed by Lead Belly, “Alberta” was widely popularized when Eric Clapton included the song in one of his “Unplugged” performances. While this led to some copyright headaches for Slowhand, the performance was a treat for blues and Lead Belly fans alike.
If you’re hunting for easy blues songs on guitar, “Alberta” ‘s three-chord structure (C/G/F) makes for a great learning tool.
Me And The Devil Blues – Robert Johnson
Written and recorded by the inimitable Robert Johnson, “Me and the Devil Blues” is a blues classic that’s been covered by the likes of Eric Clapton and the Doors, to name a few.
One of the most influential blues songs in history, “Me and the Devil Blues,” is played in the finger-picking style. Triads and diads interspersed with bass notes sounded on lower strings make up the song’s structure.
Beginners certainly shouldn’t expect to sound like Johnson, but “Me and the Devil Blues” is well worth learning.
Blues Stay Away From Me – The Delmore Brothers
Like Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Blues Stay Away From Me” rides the cusp between country-western and blues music. Written in 1949 and consisting of just three chords (G/C/D7,) this is one of the best blues songs to learn on guitar for beginners.
Baby What You Want Me To Do? – Jimmy Reed
Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” is one of the genre’s most covered songs and ranks among the best easy blues guitar songs. The song is all open chords, making it an excellent place for aspiring blues guitarists to start.
Life By The Drop – Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
If you’re just beginning to learn how to play blues on guitar, you’re probably surprised to see Stevie Ray Vaughan on a list of easy blues guitar songs. A pioneer of the Texas Blues style, SRV’s finger speed can be intimidating to aspiring players.
“Life By The Drop,” which was released posthumously in 1990, may not be an easy blues song to learn, but it is among the easier of Vaughan’s work to play. The intro will take some work, and you aren’t likely to sound anything like Stevie, but every aspiring blues guitarist should give this song a go.
Sweet Home Chicago – The Blues Brothers
Because the Blues Brothers popularized this song, many don’t realize that it was actually first recorded in 1936 by blues legend Robert Johnson. Legions of players have covered this blues anthem; Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton both have fantastic versions.
With a quick tempo and a rhythm guitar part consisting mainly of power chords, “Sweet Home Chicago” is uncomplicated and loads of fun to play along to.
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
No list of great blues songs for beginners would be complete without mentioning “Mannish Boy” by Muddy Waters. Composed by Waters in 1955, this song utilizes bends and slides, two techniques with which aspiring blues guitarists must familiarize themselves.
“Mannish Boy” is also a great introduction to the blues scale, making it a song every blues guitarist should learn.
Boogie Chillun – John Lee Hooker
Another entry from the inimitable John Lee Hooker, “Boogie Chillun,” may not be as well known as “Boom Boom,” but it is nonetheless a blues classic. Written and recorded by John Lee Hooker in 1948, “Boogie Chillun” features a repeating guitar melody and interesting solo and slide fill.
Hey Joe – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Few guitarists in history have risen above genre; Jimi Hendrix is one. Was Hendrix blues? Acid Rock? The seed of hard rock and eventually of heavy metal? Yes, yes, and yes. Hendrix incorporated all of that and more into his singularly unique style.
Guitarists of all genres should familiarize themselves with Hendrix’s body of work, and blues guitarists should pay special attention to “Hey Joe.” One of Hendrix’s most blues-influenced songs, “Hey Joe,” follows the blues’ repetitive lyrical style and is chock full of excellent guitar fills.
While there may not be any “easy” Hendrix songs, “Hey Joe” is one every beginner blues guitarist should attempt.
One Way Out – Elmore James
There’s some debate over who wrote the blues classic “One Way Out.” Many credits the song to Elmore James, who first recorded it at Beltone Studios in New York City. Others insist it was written by Sonny Boy Williamson II, who recorded his own popular version of the song. Later on, The Allman Brothers Band popularized this song.
Whoever wrote “One Way Out,” the song is a quintessential blues classic every blues guitarist should learn. A moderate tempo and swing beat make this one fun and easy to play along to.
House Of The Rising Sun – Lead Belly
A traditional folk song of murky origin, “The House of the Rising Sun,” is said to have been known by American miners as early as 1905. However, it became popular in the Appalachia area in the 1930s. Blues legend Lead Belly recorded two versions of the song, one in 1944 and one in 1948.
The song became wildly popular thanks to a cover released by The Animals in 1964. Still, Lead Belly’s recordings remain the high-water mark for most lovers of the blues.
Structured around five chords (Am/C/D/F/E,) “House of the Rising Sun” is a blues standard every guitarist should learn.
The Stumble – Freddie King
First recorded in 1961 and released in 1962, “The Stumble” was composed by Texas Blues legend Freddie King. “The Stumble,” an instrumental blues number, was not the first instrumental King wrote and recorded, but it is likely the most popular and enduring.
A straightforward and relatively uncomplicated composition, “The Stumble” is a great song for beginner blues guitarists to hone their chops.
Kind Hearted Woman Blues – Robert Johnson
Another of Robert Johnson’s legendary late 1936’s recordings, “Kind Hearted Woman Blues,” demonstrates, yet again, Johnson’s almost super-human relationship with the acoustic guitar. Comprised primarily of single bass notes interspersed with triads and double-steps, this classic is well worth learning.
Ice Cream Man – Van Halen
Written by John Brim, “Ice Cream Man” was popularized when Van Halen covered the song on their eponymous debut album and made it a part of their regular live shows.
Even seasoned players may have trouble mastering Eddie’s blistering solos, but the rhythm part is relatively easy, fun to play, and well worth learning.