Texas blues is said to be the coolest blues to play and is known for its jazz and swing influences. It has produced some of the most well-known past and present blues musicians of the genre. Fathered by Blind Lemon Jefferson, the first country blues recording star, Texas blues first gained popularity in the early 1900s when many black musicians would play alone or in a string band with other musicians on local business strips.
Texas blues differs from the Chicago blues style many people think of, because it heavily uses the guitar over the piano and uses guitar solos or “licks” as bridges in songs. Some Texas blues musicians prefer the electric guitar, while others use Dobro’s or old hardtops. No matter their instrument of choice, Texas blues artists have been at the forefront of the blues scene for almost a century. The familiar 12-bar structure and AAB rhyme scheme of the Delta blues combined with Piedmont finger-picking gives Texas blues its distinct sound. This is a perfect combination that is neither as dark and dramatic as Delta nor as delicate as Piedmont.
Blind Lemon Jefferson, the father of Texas blues, had an influence on the genre that reached over the country and over the Atlantic Ocean. Jefferson’s popular song “Matchbox Blues,” was recorded years later by both rockabilly star Carl Perkins and The Beatles. Proof that Texas blues transcends all cultures and genres.
Texas blues popularity spread during the Great Depression in the 1930s when many blues-men moved to cities like Galveston, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas. These new urban centers saw an explosion of performers, all of whom fed off each other for inspiration, style, and influence.
The 1950s saw the rise in popularity of Aaron “T-Bone” Walker and Sam “Lightnin” Hopkins. Both men were known for their blistering electric guitar playing. Hopkin’s song, ‘Sky Hop’ would become a game-changer for many young guitarists of the era as the blues began to infiltrate the mainstream and combined with the ‘British Invasion’ set to begin in the 1960s.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the real rise in the electric blues scene, most especially in clubs in Austin, Texas. With a strong emphasis on guitar soloing, keyboards and horns were also brought into the mix. The combination of traditional and southern styles emerged in this era with Johnny and Edgar Winter. There was an explosion of the electric guitar in the genre in the 1970s with Jimmy Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. The 1980s saw a breakthrough of the genre into the mainstream with the incredible guitar playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan. ZZ Top further cemented the genre in the mainstream as they dominated Southern rock.
According to the Dallas Observer, there are ten Texas blues albums you must hear before you die:
- Blind Lemon Jefferson – Black Snake Moan (2004, remastered)
- Lightnin’ Hopkins – The Herald Sessions (2001, remastered)
- Charles Brown – Driftin’ Blues: The Best Of (1995, compilation)
- Blind Willie Johnson – Complete Recordings (1993, compilation)
- Freddie King – Freddie King Sings (1989, compilation)
- T-Bone Walker – T-Bone Blues (1959)
- ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1973)
- Albert Collins – Ice Pickin’ (1978)
- Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood (1983)
- Zuzu Bollin – Texas Bluesman (1993)