The best books about blues and playing the blues guitar

Keith Wyatt Author Of Blues Rhythm Guitar: Master Class Series [With CD]
By Keith Wyatt

Who am I?

I am a professional guitarist and music teacher specializing in American roots music. For more than 35 years I taught, wrote curriculum, and oversaw programs at Los Angeles' Musicians Institute (formerly Guitar Institute of Technology) while creating and directing instructional videos, writing method books, and publishing magazine articles and columns. Since 1996 I have been recording and touring as the guitarist for American music icons the Blasters. In 2014, I developed the online School of Electric Blues Guitar at Artistworks, where I interact every day with students from around the world.

I wrote...

Blues Rhythm Guitar: Master Class Series [With CD]

By Keith Wyatt,

Book cover of Blues Rhythm Guitar: Master Class Series [With CD]

What is my book about?

Duke Ellington said it best: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Rhythm is the essence of blues and blues is the taproot of just about every other style of popular music, so if you want to become both a better blues guitarist and all-around musician, start here. 

This book is not just a bunch of licks - it’s a comprehensive, step-by-step method illustrated by loads of real-world examples backed up by full explanations and dozens of audio demonstrations covering all of the essential rhythmic styles of traditional blues. Whether you play on stage or just enjoy messing around with the guitar, becoming a great rhythm player is not only a foundation, but a fulfilling end in itself.

The books I picked & why

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Rollin' and Tumblin' - The Postwar Blues Guitarists

By Jas Obrecht,

Book cover of Rollin' and Tumblin' - The Postwar Blues Guitarists

Why this book?

Who’s your daddy? If you play electric guitar, the answer is “T-Bone Walker.” If your response to that name is “Who?” then it’s time to meet your musical ancestor. Over a period of just two decades, T-Bone, along with the “Three Kings” (BB, Albert, and Freddie), Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and others created and developed the fundamental techniques and styles of electric guitar that underpin blues and rock to this day.

Obrecht is one of the best writers on the subject, compiling biographies, historical research, interviews, and conversations into a fascinating and very readable history of the musicians, the music, and the instrument.

The Praxis System Guitar Compendium: Technique / Improvisation / Musicianship / Theory Volume 1

By Howard Roberts, Garry Hagberg,

Book cover of The Praxis System Guitar Compendium: Technique / Improvisation / Musicianship / Theory Volume 1

Why this book?

Howard was a top Los Angeles session guitarist (one of the fabled Wrecking Crew), jazz stylist, and brilliant visionary who combined his skills to create the Guitar Institute of Technology, an innovative, intensive program that trained thousands of professionals and transformed guitar education.

The Guitar Compendium is the result of Howard’s decades of research into learning theory and information flow applied to the guitar. It’s not a standard guitar method (and not designed for raw beginners), but rather a collection of practical, thought-provoking solutions to the universal challenges of learning and playing the instrument, from developing technique to breaking through creative roadblocks. If you’re an aspiring, curious, and perhaps frustrated guitarist, The Praxis System is a unique source of wisdom and inspiration from one of the greatest.

Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta

By Robert Palmer,

Book cover of Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta

Why this book?

This book has nothing to do with guitar playing or music in any technical sense, but it has everything to do with why we play and listen to blues. The cradle of blues was in the early 20th-century Mississippi Delta, where a collection of brilliant African-American musicians developed a distinctive style. They took it north, notably to Chicago, plugged in, and created the template for electric guitar-driven popular music that went on to sweep the world. 

Deep Blues is the story of how this transition took place. Palmer is a gifted writer who brings the personalities and the social environment to life with colorful anecdotes and observations. As you read, keep Youtube or the equivalent open on your browser and listen to the recordings as you go.

The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll

By Charlie Gillett,

Book cover of The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll

Why this book?

When I started playing rock guitar in the ‘60s I had no idea that it was built on the innovations of African-American blues and Gospel artists. Sound of the City traces how those innovations evolved into the dominant strains of ‘50s rock & roll, including artists like Bill Haley, New Orleans dance music, Memphis rockabilly, Chicago R&B, and vocal (“doo-wop”) groups. 

Gillette creates an extraordinarily detailed and very readable account of the music and musicians as well as a booming, often corrupt, and highly segregated music industry within a turbulent American social landscape. If you want to learn about American music in all its variety, this book is a must. Like Deep Blues, read it within reach of a music streaming service.

Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues

By Arnold Shaw,

Book cover of Honkers and Shouters: The Golden Years of Rhythm and Blues

Why this book?

Completing a trifecta with Deep Blues and Sound of the City, Honkers and Shouters is a definitive examination of the evolution of rural blues into urban rhythm-and-blues, the “big beat” that made African-American-based popular music into one of America’s greatest, and most lucrative, cultural exports. 

Shaw, a former music executive, focuses on how the music found its way from the artists to the ears and wallets of the consumers. It was a tough, exploitative business that provided a way for entrepreneurs excluded from more traditional careers by race or ethnicity to find their fortune, if often at the expense of the artists themselves. The rough saga of lives in the music business makes us appreciate the magical results even more. Listen while you read.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the blues, guitar, and the Chicago blues?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the blues, guitar, and the Chicago blues.

The Blues Explore 28 books about the blues
Guitar Explore 24 books about guitar
The Chicago Blues Explore 5 books about the Chicago blues

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Urban Blues, Feel Like Going Home, and The Complete Blues & Ragtime Guitar Player if you like this list.