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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Why did I love 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.

By Jas Obrecht,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rollin' and Tumblin' - The Postwar Blues Guitarists as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the most comprehensive and insightful study ever published on the pioneers of electric blues guitar – including the great Chicago, Mississippi Delta, Louisiana, Texas and West Coast bluesmen. Rollin' and Tumblin' offers extensive interviews with some of the world's most famous blues guitarists, and poignant profiles of historical blues figures. Following a sweeping portrait of blues guitar history, the book features such players as T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins and many more.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Howard Roberts, Garry Hagberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Praxis System Guitar Compendium as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first instructional book of its kind, taking a strikingly new and refreshing approach to learning guitar, carefully designed to guarantee efficient practice with rewarding results. Whether your playing falls under one of the more traditional styles, or whether you're a composer and arranger or exploring new musical regions and establishing your own musical direction or personal fusion of musical ideas and influences, The Praxis System has what you need. The name of the system (Praxis" comes from the Greek word meaning "practice" and "to do") accurately reflects its general orientation. Play it first, getting sound and satisfaction…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Robert Palmer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Deep Blues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Blues is the cornerstone of American popular music, the bedrock of rock and roll. In this extraordinary musical and social history, Robert Palmer traces the odyssey of the blues from its rural beginnings, to the steamy bars of Chicago's South Side, to international popularity, recognition, and imitation. Palmer tells the story of the blues through the lives of its greatest practitioners: Robert Johnson, who sang of being pursued by the hounds of hell; Muddy Waters, who electrified Delta blues and gave the music its rock beat; Robert Lockwood and Sonny Boy Williamson, who launched the King Biscuit Time radio show…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Charlie Gillett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sound of the City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This comprehensive study of the rise of rock and roll from 1954 to 1971 has now been expanded with close to 100 illustrations as well as a new introduction, recommended listening section, and bibliography.

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

Why did I love 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.

By Arnold Shaw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Honkers and Shouters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

[From front flap] What did rhythm and blues have that gave it its impact and appeal? Who were the people who made it happen - the artists, producers, and audience - black and white alike - who dug its earthy realism and driving, dynamic sound? Here, for the first time, is the spectacular, foot-tapping, hand-clapping story...

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