The best blues books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the blues and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Deep Blues

By Robert Palmer,

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

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.


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 Praxis System Guitar Compendium

By Howard Roberts, Garry Hagberg,

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

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.


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 Sound of the City

By Charlie Gillett,

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

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.


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.

Honkers and Shouters

By Arnold Shaw,

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

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.


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.

On These Black Sands

By Vanessa Rasanen,

Book cover of On These Black Sands

Pirates! I absolutely love a good pirate book, and this one by Vanessa delivered. We follow the story of Declan, a broody and mysterious captain, and Aoife, an heir who flees her kingdom. This book fulfilled all my enemies to lovers wants and told a very engaging story with a plot full of twists that kept you turning the page. Not to mention the world building was fantastic! It’s a new release and I’ve already pre-ordered the sequel. The best part of this book was supporting Vanessa Rasanen who is also an indie author. 


Who am I?

Storytelling has been a passion of mine since fifth grade. I’ve always loved the way authors can put you inside of a world and introduce you to a cast of characters who feel as real as the people around you. The characters you meet inside these books become a part of you, and the best way to connect a reader to these charming and brave characters is to let them tell their story. Tell it from all of their perspectives and let the reader come to know and love each of them. Why read a book and only love one character when you could find an entire found family within those pages?


I wrote...

Ending In Cadence

By Catherine Downen,

Book cover of Ending In Cadence

What is my book about?

Jumanji meets Narnia in a brand new YA Portal fantasy.

When Ash Bane follows his sister through one of their grandmother’s paintings, they discover a vast new world on the other side. But the portal home remains out of reach unless they play the enchanted card game filled with riddles, puzzles, and mystical creatures they’ll have to defeat. Emma Delaney, a fierce and spunky scrapyard worker native to this new land agrees to help them complete the game and return home. This life-threatening game may turn out to be the least of Ash’s concerns when his heart betrays him and Ash Bane and Emma Delaney find a love that spans worlds.

The Saltwater Heir

By Cassidy Clarke,

Book cover of The Saltwater Heir

Finding The Saltwater Heir and falling in love with its female lead, Princess Soren—who balances softness and strength in equal measure—was something that got me out of a reading slump of many years and changed the way I view female-led fantasy as a whole. Soren is steel and roses; she is a fun-loving, fierce gremlin of a girl who spoke to the wildness that lives in my heart. Her sass and wit were only outmatched by her willingness to lay down her life for those she loved most. That fierce attachment to her family and friends was something I had been missing in a lot of recent fantasy reads, and it endeared me to her from the moment I began reading! I also adored how she played off of the rest of the cast, particularly her siblings and best friend. Her complexity made the whole book absolutely un-put-down-able! 


Who am I?

My passion for female-led fantasy began from the time I was a young girl and spans across a lifetime of reading the genre—but not necessarily always seeing my own heart reflected in the tough-as-nails, devil-may-care girls and women who began to dominate the fantasy landscape once I hit my teens. By sharing about an array of fantasy female leads who range across a wide spectrum of origins, personalities, and perspectives, I hope to help other readers just like me find characters they resonate with and stories that stick with them for a lifetime—just like these ones have for me.


I wrote...

Darkwind

By Renee Dugan,

Book cover of Darkwind

What is my book about?

Darkwind kicks off the epic high-fantasy journey of Princess Cistine, the noble but naïve heir to a kingdom under a threat of war. To save her home, she embarks on a reckless journey to entreat their former enemies for an alliance against this new and ever-growing danger.

But foreign lands hold as much peril as promise, a lesson Cistine quickly learns when she falls in with a wild band of outlaws. For a price, they agree to train her to fight for herself and her people, to strike the treaties that can save them all, and to become what her endangered kingdom needs: a warrior queen.

The Maiden Ship

By Micheline Ryckman,

Book cover of The Maiden Ship: Book 1 of 3

This self-published beauty is the perfect soft, sweet pirate read to warm anyone’s heart. The main romance is to die for, and the descriptions within feel almost painted. Ryckman is a well-paced storyteller, and this debut novel from her reads almost like a fairytale. But best of all, it features plenty of piratey goodness and tons of adventure. 


Who am I?

As a pirate fantasy author myself, I have a profound love for the sea and the summer winds that these stories encapsulate. Growing up on the east coast, my favorite summers were spent on the Jersey Shore, digging for buried treasure on the beach, or searching for mermaids beneath the waves. These books capture in their pages the magic, heart, and mystery I associate with the sea. I believe fantasy worlds that tell the truth of the human experience are the most impactful, and strive to emulate that in my own work, as well as the books I read. 


I wrote...

Daughter of the Deep

By Lina C. Amarego,

Book cover of Daughter of the Deep

What is my book about?

A wedding to end a war. It’s been four years since the blood feud between the Branwens and Mathonwys started. Four years of sunken ships and loved ones lost, four years of wounds both seen and unseen. Keira Branwen is no stranger to duty. As the first mate of a legendary pirate ship, blessed by the sea-god Lyr, and heir apparent to her clan, she would sail to the Otherworld and back to keep her family safe. But when the Council threatens banishment for her people, Keira is faced with a choice; she must either marry her father’s alleged killer, the sea-snake Ronan Mathonwy, or curse her family to the deep. 

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism

By Angela Y. Davis,

Book cover of Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday

Iconic feminist, philosopher, and activist Angela Y. Davis put African American women at the center of the story of the blues, expanding our understanding of a genre usually presented as the purview of male artists. Discussing the music and careers of 1920s blues superstars Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and 1930s jazz vocalist Billie Holiday, who was deeply influenced by the blues, Davis approaches the blues as music innovated, popularized, and consumed by African American women. She pays close attention to the impact of gender, race, and class on artists and audiences, and shows how these artists and their fans used blues music as entertainment, self-expression, social commentary, political critique, resistance, and survival.


Who am I?

Over many years of being an African American fan of rock music, I’ve learned that the combination of my gender, race, and musical taste can be disconcerting to people who expect Black women to adhere to a limited set of cultural interests. My frustration with these kinds of assumptions, my awareness that rock has deep roots in African American musical culture, my curiosity about the experiences of African American women who participated in rock and roll, and my desire to make sure that they are part of the stories we tell about the music’s history led me to write Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll


I wrote...

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll

By Maureen Mahon,

Book cover of Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll

What is my book about?

Black Diamond Queens by scholar and professor of music Maureen Mahon explores the pivotal part African American women have played in rock and roll—from laying its foundations and singing chart-topping hits to influencing some of the genre's most iconic acts. By uncovering this hidden history and the cultural impact of Big Mama Thornton, LaVern Baker, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, Merry Clayton, Labelle, the Shirelles, and other Black women in rock and roll, Mahon reveals a powerful sonic legacy that continues to reverberate into the twenty-first century.

Chicago Blues

By Mike Rowe,

Book cover of Chicago Blues: The City and the Music

This originally came out in 1973 as Chicago Breakdown, and has probably never been out of print. Rowe is an English blues historian and record collector, and his obsessive fascination with the musicians, labels, and clubs that created the blues in Chicago’s golden years drips off every page, from Lester Melrose’s Bluebird label through to the Chess Records giants – Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin Wolf and “the last of the great blues poets”, Sonny Boy Williamson.  Much of Rowe’s work has no doubt been superseded by the veritable industry of blues research that has sprung up in the years since publication, but Chicago Blues was a major milestone, and remains the indispensable key to an understanding of the city’s music scene.


Who am I?

Call me contrarian, but when most of my school friends were into Bowie, Zeppelin, and Genesis, I was saving up for Muddy Waters’ Greatest Hits and discovering how a single note from Albert King’s guitar could send chills down your spine. The music inspired me to spend a summer in Chicago in 1979, aged 20, and I went back in 1982. It took me 30-odd years to get round to writing it, but this book is the result of those adventures, when a guileless British youth found himself welcomed into the noisy, friendly, creative, chaotic, nurturing, and overwhelmingly black world of the Chicago blues, a long time ago.


I wrote...

Waiting for Buddy Guy: Chicago Blues at the Crossroads

By Alan Harper,

Book cover of Waiting for Buddy Guy: Chicago Blues at the Crossroads

What is my book about?

Waiting For Buddy Guy documents a period in Chicago’s blues history that has hitherto received scant attention - the late 70s and early 80s, when the city’s famous blues scene was coming to the end of one era, while arriving at the beginning of another. It was a transitional phase, when you could hear the deep-rooted blues of Mississippi-born musicians in one club, while across the street came the sounds of the up-tempo, whites-friendly blues-rock purveyed by younger bands. It was a thriving scene, and as a young blues nut I immersed myself in it, interviewing dozens of musicians, label bosses, club owners, and DJs. This lively memoir provides a vivid, unforgettable snapshot of a long-lost world.

The Complete Blues & Ragtime Guitar Player

By Russ Shipton,

Book cover of The Complete Blues & Ragtime Guitar Player

When I started playing guitar, all I wanted to do was play the blues. Why a working-class Scottish boy would be so entranced by music so culturally and geographically remote is curious even to me but this book gave me a way in, a key to unlock the skills required to emulate the sounds of the blues greats I loved to hear. As an autodidact, clear explanations, technical advice, and background information were essential to my development and I still use this book with students to this day. 


Who am I?

I’ve been playing the guitar since I was ten years old. From then until now it has been my life’s focus, my friend and delight, my consolation, companion, and frustration. While I am reconciled to never being the world’s most famous guitarist, I still have a career, make a living, and, hopefully, contribute positively to the Universe. I have recorded albums of previously unheard music, performed throughout the world, and edited and published books for guitar. In spite of decades of study and practice, I find my enthusiasm undimmed and enjoy nothing more than sharing my expertise and guiding those less experienced to discover the delights of playing music.


I wrote...

Christmas Carols for Guitar: Graded Arrangements of 12 Favorite Christmas Songs for Acoustic, Fingerstyle and Classical Guitar

By Jamie Akers,

Book cover of Christmas Carols for Guitar: Graded Arrangements of 12 Favorite Christmas Songs for Acoustic, Fingerstyle and Classical Guitar

What is my book about?

This book will see you through your whole life as a guitarist. It will enable you to play the familiar songs everyone wants to hear at Christmas. The songs are presented in a variety of versions suitable for everyone, from complete beginners to the very advanced. There are chord symbols so you can accompany a singalong around the Christmas tree or advanced arrangements you could play in your Carnegie Hall debut. In addition, there are links to online material and video performances to assuage any musical doubts you might have.

Or, view all 29 books about the blues

New book lists related to the blues

All book lists related to the blues

Bookshelves related to the blues