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Fifteen Blues Artists to Watch in 2014

Jason Elmore
Jason Elmore
Christian McPhate

Every generation has an underground music scene that only an elite group of fans and the NSA know of. In the '60s, psychedelic music, for example, exploded onto the hippies' counterculture scene with music by The Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. (And let's not forget the Velvet Underground.) In the '70s, the Sex Pistols, the Clash and the Ramones dominated garages and small venues across England and North America until bands like Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica accepted the mantle in the early '80s, with rappers N.W.A., Public Enemy and Run DMC emerging out of Compton, Long Island and Queens to carry on the underground tradition when the headbangers moved into the arenas.

And yet the earliest incarnation of the underground music scene actually occurred as far back as the '20s when Delta bluesmen such as Freddie Spruell, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson crooned "Milk Cow Blues," "Honey Bee" and "Crossroads" in small smoky shacks that served homemade whiskey and deals with the devil for that perfect tone.

So in honor of the new year, we here at the Observer have consulted with the wisdom of the blues' seers at KNON, blues artists from across the DFW area and the Net to generate a list of blues artists that doesn't include John Mayer (although he's an amazing guitarslinger), to watch in 2014 (and hopefully inspire a few program directors to change their formats). Here it is in no particular order. Enjoy.

See also: The 10 Greatest Dallas Blues Artists

For a majority of the 20th century, the blues stayed underground, until the British invasion brought it to the forefront of mainstream media with guitarists like Eric Clapton of Cream, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and George Harrison of The Beatles channeling the old blues masters' licks.

"Blues rock" is what some media outlets called it. And bands like the Allman Brothers, Lynard Skynard and ZZ Top solidified the blues movement popularity among Southerners, making it even more mainstream. And the Three Kings -- Albert, Freddie and B.B. -- soon found a new wave of fans attending their shows, as well as a generation of guitar players aspiring to recreate that perfect tone.

Since the death of Texas blues' rising star Stevie Ray Vaughan, who took the devil's tone and made it his own, the blues has slowly slipped back into the obscurity of its underground roots, despite record companies' best efforts to keep it at the forefront with a slew of guitarists imitating Vaughan's style.

Today, the blues is an underground scene that thrives on websites such as Live Blues World, Reverbnation and Live365.com, which offers a slew of Internet radio stations playing the blues. Mainstream radio stations, on the other hand, are too busy regurgitating the same old shit from the '90s and early 2000s and the assigning words of talk show hosts to pay attention to this vibrant movement igniting laptops, iPads and data phones globally.

15. Larry Lampkin

This Fort Worth bluesman has been traveling the country backing various blues acts before stepping in front of the microphone. Since releasing his first album When I Get Home in 2011, he's been playing various clubs like Stumpy's and Mambo's in the DFW area and blues festivals like the Bedford Blues Festival. His set at Don O's 30th Anniversary show at Poor David's Pub felt like traveling through time to listen to some of the old blues masters in their heydays.

14. Doyle Bramhall II

This Texas blues guitarist has been called "Eric Clapton's secret weapon" and a "Texas guitar god." Growing up in household where a father jams with such music legends as Lightnin' Hopkins, Freddie King and Stevie Ray and Jimmi Vaughan, this Texas bluesman literally had the blues inflused into his cells long before he was born. Bramhall recently finished sessions playing guitar for Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi and Bettye Lavette. And next year he's releasing a new Arc Angel DVD.

13. Royale Rhythmaires

This vibrant band from across the Trinity has been packing clubs in Fort Worth with a dynamite singer whom Don O at KNON calls "bad ass." Jai Milano is a powerhouse vocalists, and along with saxophonists Douglas Brown and Alex Hernandez, upright bassist Ed Cannon, pianist Daniel Porter and drummer Brendan Fenno, she's playing "the blues houtin', horn honkin', hand clappin', foot stompin' sound of the '40s and '50s Rhythm and Blues" by covering music of Lavern Baker, Little Richard, Sam "The Man" Taylor, Ruth Brown and Ike Turner.

12. Joe Bonamassa

Growing a reputation as "one of the world's greatest guitar players" seems like an impossible task with guitar legends like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satrinai and Eric Clapton still thriving in the future. But it's a challenge this former child prodigy is willing to accept. Since accepting it, Bonamassa has won a number of awards and honors, including Guitar International's "Guitarist of the Year" (2011) and Billboard's Blues Artist of 2010. He was also ranked number 48 in Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

11. Eric Gales

Legend has it that Gales started playing guitar when he was four years old shredding to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Albert King and B.B. King. He's a right-handed person who learned to play the guitar upside down while using his left hand to ignite his guitar. Paying homage to Jimi Hendrix with Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall II and Brad Whitford in Experience Hendrix, a tribute to the godfather of blues rock, is just another slice of heaven for this Delta bluesman whose appearances are becoming legendary.  

10. Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch

Dallas fans voted this "high-energy" trio as DOMA's Best Blues act in 2012, and watching Jason channeling the blues on stage as he tears up the fretboard leaves this critic feeling like he's watching the rise of another blues legend. And with the help of bassist Chris Waw and drummer Mike Talbot, Elmore's band is becoming a prominent fixture on the Texas blues scene. In 2010, the band released debut album Upside Your Head to rave reviews and followed it with Tell You What in 2013.

9. Joanne Shaw Taylor

Legend has it Annie Lennox stopped her concert performance to allow this British guitarslinger to ignite the sky above Buckingham Palace with a blazing guitar solo on her Les Paul. Bored with late '90s pop music, Taylor delved into her father's blues collection and discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins and Jimi Hendrix. In 2008, she began working with producer Jim Gaines (Carlos Santana, Johnny Lang and Stevie Ray Vaughan) and released her debut album White Sugar. She's won several awards in Britain, including "Best British Female Vocalist." And Blues Matters magazine called her the "new face of the blues."

8. Oli Brown

This blues rock artist has won the British Blues Awards "Best Male Vocalist" (2010), "Best Young Artist" (2010), "Best Band (2011) and "Best Album" for his sophomore album Heads I Win Tails You Lose. And his third album Here I Am features a number of guest performers and topped several online blues charts, including Amazon's and iTunes'. "The hottest young pistol in British Blues," claims one magazine overseas. He can be found touring with Susan Tedeschi, the Trucks Band and Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell, who's jammed with George Harrison, Freddie King and Willie Nelson.

7. Kenny Wayne Sheppard

Sheppard was only 20 years old when Guitar World gave him the No. 3 spot on its list of most popular blues artists. B.B. King and Eric Clapton held the number two and number one spots, respectively. But it's no surprise. At 13 he was sharing the stage with New Orleans bluesman Bryan Lee. Since exploding onto the scene, he's been nominated for five Grammy Awards. In 2007, he traveled the country documenting his journey to jam (and interview) with the last of the authentic blues musicians, many of whom have passed away since the release of the DVD 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads.

6. Tedeschi Trucks Band

Grammy-nominated Tedeshci and her husband Derek Trucks, one of the most masterful guitar players on this list, had the iconic B.B. King dancing in his chair at the Royale Albert Hall. "In another life, when I come back, I'm going to come looking for you," he said. Tedeschi has opened for Buddy Guy, The Allman Brothers and Bob Dylan, and Rolling Stone magazine called Trucks one of their 100 greatest guitarists. In 2011, this husband and wife blues team won a Grammy for their album Revelator (2011). And 2014 promises to be another explosive year as they continue to tour for their new release Made Up Mind (2013), which just recently made iTunes Best of 2013 list.  

5. Jimmy Bowskill

Bowskill literally makes his guitar growl as he channels the blues. It's a sound that caught the late great Jeff Healy's attention outside his Toronto club. Since then, like many of his contemporaries on this list, he's shared the stage with some of music's biggest names, including Joe Bonamassa and the guitar god Jeff Beck. Bowskill's second album Soap Bars & Dog Ears was nominated for a Juno Award (Canada's Grammy). In 2012, the 21-year-old released his fifth studio album Back Number.

4. The Black Keys

Some of you may be thinking "What the hell are those guys smoking?" when you watch this video, but Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys have taken blues rock to a whole new level by incorporating traditional blues in a contemporary setting, introducing a new generation to the blues that inspired them. In fact, Auerbach's love for the late blues legend Junior Kimbrough's music led to his dropping out of college and following a career as a musician and his eventual collaboration with Ike Turner. In 2010, the band's sixth studio album Brothers hit No. 2 on Rolling Stone's list of Best Albums of 2010 and won three Grammy Awards.

3. Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam

Just listening to this band cover Blind Joe Reynolds' song "Outside Woman Blues" in the video above is enough justification for Knowles' inclusion on this list of blues artists to watch in 2014. He and his band have toured with Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani and Chickenfoot and the Rhythm Devils. In 2013 they released "Pastures of Plenty," an old Woody Guthrie tune, and they plan to donate a portion of the proceeds to WhyHunger's Artists Against Hunger & Poverty. WhyHunger? is an organization leading the movement to end hunger and poverty with programs like the National Hunger Hotline: 1-866-3-Hungry.

2. North Mississippi Allstars

Brothers Luke Dickinson (guitar, vocals) and Cody Dickinson (drums, keyboards, electric washborad) and Chris Chew (bass) create this Southern blues rock band's sound by harnessing that rare Mississippi Hill Country sound. They've released more than a dozen albums. Their latest, World Boogie is Coming (2013), is making musical history with Lightnin' Malcolm, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Duwayne and Garry Burnside all making an appearance. NPR reported the new track "Turn Up Satan" was one of their "Favorite 100 Songs" of the year, and these guys combine the best of their influences into a sound that bleeds Muddy Waters' howling-guitar playing in "Shimmy."

1. Gary Clark Jr.

If one person should be heading up this list, it's this bluesman from Austin. Since meeting Vaughan's promoter Clifford Antone, Clark has been tearing up the stage with some of the blues' greatest icons, including Vaughan's brother Jimmie. In 2011, Rolling Stone bestowed the title "Best Young Gun," and he proved he deserved it when he shared the stage with Keith Richards to play Freddie King's "Going Down." Although his debut album Blak and Blu (2012) has only one traditional "blues" song, the rest of his songs proves how the blues has influenced nearly every genre of music.

See also: -The Top Ten All Time Best Replacement Lead Singers in Rock and Roll -Songs That Have Hidden Messages When Played in Reverse -The Ten Best Music Videos Banned by MTV

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