Best Of Dallas

10 Most Influential Texas Blues Guitarists

Nothing says "I'm hurtin'" like the wail of a mournful guitar. It's a sound that melts the heart and pierces the soul. While the blues saw a resurgence in the '80s and '90s, it's fallen off the mainstream radar as of late. "In the summer of '96, our royalty checks went from about $70 to over $4,000," Smokin' Joe Kubek remarked in a recent interview with the Observer. "One day I woke up and it was different." So we've complied a list of the 10 most influential Texas blues guitar slingers.

Albert Collins, The Master of the Telecaster A distant relative of Lightnin' Hopkins, Albert Collins' destiny intertwined with the strings of a Fender Telecaster. He grew up listening to the blues sounds of Texas, Mississippi and Chicago, and often used his thumb and forefinger instead of pick to make his guitar sing. He influenced such players as Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Mayer and Frank Zappa. His weapon of choice was a maple cap 1966 Custom Fender Telecaster with a Gibson PAF humbucker running through a RMS silver-faced 1970s Fender Quad Reverb.

T-Bone Walker, the Oak Cliff T-Bone Aaron "T-Bone" Walker was a pioneer of jump blues (up-tempo blues) and electric blues. He learned his craft playing with street-strolling string bands in Dallas, and later perfected it when he left school at 10 years old eventually to become Blind Lemon Jefferson's protégé. His style of playing included using his teeth, a technique Jimi Hendrix would later perfect with the help of Jack Daniels. Walker influenced everyone from Steve Miller to Stevie Ray Vaughan. His weapon of choice was a Gibson ES-250 plugged into a Fender tweed 4x10 Bassman.

Lightnin' Hopkins, The Texas Storm Texas country bluesman Sam Hopkins' mournful Lone Star sound still haunts the back roads of East Texas. He could make a guitar cry and ladies swoon with his electrified boogie riffs. Although his style was once considered too rustic, too old fashioned, his fingers slid down the neck as if he were a painter creating a masterpiece. The New York Times once said he was "perhaps the greatest single influence on rock guitar players." Not bad for a man who built his fist guitar by cutting a hole in a cigar box, nailing a piece of plank and stringing it with screen wire. His weapon of choice was a 1920s Galiano, although he employed a variety of acoustics.

Blind Lemon Jefferson, The Father of Texas Blues "Blind" Lemon Jefferson spent a majority of his life playing in Dallas clubs with fellow blues musician Lead Belly. Jefferson became a prominent figure in the blues movement that developed in Deep Ellum in early 1900s, and was the master of the pentatonic scale, often applying only the first, altered third, fifth, altered seventh and octave. His fast style influenced Lead Belly, Lightnin' Hopkins and B.B. King, and let's not forget his mentorship of T-Bone Walker. His weapon of choice is still a mystery, although rumors point to a Stella.

Eric Johnson, The Austin Resonator The legendary Texas guitar slinger once toured with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, wooing audiences with his crystal clear chops, and he gained recognition for his rich, violin-like tone. His influences range from Jimi Hendrix to Django Reinhardt. His weapon of choice is an Eric Johnson Signature Fender Stratocaster with GHS Eric Johnson Nickel Rockers Electric Guitar Strings, through a triple amp setup consisting of Fender, Dumble and Marshall amplifiers.

Billy Gibbons, The Reverend Willy G While Rolling Stone ranked him somewhere in the 30s on its 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list, Gibbons slays the rest of the competition to enter this top ten list. Recently announced as the 2012 Texas State Musician by the Texas Commission on the Arts, William Frederick "Billy" Gibbons is known for his beard, his sunglasses and his old five peso, which he uses as a guitar plectrum. He's blazed the stage with Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Dwight Yoakam. His weapon of choice is Miss Pearly Gates, a 1959 Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall 1968 plexi and Fender Deluxe 1x12, as well as an army of Rio Grande amplifiers, solid state Marshall Valvestate rack amps and Marshall 2x12 cab.

Dimebag Darrell Abbott, the Diamond Shredder What the hell is a metal guitar player doin' on this list, you ask? He infused Texas blues into his metal, employing pentatonic scales and pinch harmonics in his Southern riffs and rhythms, and influenced Zakk Wylde and Scott Ian. His weapon of choice was a Dean ML guitar with Bill Lawrence USA XL500L pickups through whatever kind of amp could withstand the power of his Randy Rhoads-style chord arpeggios.

Freddie King, the King of Big D Blues Freddie King was a force of nature on guitar. His distinctive fingerpicking, open-string Texas blues and West Side Chicago blues inspired guitar legends such as Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Vaughan. His weapon of choice was a gold top Gibson Les Paul with P-90 pickups through a Gibson GA-40 amplifier.

W.C. Clark, the Godfather of Austin Blues Clark not only ignites a guitar with his jazz-infused licks but also has grooved on bass with Jimmie Vaughan, James Brown and the Three Kings of electric blues: B.B. King, Albert King and Freddie King. He's the founder of Triple Threat Revue, an Austin blues quintet whose members also included Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton. Clark was born and raised in Austin, and he's been influencing the blues scene since the '60s. His weapon of choice alternates between Fender and Ibanez, although he's also wielded a Gibson.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Oak Cliff Kid Nothing screams blues like a jolt from this man's guitar. Stevie Ray Vaughan was constantly searching for the Philosopher's Note, a mystical note that incorporates all genres of music into a perfect musical element. SRV caught the attention of David Bowie and Jackson Browne, and caused Eric Clapton to pull his car over to the side of the road when he first heard the Oak Cliff native make a guitar sing. His weapon of choice was his "first wife" or "Number One," a Frankenstein monster of a guitar with a 1963 Fender Stratocaster body, a 1962 neck and custom stainless steel bars for the vibrato bar.

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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.