The blues is an evocative music born in the southern states of the USA by African Americans. Simple in its form, the blues typically consists of three chords, blues music is regularly reinvented resulting in a plethora and styles.
The following is a rough guide to artists and styles who provide a great starting point for anyone who is interested in starting a blues collection. (Apologies in advance to any of the great artists I have neglegted to include and the afficiandos who are upset by this)
Early female blues vocalists*
Recorded blues music first became popular in the 1920s and its biggest stars were female singers, who performed a micture of blues, jazz and cabaret. Some of the great early blues singers to look out for include: Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, Lucille Bogan, Sippie Wallace, Alberta Hunter and a whole lot more.
Country and Delta blues*
Since country and Delta blues earliest recordings (pre-1920s), interest in this style has received regular waves of new enthusiasts and followers over the years. The primary reason for this is that country and Delta blues has an ability to reach deeply in to ones soul. Country/delta blues is most closely associates with guitar playing singer/songwriters and some of its most famous exponants include: Robert Johnson, Son House, Charlie Patton, Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie Johnson, Fred McDowell, Lightning Hopkins, Memphis Minnie, Mississippi John Hurtand the list goes on...
* Audio purists be warned - many recordings of these styles were made in the 1910s - 1930s - listen with an open mind. What these recordings lack in the way of crystal clear (sterile) digital sound they more than make up for in spirit and emotion.
Jump blues/ rhythm & blues (the original RnB)
Jump blues and RnB styles started to emerge in the late 1930s and dominated the African American popular music scene in the 1940s to early 1950s. Often featuring big bands and a swinging rhythm - jump blues and RnB is a style of blues for the dancers. Look out for Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Big Maybelle, T-Bone Walker, Gatemouth Moore, Gatemouth Brown, Big Mama Thornton, Lowell Fulsonand more...
Special mention: BB King (King of the blues) - BB King arose out of the RnB scene in the early fifties and has dominated blues ever since. If you really want to understand the brilliance of BB King you need to listen to his recordings from the fifties - a lot of this has been reissued by the UK label Ace.
Chicago blues and electric blues
Emerging in the early fifties, Chicago blues was the result of the big population movement of African Amercans from the southern to the northen states of the USA. As electrified instruments gained popularity, bands became smaller and the classic Chicago combo (typically consisting of electric guitar, piano, drums, bass and harmonica) was born. To get you started check out: Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, Freddie King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Rush, Little Walter, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Koko Taylor, Hound Dog Taylorand many more...
Special mention: Muddy Waters - Muddy Waters is widely acknowledged as the #1 Chicago Blues exponent. Muddy's earliest recording were made in the south in the country blues style. Like hundres of thousands of other African Americans Muddy Waters moved north to Chicago, seeking better employment opportunities and proceeded to spearhead the Chicago blues movement, which is very closely associated with the Chess record label.
I hope you find this guide a useful start to what can become a life-long obsession with the blues.