Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gary Rossington: the top 11 blues artists of all time
“Being brought up in the South, I was exposed to the blues pretty early on," says Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist and co-founder Gary Rossington. "That’s where the blues came from, so it was all around me. And I loved it all."
BB King and Ray Charles were the first blues artists that Rossington remembers hearing. "They made a strong impression," he says. "Anytime you hear something that unique, it does something to you." A few years later, Rossington discovered British blues via John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. "That was an exciting time," he says. "Checking out what the British guys were doing to the blues, how they were kind of making it a new thing, that definitely gave us a lot to work with. From the originators to the folks in England picking it up, it all found its way into my playing and the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd.”
On the following pages, Gary Rossington runs down (alphabetically) the 11 blues artists whom he considers to be the greatest of all time.
“He’s the one that inspired us, Lynyrd Skynyrd and myself. He was the guy down South that we used to really watch.
“The Allman Brothers had their band before us. They were about five or six years older, so they were already doing what we were fixin’ to do. Duane... what a blues player. I think he’s the best on the slide that ever was. You’ve got him and Ry Cooder, but Duane’s probably the best. He’s got his own touch and his own technique.
“Listen to Layla. You can hear what he’s playing there. Man, he was so great. Tom Dowd, the producer, told us all the stories of them staying up late, drinking and having a party. That sounded like some fun times.”
“He was such a great harmonica player, so you have to give it up to him. But he had Mike Bloomfield playing with him, and man, when you’re first learning to play, he’s a real role model to copy from or get inspired by.
“Al Kooper was with Paul Butterfield, too, and he went on to work with us. Lots of talented guys came from him. The Paul Butterfield Band with Mike Bloomfield – talk about great records. Anybody who wants to study the blues and hear some good playing should check those out.”
“Such an important man. You go back to his music in the ‘60s, and maybe in the ‘50s, and he did a lot of blues. There wasn’t a lot of lead guitar on his stuff, but I remember listening to him and thinking there was no better singer around.
“Ray did a lot of music – he did rhythm and blues, country, he did it all – but I always loved his take on the blues. He had the right kind of voice for it.”
“Eric Clapton’s probably my favorite guitar player of all time – him and Jeff Beck and Hendrix. He’s played with everybody – BB and John Mayall and everybody you need to know.
“I guess the stuff he did with the Cream might be what I really like, even though it’s all great. That was psychedelic hard rock, but he was still playing blues licks.
"Eric’s probably the best picker around these days, him and Jeff Beck. They're the cream of the crop.”
“Buddy Guy’s a big influence on me because he influenced Eric Clapton so much. Because I was so inspired by Clapton, I listened to Buddy Guy. That’s how it goes down sometimes.
“We know Buddy’s producer, Tom Hambridge. We wrote some with him for our new album. He and Buddy got a Grammy for the last record they did together. I'd say he's a real inspirational guy, Buddy. He’s 76 years old and he still plays his ass off. He’s fast, he’s having a great time, he’s singing so great. It’s so nice that we have him around.”
“He’s the original, isn’t he? I just love him. Of course, we all love the song Crossroads. We recorded that on our live album, and we really dug the way the Cream did it.
"Robert Johnson is an essential bluesman. You listen to Clapton – he does a lot of Robert Johnson. You have to go back to the guys who started it. It’s unbelievable how great Robert Johnson was.”
“Fortunately, we got to play with him in the early ‘70s. He was such a character. I remember he was late for a show, and he came driving up in a Cadillac. He got out, took his guitar from the back of the car, and then he just walked onstage, plugged in – there was a house band backing him up – and he just started playing without a care in the world. So cool.
“He broke a string during his set, and he changed it right there in the middle of a song. Just pulled an E string out of his pocket and put it on while he sang – he didn’t miss a beat.
“He always blew my mind with his music, but just seeing the way he acted on that stage – what a guy!”
“BB really helped us get going. He was probably the most popular blues artist in the ‘70s. He had a couple of hits back then – Sweet Little Angel and The Thrill Is Gone. All his stuff is so good.
“We used to play his songs in our set when we were doing the clubs every night. He was a great influence on all of us. BB King’s quite a role model to anybody who loves the blues.
“As a guitar player, he’s got that sound and that feel. Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and those guys – I love it when you hear a few notes and you know who it is. With BB, I think you can tell in one note.”
“When I heard the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, that's when I really got turned on to John Mayall. I loved that album so much, the one with them sitting on the sidewalk. What a record!
“Clapton had the kind of blues guitar sound that I really liked, so I have to give a lot of credit to John for having him in that band. Lots of great people played with John over the years, but that one record might be the best. Mayall is a genuine blues artist all the way.”
“Keb Mo is just so great. He’s the blues up and down. An amazing singer and picker. He’s really one of my favorites, if not the favorite, right now.”
“An essential blues artist. I’ve always loved him. We first started playing I’m A Man because of The Yardbirds. They made that song popular in the ‘60s in the rock world, but we also heard it by Muddy Waters on the Bluesway [record label]. We were exposed to both kinds.
“We got to play with him one time, and man, it was so great watching his set. He and the band he was with, they were something. He really made his slide guitar talk. Seeing him inspired me to play more slide.”