Famous Louisiana Blues Musicians
Discover some of Louisiana's famous blues artists.
HUDDIE WILLIAM “LEAD BELLY” LEDBETTER (1888 – 1949) was an iconic American folk and blues musician, noted for strong vocals and his mastery of several instruments, most notably the guitar. He was born on Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport.
ROBERT PETE WILLIAMS (1914 – 1980) was a blues guitarist from Zachary known for unconventional tunings and structures and songs about time he served in prison. While serving a life sentence at Louisiana State Penitentiary for a murder he said was in self-defense, Williams was discovered by ethnomusicologists who pleaded with state officials for the musician’s parole. It was granted, and Williams soon began performing his prison songs on tour nationwide.
EDDIE JONES (1926 – 1959) was also known as GUITAR SLIM, a New Orleans-based blues guitarist best known for the million-seller "The Things That I Used to Do" — a cut listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Slim utilized a distorted electric guitar a decade before rock guitarists did the same, and he would use guitar cables long enough to allow him to go from the stage to the street outside clubs, literally stopping traffic.
JAMES BOOKER (1939 – 1983) was a New Orleans blues pianist known for his fusion of blues and jazz. While an undergraduate at Southern University, his song "Gonzo" reached No. 43 on Billboard’s pop chart and No. 3 on its R&B chart.
SNOOKS EAGLIN (1937 – 2009) was a New Orleans blues guitarist with the nickname “The Human Jukebox.” Eaglin claimed in interviews that he had more than 2,500 songs in his performance repertoire, and his unpredictability kept his band on its toes – Eaglin rarely prepared set lists for them and was prone to fielding requests from audiences.
EARL KING (1934 – 2003) was a New Orleans blues guitarist best known for his hit "Come On," which was covered by Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Early in his career, King completed a club circuit tour pretending to be his guitar idol, Guitar Slim. He did the gigs when Slim was injured in a car accident and asked King to serve as his imposter so the tour could continue.
IRMA THOMAS (1941) is a GRAMMY®-winning soul and R&B singer based in New Orleans. The Pontchatoula native with a large cult following among soul music aficionados earned a GRAMMY® in 2007 when "After the Rain" took Best Contemporary Blues Album.
HENRY BYRD (1918 – 1980), also known as PROFESSOR LONGHAIR, is noteworthy for being active in the peak period for early New Orleans R&B and in the resurgence of traditional New Orleans jazz around the time the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was created. While his music never sold millions of records, he was a paternal figure among noted New Orleans musicians, particularly fellow pianists Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.
SLIM HARPO (1924 – 1970) was a noted blues harmonica player from Lobdell. Versions of his songs have been covered by the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, Grateful Dead and The Doors. Ironically, Harpo was never a full-time musician — he owned a trucking business during the peak of his musical career in the 1960s.
LIGHTNIN’ SLIM (1913 – 1974) was a Baton Rouge-based blues guitarist whose biggest hit was the 1954 track Bad Luck Blues. From it came the lyric "if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all."
SILAS HOGAN (1911 – 1994) was a Baton Rouge-based blues guitarist and founding member of the Rhythm Ramblers, who are credited with being one of Baton Rouge’s most influential blues bands. Hogan recorded five albums during his career.
HENRY GRAY (1925) is a New Orleans pianist and bluesman who has been playing and touring for seven decades. Credited as being one who shaped the “Chicago blues” style of piano sound, Gray has more than 58 albums plus gigs with the Rolling Stones on his resume.
LONESOME SUNDOWN (1928 – 1995) never had a chart hit, but the Donaldsonville – born guitarist recorded throughout the 1950s and '60s and sold respectable numbers in south Louisiana. Early in his career when he was known by his real name, Cornelius Green, he inspired Clifton Chenier and his Zydeco Ramblers to write and record "The Cat’s Dreaming". The song came to be after Green, who was a Zydeco Ramblers member, fell asleep during a recording session.
LAZY LESTER (1933) is a blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player whose career spans six decades. Songs he recorded during the late 1950s and early 1960s have been covered by The Kinks, Dwight Yoakam and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. He was the epitome of the multi-instrumentalist in the recording studio — in addition to guitar and harmonica, he could contribute bass and percussion. In one session, Lester’s percussion instrument was beating a cardboard box with a rolled newspaper.
RAFUL NEAL (1936 – 2004) was a popular blues harmonica player on the Baton Rouge scene for most of his adult life. Neal never saw great success as a recording artist, but he was a true patriarch of Baton Rouge blues music — nine of his 10 children became local blues musicians as well.
BUDDY GUY (1936) is considered a pioneer of the Chicago blues sound and has served as major guitar influence on his generation. Known for his guitar prowess mixed with showmanship, the Lettsworth native is listed in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
TABBY THOMAS (1929 – 2014) was one of Baton Rouge’s best-known blues musicians, primarily because of a business he ran for three decades. From the 1970s into the early 21st century, the singer/guitarist owned and operated Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall, which hosted shows and all-star jams featuring the city’s notable local blues acts.
MARCIA BALL (1949) is a blues pianist and vocalist who grew up in Vinton. She has more than a dozen albums in her discography, and many of them have received Blues Music Awards and nominations for GRAMMY®s.
CLARENCE “GATEMOUTH” BROWN (1924 – 2005) was an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist—playing guitar, mandolin, viola, harmonica and drums—but he was regarded as one of the most influential blues fiddle players, enough that the influence crossed into other American fiddle genres. The Vinton native won a GRAMMY® in 1982 for Best Traditional Blues Album.
TAB BENOIT (1967) is a blues guitarist and singer whose career began with him jamming among local blues heroes at Tabby’s Blues Box and Heritage Hall in the mid-1980s. Since then, the Terrebonne Parish native has steadily released acclaimed blues albums and toured abroad supporting them. Benoit is also the founder and spokesman for Voice of the Wetlands, a group advocating awareness of wetland erosion issues on the Louisiana coast and the need for restoration and conservation efforts.
LARRY GARNER (1952) is a Baton Rouge blues guitarist best known for his 1994 release "Too Blues." The name came from a record label executive’s comment that the original demo versions of the songs were “too blues.” Garner has several other albums to his credit.
KENNY NEAL (1957) is the guitar-playing son of Baton Rouge blues artist Raful Neal. Kenny has several albums in his discography, which have earned prestigious blues genre awards and GRAMMY® nominations.
CHRIS THOMAS KING (1962) is an award-winning blues guitarist and actor from Baton Rouge. The son of Tabby Thomas, Chris’s projects include acting in and producing the soundtracks for the Hollywood blockbusters "Ray" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Both earned Oscars and GRAMMY®s. The latter movie’s soundtrack earned a Country Music Award as well.