5 Popular Blues Standards Every Guitarist Should Know

5 Popular Blues Standards Every Guitarist Should Know

One of the most critical things you can do when learning how to play blues guitar is becoming familiar with the chord progressions of popular songs, and play them as often as you can with your friends, at a jam, or on the gig.

Jeff McErlain has assembled a collection of 30 popular blues guitar songs to get you going in Blues Guitar Fakebook: Rhythm Vol. 2, playing the rhythm parts for each tune and teaching you all the fills and comping approaches needed to nail the tune.

In these free blues guitar lessons, he’ll go through five standards taken from the course, playing through several bars of the tune and then breaking it down in detail. Let’s get started:

Hush Honey – Performance & Playalong

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this blues standard on TrueFire.

Albert Collins’ “Honey Hush” is one of his trademark songs and a staple in the blues cannon. Collins, also known as The Ice Man, was born in 1932 in Texas and became one of the most influential 2nd generation blues men. His style was unique in that he would play in open F minor tuning and use a capo to match the key of the tune. This of course makes it very difficult to watch him play if you’re not copying what he does, which I don’t recommend! I do recommend copying what he played though. A great place to start is by listening to Albert’s greatest hits collection.

Hush Honey – Breakdown

I love this tune because it’s a great funky jam that can really get an audience going. I’ve said this many times, but that is a very important element that I find people overlook when preparing a set list. You definitely want to get people dancing! Sometimes we get so involved in being guitar players that we forget that we’re also entertainers. I know this is little off-topic, but I think the videos are fairly self explanatory. So, I’ll just toss around some thoughts here about performing.

Mainly, people want to be entertained! BB King was a fantastic entertainer as was Stevie Ray Vaughan. These guys understood that they were putting on the show as much as a they were performing music. This also starts with your choice of songs that you perform. Don’t play too many ballads, and always have a funky dance number! If you’re playing that funky dance number and the audience is getting into it, keep going!

Smokin’ Stack – Performance & Playalong

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this blues standard on TrueFire.

Chester Arthur Burnett (June 10, 1910 – January 10, 1976), known as Howlin’ Wolf, was a Chicago blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player, originally from Mississippi. And this tune, “Smoke Stack Lightning”, is one of his trademarks and a must know blues classic. It’s one of my favorite blues tunes that remains a classic, that was unfortunately used in a Viagra commercial. All I can say is that I hope his family got a lot of money for that, because many of these blues musicians did not during their careers.

One of the most notable things about Howlin’ Wolf was his vocals, which are unmistakable. Many of Wolf’s tunes are written by Willie Dixon, who is the mastermind behind many of the blues classics. Howling Wolf’s legacy cannot be undersold – he is truly one of the greatest American blues musicians.

Smokin’ Stack – Breakdown

The guitar player on this classic cut is Hubert Sumlin, who was Wolf’s long time band member. This tune really comes down to the main riff and how you play it. I think I can play it pretty well, but when I listen to Hubert play it, I realize I have a long way to go!

As you go through this course please, please listen to the original source material, because there’s nothing cooler. My introduction to the blues came though bands like Led Zeppelin, Free, and Cream. All of these bands openly – in fact, in the court of law in Led Zeppelin’s case – plagiarized, many of these classic musicians. Lest we be too hard on Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, bands like Led Zeppelin revived these somewhat forgotten blues artists careers. So, it isn’t always that cut and dry, like most things in life.

Hammer Heart – Performance & Playalong

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this blues standard on TrueFire.

As many of you may know, I am a huge old Fleetwood Mac fan. This tune is off the record Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, of course featuring the great Peter Green. I came to this era of the band much later in life, as I only knew them in the Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham sense (which of course is great). I could go on at length about my admiration for Peter, but I do that in many other courses, so please take this time to check out some of his spectacular guitar playing.

His life is tragic due to schizophrenia early in his career, and he never recovered fully. Peter is still alive and living a quiet life in England from what I can gather, I hear he is financially fine as the band did very well, and he wrote “Black Magic Woman”, which of course Santana had a big hit with. I cannot recommend these early records enough.

Hammer Heart – Breakdown

Like all of these songs, please listen to the original version of “My Heart Beats like a Hammer”. In the song, we can hear the influence to Elmore James had on the band, especially with guitarist vocalist Jeremy Spencer. At a certain point in the bands career, Green brought in guitarist Danny Kerwan, who was a teenager. The band was one of the most successful blues rock bands to come out of England at the time.

Although the song is not necessarily a blues classic, the riff that I show you, the one that Green plays, is one that can be used in many different situations. It’s a great second guitar part when supporting a basic shuffle like this one.

Tiny Girl – Performance & Playalong

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this blues standard on TrueFire.

Blues and blues rock would not exist as we know it without John Mayall’s contribution and blueprint for the genre. Mayall’s band, The Bluesbreakers, were the template for blues rock and British blues. The first record, Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, is to this day one of the most influential records on guitar players who may not even be aware of it. I say this because Eric’s guitar tone is the first time a cranked Marshall and Les Paul combo was ever put to tape. Jim Marshall made the amp for Eric himself, so yup, the first, and the birth of a generation. Get this record if you don’t have it. If you do, listen to it now!

Tiny Girl – Breakdown

This tune is basically “Little Girl”, from Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. This one may take some time, but its great to pull out on a gig. I love the riff and the way EC performs it. Learn the riff here, then go to the original and learn that and mess with it. Play it with conviction and attitude. That’s all part of the sound. Pure unadulterated testosterone and aggression. This tone is so exalted it’s referred to as “The Beano” tone which is a reference to the Beano comic that Eric is reading on the cover picture.

I’m Worried – Performance & Playalong

Download the tab, notation, and jam track for this blues standard on TrueFire.

“Worried Life Blues” was written and first recorded by Big Maceo Merriweather in 1941 and had since become a classic. The form is 8 bars. The song has been covered by many people, and is a staple of Clapton’s live set. The version I’m playing here are the changes that Robben Ford put to it to jazz it up a bit.

I’m Worried – Breakdown

“Worried Life Blues” is an 8 bar blues, and Robben Ford jazzed up the changes by bringing in some classic extensions and substitutions. Michael Landau does a great cover of Robben’s version of the tune that I can not recommend enough. A real modern blues rock version where he tears it up. On that note, if you’re not familiar with Michael Landau please check him out, he’s one of my favorites.


There’s tons more to be had in the full version of the course on TrueFire. You’ll get 25 more tunes to learn, as well as the tabs, notation, and jam tracks to go along with it. Check it out!