The electric guitar is the instrument of the boys' club. The greatest rock players are all men! Women are stuck in the world of acoustic guitar. Not only does it appeal to their softer, feminine side, but it also guarantees them some fame, because why would they ever be taken serious if they decide to plug in, right? Of course, that's all BS, and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn't know their left nostril from a hold in the ground.
The truth is that there are plenty of kick-ass female guitarists to choose from. Marissa Paternoster of the Screaming Females, Maria Andersson of Saraha Hotnights, Kaki King, Marnie Stern, Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, Kelley Deal of The Breeders, Joni Mitchell, Sarah Lipstate ... the list goes on. In the worlds of punk, metal and folk, female guitarists enjoy a solid following.
But what about the blues? Why does it seem like you have to look under half the rocks in the Grand Canyon before you can find women tearing up the blues?
Part of it is marketing, and part of it is because women feel like they need to make a statement a certain way. The same way that men are encouraged to look like recovering drug addicts with too much angst for one record, for the past two decades women have felt intense pressure to conform to an anti-conformist mold. Seeing that there was a market for this, record companies jumped on it. Now the image of the raging-against-the-world feminist guitarist has become somewhat of a cliche, as has the the acoustic guitarist with a 'message.'
Still, women seem noticeably absent from one of America's oldest forms of music. However, with a little digging, we can discover that there are indeed many women who are part of a growing generation of bluesy players. Some of them may love their bluesy solos, while others may focus solely only the blues in its truest form.
While I could have gone with some obvious choices like Bonnie Raitt and Nancy Wilson, I chose to leave them off. The whole point today is to show people that Raitt and Wilson are not the exceptions to the rule. Instead, they merely set the stage for a new generation of incredible performers.
So without further ado, I now present to you the top 9 female guitarists who excel at the blues. No gimmicks, no messages, and no attempts by a record company to capitalize on a trend — just talent, passion and raw power.
1) Allison Robertson
It's rare that an guitarist of 33 can look back on a career of more than two decades. Along with three close childhood friends, Allison Robertson went on to form The Donnas. For 20 years, the punk-flavored rock group has enjoyed hit albums and singles, as well as a dedicated cult following. Despite originally being influenced by The Ramones, Robertson developed a distinctive bluesy style of playing over the years. While she can speed pick and tap with the best of them, it's her signature bends and blues scale runs that drive the band's many successful singles.
2) Shannon Curfman
The powerhouse player came to prominence in the late '90s as something of a guitar prodigy. Curfman blew onto the national stage in 1999 at the age of 14. Her debut album, Loud Guitar, Big Suspicions followed with a tour across the country, numerous stints on late night TV and interviews in some of the country's most popular music publications. After taking several years off, she came back with her own record label and two new albums. Curfman can currently be seen performing her own gigs, as well as a with Kid Rock's Twisted Brown Truckers.
3) Samantha Fish
Like the aforementioned Shannon Curfman, 22-year-old Samantha Fish plays with the wisdom and skill of someone twice her age. While some of the others on this list may approach music as if they're dancing a waltz, Fish approaches music more like a professional wrestler. She digs in, making her bare-bones Telecaster scream in pain. Her songs range from raw, gutsy slow blues to '70s Rolling Stones-inspired rock. In May of this year, Fish took home the BMA for best new artist. Nice.
Okay, this is one shredder you may already know. After being featured in the remake of of "We Are The World," appearing on American Idol and with a hit pop single under her belt, the 27-year-old Australian wunderkind has a resume that other guitarists would die for. Before she reached her mid-twenties, she had logged countless hours playing for Alice Cooper, Carrie Underwood and Michael Jackson. She also had the opportunity to open up on tour for guitar legends Steve Vai and Carlos Santana. Orianthi isn't just a great female guitarist — she is undoubtedly one of the most gifted guitarists of her entire generation. While she can shred with the best and write catchy pop songs, her true love is the blues. Her newest album, her first free from her old record contract, is currently being recorded in Nashville, and has a decisively country-blues edge.
When asked about Orianthi in 2009, Carlos Santana said "If I was going to pass the baton to somebody, she would be my first choice." If that was me, I'd end every gig by dropping the mic like I'd just won a rap battle.
5) Susan Tedeschi
Some people who are fans of classic rock and blues may be familiar with Susan Tedeschi. After receiving a Bachelor of Music degree in musical composition, she hit the road, where she learned how to become a stellar performer. After releasing several Grammy-nominated albums, she later expanded her audience after marrying blues phenom Derek Trucks. The two often tour together, drawing massive crowds. Tedeschi is all about finesse, favoring vintage equipment over modern effects and the feel of her hands to flashy tricks.
6) Ana Popovic
Serbian blues guitarist and singer Ana Popovic is currently one of the most popular blues guitarists in the entire world. She and her live band play gigs across the globe, where she showcases her gutsy yet smooth-as-glass blues style. With the touch of a well trained jazz guitarist, but the fire of a Texas-born shredder, Popovic has been releasing solo albums since 2000. She has been nominated for over a dozen blues award. Ana Popovic is one of those guitarists who is beyond smooth. Like other technical wizards such as the late Shawn Lane, she can go from three-note-per-string runs and bluesy bends to sweep-picked arpeggios and complex chord harmonies as easily as a fish can swim.
7) Deborah Coleman
Hailing from the Commonwealth of Virginia, Deborah Coleman is today commonly known as one of the rawest singers and guitarists in the blues world. USA Today called her a "fiery guitarist who makes the spine tingle with raw unbridled energy," and listening to her play leaves no doubt as to why. Much like Albert King and Muddy Waters, Deborah Coleman is all about picking the exact right notes. She may not always blaze away at a million miles an hour, but she certain will pick the part of the scale that will make you shiver. Her vibrato alone is right up there with that of Clapton and BB King.
8) Joanne Shaw Taylor
English powerhouse Joanne Shaw Taylor has released three albums at the tender age of 26. She got her start in 2002 after being discovered by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, who then asked her to join his supergroup, D.U.P. In 2010, the British music publication Blues Matters! declared Taylor "the new face of the blues." Taylor's sound is incredibly similar to Stevie Ray Vaughn, a player she regularly covers during her live appearances. Like Samantha Fish, Taylor is a bruiser with her Telecaster. Her tone harks back to the days of Albert Collins. No warm elevator music here. This girl plays with all of the warm subtlety of an icepick to the forehead.
9) Tal Wilkenfeld
Okay, so she's not a guitarist, she's a bassist. Doesn't matter. Like her fellow Aussie Orianthi, Tal Wilenfeld is an incredibly gifted musician, bordering on prodigy level brilliance. At the age of 20, Wilkenfeld recorded her entire debut album in just two days. She later went on to perform with Jeff Beck as a member of his live and studio bands. From funk and jazz to blues and classical, Wilkenfeld's musical prowess seemingly has no limit. When Jeff Beck calls you a great talent, you know you're onto something. Aside from the amazing Jeff Beck, Wilkenfeld has also played with such musicians as Herbie Hancock, Macy Gray, Trevor Rabin and Wayne Krantz. Not too shabby.