The Heaviest Blues-Rock Bands

Six bands that used blues music to create heavy metal

Blues-rock is a legitimate child of the hallowed blues music tradition, and it could be argued that the first wave of British bloozers like Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, John Mayall, and their kith and kin did more to bring the blues to white rock audiences than any ten 1960s-era folk festivals. Sometimes, though, a blues-rock band takes a left turn, mutating the old sound into something new and…ah, heavier. These are the heaviest of the blues-rock bands.

Blue Cheer

Dickie Peterson, Paul Whaley and Andrew MacDonald
Dutch National Archives, The Hague, Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau (ANeFo), 1945-1989 , Nummer toegang Bestanddeelnummer 921-7939/Nijs, Jac. de / Anefo

Mutant power trio Blue Cheer were outcasts on Haight Street during the late-1960s. With the release of their 1968 debut album Vincebus Eruptum and its high-octane cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," Blue Cheer would ply its trade in biker bars, rock festivals, and any other venue where the band's potent, ear-shredding mix of acid rock, psychedelia, and hard blues would tickle the heavily-sedated oblongatas of an enthusiastic crowd. Even when original guitarist Leigh Stephens became a casualty of the era, the trio plugged in axe-wrangler Randy Holden and soldiered on, drawing a few more lines on the blueprint that would later be used to create the mechanical terror known as "heavy metal."

Canned Heat

Canned Heat's Hooker 'n Heat
Canned Heat's Hooker 'n Heat. Photo courtesy Price Grabber

Members have come and gone, and several have even died, but over the course of 40+ years, the sound of these California boogie kings has varied little from that of their self-titled 1967 debut album. Formed by blues fanatics/collectors Alan Wilson and Bob "Bear" Hite, Canned Heat had legitimate connections to some of the scariest blues music on the planet – harpist Wilson played on Son House's post-discovery mid-1960s recordings, guitarist Henry Vestine played with Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and the early Canned Heat line-up recorded with the master himself, John Lee Hooker. Seeped in Delta grit, and named after a classic Tommy Johnson song about sucking down sterno, these guys brought dino-stomp swagger to a traditional blues-rock sound.

Cream with Eric Clapton

Cream's Disraeli Gears
Cream's Disraeli Gears. Photo courtesy Price Grabber

When guitarist Eric Clapton first hooked up with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker to form Cream, he was fleeing from his own celebrity and trying to find a way to channel the blues sound that he heard in his head. Lucky for us, the original power trio interpreted the guitarist's chemically-enhanced brainscan as an lively elixir of down-tuned Delta blues, fashionable Barnaby Street psychedelia, and plodding hard rock with concrete melodies and jackhammer instrumentation courtesy of the three virtuoso musicians and friends like the Beatles' George Harrison and musician/producer Felix Pappalardi, later of Mountain.

Gov't Mule with Warren Haynes

Gov't Mule's Dose
Gov't Mule's Dose. Photo courtesy Price Grabber

After stints with both country outlaw David Allan Coe's touring band, and as stand-in filling Duane Allman's extra-large shoes with the Allman Brothers Band, guitarist Warren Haynes decided to take his Gov't Mule project full time. With bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts fulfilling the "power trio" quota for any blues-rock outfit, Haynes and Gov't Mule evolved from a bluesy Southern rock-influenced party jam-band into a scary, slow-driving-but-lead-footed blues-rock leviathan. By the time of the band's legitimate studio debut, 1998's Dose, they had blown up into a blimp-sized live performance monster; Hayne's take on Son House's traditional "John the Revelator" will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

Led Zeppelin with Jimmy Page

Led Zeppelin I
Led Zeppelin I. Photo courtesy Price Grabber

They were originally known as the "New Yardbirds," as guitarist Jimmy Page's pick-up band scrambled to fulfill his former band's performance obligations, and maybe pick up a few dollars. By the time that Page, bassist John Paul Jones, drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham, and banshee vocalist Robert Plant finished up the tour, changed their name to Led Zeppelin, and entered the studio to record their 1968 debut album, they had developed their titanic new sound. Influenced by the hard-rocking blues amalgam of bands like Cream, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the Jeff Beck Group, Zeppelin proceeded to further demolish the artificial barriers between blues and hard rock, signing their name as the final creators of heavy metal.

Mountain with Leslie West

Mountain Climbing!
Mountain Climbing!. Photo courtesy Price Grabber

Fresh off his success in producing two of Cream's best albums, Felix Pappalardi was looking for another bluesy power trio to work with. After playing bass and producing Bunyonesque guitarist Leslie West's 1969 solo debut Mountain, the pair formed the band Mountain with drummer N.D. Smart and played the Woodstock Festival. Smart left the band to go the country-rock route, replaced by West's long-time buddy Corky Laing, who brought a TNT-like explosiveness to the band's sound. The lessons Pappalardi learned with Cream added a Zeppelinesque heaviness to the bottom end to compliment West's titanium-strength riffing. Moving beyond the power trio paradigm, Mountain added keyboardist Steve Knight to bring some light to the band's sound.