While playing at a recent festival, I asked the audience members to come up with the name of five female lead guitarists (without cheating by looking on phones and other devices). I offered my newest CD free to the first person who came to the merch table after the set with the names. It’s not surprising that many people can’t name more than a few players in any genre – Bonnie Raitt tops the list as well as a few well- known rhythm players like Joan Jett. I had a man approach me sheepishly and ask if Elizabeth Cotton counted and I said “of course, she was a trailblazer.” He beamed as he walked away without providing any other names. As a lead guitarist I have been inspired by many of my favorite players like Debbie Davies, Joanna Connor, slide guitarists Ellen McIllwaine, & Bonnie Raitt, rocker Carrie Brownstein and jazz great Emily Remler. I’m also encouraged by some of the newer batch of players like Orianthi and Samantha Fish.
So what’s my motivation for asking audiences about women who play the lead guitar? Well it’s a great way to meet people who come to see me play, but more importantly it’s a way for me to encourage folks to notice that there are a lot of women guitar players who deserve to be heard and known. I hope I can inspire and challenge people to think about the blues as more than female vocalists supported by the boys in the band. Here’s to the women who can really play the blues!