Drat! I had Groundhogs "Cherry Red" lined up you bastard!
There is actually a Groundhogs riff I like even better.
While we're keeping it bluesy and low-slung, how about this, an example of that contradiction in terms, the "free riff"?
Captain beefheart and the magic band, booglarise you baby
The recorded version is better--at once tighter and looser--but how great to see the Capn and the Magic Band on teevee!
Clear Spot is crawling with killer riffs. Well even Trout Mask is, in its way.
Beefheart is an example of the "drops away" syndrome, which is this thing where the weirdness of an artist, in their own time, stands out in stark relief against the norms of their time... it's a figure/ground kind of effect... but then as more and more time goes by the maverick aspect drops away and the eccentric artist kinda falls back into the context against which they were once so starkly defined as aberrant. So in Beefheart's case, the grounding in blues, and the proximity to more conventional hard rock groove bands like ZZ Top and Foghat, becomes more striking as the years go by. (The Beatles are a paradigm of "drops away"--listening with adult ears, I often have this disconcerting sense of "oh, they're a rock band", whereas as a kid they seemed like this category apart, their own genre, total music, almost outside pop... so it's weird now to hear their music as built out of riff-components, little solo-y bits, middle eights, basslines, etc... on the one hand, demystifying, de-Myth-ifying, on the other hand a different way of gauging their excellence, precisely as a superb rock'n'roll band rather than SuperPop Sensation)
Carl says the 80s were something of a dry spell for riffs, which is what I'd been thinking too, but then it occurred to me that maybe where they still flourished a bit during that decade wasn't the hard/heavy underground (give or take a "Master of Puppets" monster or a Saint Vitus-style throwback) so much as in hair metal...