Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blues Harp Players

Earlier today, I read another blog. It made me feel old. It was written by a harp player who listed a group of players that had an impact on him. He listed a group of modern day players, who were influenced by the true legends of the blues harmonica.

Anyway, here is my list. The people impacted me directly or through their recordings.
  • Big Walter Horton - I had started goofing around with the harmonica, shortly before Big Walter's death in 1981. I remember reading his obituary in the Chicago Sun Times. It stated that his passing represented that death of the last of the true blues harmonica giants. I picked up a copy of his Fine Cuts LP and was blown away by his monsterous tone. A few months later, I started hitting some of the blues clubs in Chicago and found a Blues scene that was thriving.
  • Little Walter - I was six when Little Walter Jacobs passed away. I remember reading about the importance of Little Walter in the book, Chicago Blues written by Mike Rowe. It didn't sink in until a few weeks later, I heard his legendary instrumental, Off The Wall. I was hooked.
  • Sonny Boy Williamson II - What more needs to be said about Sonny Boy Williamson II? His music was never overstated or understated. It was merely perfect. Fantastic tone, timing and technique. He was a prolific songwriter.
  • James Cotton - I lived in Chicago during the early and mid 80's. Whenever, James Cotton wasn't on the road, he was in Chicago. Some of the most incredible shows I ever saw were James Cotton shows. It didn't matter if the shows were with his band led by Michael Coleman or the special shows he did at Wise Fools Pub on Christmas day with Sammy Lawhorn, Pinetop Perkins, Calvin Jones and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. James Cotton is a fabulous harp player. He was also a very good singer.
  • Billy Branch - Billy Branch is one of the absolute baddest and most under-appreciated harp players that are currently active. He's appeared on hundreds of recordings for one very good reason. He's that damn good. I've seen Billy Branch more times than I can count. He's got the tone and the technique. He's not afraid to break new ground or take the blues harp in new directions blending R&B and Soul music in with traditional Blues. When the band starts playing that material, most harp players step off the stage, that's when Billy Branch begins to demonstrate his unique talents. Every time I see him, I learn something new.
  • Carey Bell - I've seen Carey Bell every time he appeared within 100 miles of home. I'll never forget the time he appeared at one of Mark Hummel's Harp Blowouts with a bunch of the current generation of harmonica heroes. They had been blowing their brains out for 90 minutes before Carey Bell walked on stage. He opened his set with a couple of chords that demonstrated his deep, rich tone and the crowd went nuts. He said more in 12 bars than all of the previous players did all night long.
  • Junior Wells - I had the opportunity to see Junior Wells on several occasions. The depth of his Blues playing run as deep as the Grand Canyon. He never seemed to have the respect of a lot of harp players, but he always had mine. Shortly after I moved to California, Junior was playing at JJ's in Mountain View. At the time, JJ's had three clubs. The horn section went to the wrong club and missed the first set and a half. Junior played some of the deepest Blues that I had ever heard. He blew some of the most amazing harp that I had ever heard. He was being backed by George Baze and Steve Ditzell. He sounded as good as the Hoodoo Man recordings. Amazing stuff.
  • Little Willie Anderson - He was probably one of the most underappreciated harp players in Chicago. He was a great stylist in the tradition of Little Walter. He had an excellent recording out on Earwig label. One of the coolest shows I ever saw was Little Willie Anderson and the Aces. They played three sets of songs true to the spirit and sound of Little Walter. I saw him several times. He was an excellent player. I quite a bit from him.
  • Sugar Blue - Sugar Blue was doing stuff 25 years ago that people are trying to do now. Of course, they give the man no credit. They don't cite him as an influence. When I lived in Chicago, he hosted the jam at the Kingston Mines. Very few harp players ever showed up to that jam. I think most people were intimidated by Blue's skills. He could play the low down traditional stuff and he could do his own thing. I learned a lot from him.
  • RJ Mischo - He's an incredible player. He has beautiful tone and technique. If it wasn't for RJ Mischo, I probably wouldn't be playing today. He got me motivated to play after a laying off for a long time. He gave me the opportunity to sit in with the best players on the west coast.


Ricky Bush said...

Hey Joe--

Nice blog you've got here! Good playing too, dude. If that's my blog that you're referring to, then be sure and read the opening paragraph where I mention that I was (and am) absolutely influenced by all those that you're mentioning on your list. I never fail to listen to a Little Walter song daily. My list was just giving props to those that are in our midst now (some of 'em) and deserve knowing that their talent has certainly been influencial. Anyway--

See ya--

Ben the Harpman said...

I would probably add Rick Estrin, Lazy Lester, and though he had a more rudimentary style: Slim Harpo.

You've pretty much nailed most of my influence in one big swoop with the exception of the above and Paul Butterfield, who made me pick up the harmonica.

Mr. G said...

Hi Joe -

And don't forget the King of the Blues Chromatic, George "Harmonica" Smith!! He influenced almost all of the west coast guys (William Clarke, Rod Piazza, et al), and Kim Wilson, too.

Mr. G