Friday, April 25, 2008

Blues Harp Recordings

Recently, I was asked about some of my favorite harmonica players and some of their recordings. I thought I would compile a list of about twenty easily accessible CD's by several of the true legends of the Blues Harp.

  • Carey Bell - Deep Down - This one is the finest Carey Bell recording ever captured. It features a fabulous band from the 90's with some amazing guitar playing by Lurrie Bell and Carl Weathersby.
  • Billy Branch - Blues Keep Following Me Around - Fabulous recording with a killer band, some kick ass original songs and excellent harp playing that only Billy Branch can put down. He's on over 100 recordings for a reason. He's won Grammy and Handy awards for a reason. He's toured the world countless times for a reason. He was Willie Dixon's harp player for a reason. The reason is that he is a damn fine harp player.
  • Big Leon Brooks - Let's Go To Town - Big Leon was off the scene for a number of years. This was his first and only recording. If he had a layer of ring rust after laying off for a number of years, it wasn't evident here. A killer 80's era Chicago band that featured several legends.
  • James Cotton - Live From Chicago - Mr Superharp Himself - Cotton with his 80's kick ass touring band.
  • James Cotton - Take Me Back - Cotton in a traditional post war Chicago setting with members of the legendary Theresa's house band including the incredible Sammy Lawhorn.
  • Big Walter Horton - Can't Keep Loving Her - Classic Big Walter material with a great band.
  • Big Walter Horton - Little Boy Blue - Jawdropping Big Walter recording with Ronnie Earl.
  • George Smith - The Modern Masters - Harmonica Ace - It's George Smith, duh.
  • Junior Wells - Blues Hit Big Town - The classic 50's recordings of Junior Wells with kick ass harp.
  • Junior Wells - Hoodoo Man Blues - The classic 60's performances with Buddy Guy.
  • Snooky Pryor - Snooky Pryor - The missing link between John Lee Williamson and Little Walter. He might have been the first guy to playing amplified while cupping a microphone.
  • John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson - anything he did is great. - He revolutionized the harp during the 30's and 40's.
  • Sugar Blue - Code Blue - A harp playing wild man. He's an amazing player. He's influential on a multitude of modern day speed players, except he does it all with colossal tone. He does all of the stuff that the current crop of "revolutionary" players do with one huge exception. Sugar Blue was doing it 20 years ago and he's been moving it forward.

Here's a hard one to find, but it's worth finding, if you dig tough Chicago blues harp.
  • Little Mac Simmons - High & Lonesome - This CD is a mix of some really tough amplified and acoustic harmonica playing with a traditional band.

Now onto the really big guns from the 1950's Chicago scene.

  • Muddy Waters - pick up a best of CD on MCA/Chess - Muddy recorded during the 1950's with Little Walter and James Cotton. The sessions with Little Walter are the essential Muddy Waters recordings from the Chess era. The recordings with James Cotton are awesome, too.
  • Little Walter - pick up a couple of CD's on MCA/Chess (be sure to avoid duplication of songs) - If I need to expand on this, you're greener than a pool table and twice as square.
  • Howlin' Wolf - pick up a best of CD on MCA/Chess - The Wolf was a fabulous harp player with absolutely huge, huge tone.
  • Jimmy Reed - pick up one of best of CD's - Jimmy Reed was a great harp player. He mostly played in a rack, but his tone and execution were beautiful.
  • Rice Miller "Sonny Boy" Williamson - pick up a best of CD on MCA/Chess - Sonny Boy II's Trumpet recordings where stellar. His Chess recordings were absolute perfection. Many of the guys backing Little Walter provided fabulous support for Sonny Boy.
This ought to get you started.