Essential Blues Harmonica Listening - 5th Edition

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Essential Blues Harmonica Listening Artists, Albums, Essential Instrumentals, Books & Videos

5th Edition By: David Barrett – Mark Hummel – Joe Filisko – Additions & Comments By: Paul deLay – Rick Estrin – Charlie Lange –

Listening and studying players is HUGELY important to the growth of all musicians. Studying blues harmonica means that you are studying the language of the blues: the licks, movement, phrasing and articulation that speak the sound and feel of the music. This is accomplished in one way—studying the masters. The more artists you study, the more your sound will be diverse and unique. Along with the fathers of blues harmonicas we will also mention essential modern players who are pushing the envelope of the traditional sound. Start your collection with the fathers of blues harmonica and continue to modern-day players. We recommend purchasing recordings in the general order they are listed (though any combination of artists in a grouping is fine) and pick up box sets when available. Look at the dates of each recording as you listen to get an idea of their place in history. Though it is not mentioned, most of the artists were also great singers and songwriters. This list covers mostly post-war players, though John Lee Williamson (who recorded from 1937 to 1947) was so influential to the players that followed him (many literally followed him gig to gig to learn harmonica) that he needs to be on this list. If you are interested in pre-war blues, check out Harmonica Masters, Classic Recordings from the 1920’s and 30’s (YaZoo 2019) and Harmonica Blues, Great Harmonica Performances of the 1920’s and 30’s (YaZoo 1053). These albums feature important players such as Jazz Gillum, Jaybird Coleman and De Ford Bailey. Next to each artist’s name is a recording from them available on the market. Though there are of course more recordings for each artist, this should get you started. If you find a player you like, research the albums available. There’s a good chance they recorded over a long period of time, and there are some gems out there. In some cases these CDs have gone out of print, though they are still available from specialty sellers. A music seller we commonly use is—they tend to have hard-tofind blues harmonica recordings. Let me (David Barrett) take a moment to thank the other authors who have taken their time to contribute to this listing. It’s been a pleasure building such a list, and learning more about the players that have made, and still are making, important contributions to the blues harmonica world.


Grandfather of Blues Harmonica • Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Lee Williamson) – Sonny Boy’s first recording session on May 5, 1937 yielded the hit song “Good Morning School Girl,” which began to change the perception of the role of harmonica in blues, from musical novelty to a legitimate instrument. Very few players escaped the influence of his playing and songwriting. Document Records has a complete recorded works series (DOCD-5055 through DOCD-5059). Sonny Boy also recorded as a sideman for Big Joe Williams (BDCD-6003 & BDCD-6004), Yank Rachel (Wolf WBCD-006 & WBCD-007), Robert Lee McCoy (WBCD-002), and Henry Townsend (DOCD-5147). Charlie recommends the albums: Bluebird Blues (Classic Blues Label BMG51562) and Essential (Classic Blues Label 2013) as an introduction to Sonny Boy. Fathers of Blues Harmonica – All these players were pioneers and true masters of the instrument. Big Walter Horton – Walter Horton will always be known for his full-toned, endlessly tasteful acoustic and amplified harmonica playing. Two of his instrumentals, “Easy” and “Walter’s Boogie,” have become standards. His best performances as a frontman are the Offer You Can’t Refuse collection from the Swedish Radio (now out of print); and the live recording with Ronnie Earl, often packaged as Little Boy Blue (JSP CD 2152). There are also two solid CDs: Blind Pig’s Can’t Keep Lovin’ You (BP71484) and Fine Cuts (BP 70678). Some of Walter’s best playing was recorded as a sideman. His January 1953 JOB sessions with Johnny Shines (Evening Shuffle on Westside 635) may contain the best examples of the Chicago amplified style, along with his 1950’s recordings with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Joe Hill Louis, Tampa Red, Tommy Brown and Otis Span. Sadly, many of his best recordings remain scattered on various collections, while many of his mediocre ones are prevalent. Paul particularly likes the Arhoolie recordings with Johnny Young (CD-325) where Horton plays through a glass. Charlie recommends Harmonica Blues Kings (Delmark 712). If you’d like a complete listing of Big Walter Horton recordings visit Joe Filisko’s website at for a downloadable PDF. A great resource! • George Harmonica Smith – Player that took blues to the West Coast and flavored it with Kansas City Swing. Though his diatonic harmonica work was fantastic, his largest contribution to the harmonica world was his chromatic work (more frequent in his later years), giving him the name “King of the Blues Chromatic.” His mid-50’s recordings as a sideman for Champion Jack DuPree on King and his solo work on Modern yielded highly original playing and phrasing. His instrumental “Blues in the Dark” is a benchmark for all chromatic players to learn. He directly influenced the playing of Rod Piazza, William Clarke, and every other notable harmonica player today. Album: Little George Smith, Harmonica Ace, The Modern Masters Collection (Ace CDCHD 337). Paul also recommends the work he did on Tribute to Little Walter (Chicago Masters Vol. 3, Capitol 36286). Charlie recommends his chromatic work on Blowin’ The Blues (El Segundo 1001). • Little Walter – The innovator of amplified harmonica, the “King of the Blues Harmonica.” Early recordings have him playing acoustic with Muddy Waters, with his own material, both acoustic and amplified, coming soon after. The amplified work really sets him apart. His May 12, 1952 recording “Juke” placed him on the music charts and changed the blues harmonica sound forever. Along with vocal tunes, he recorded many instrumental tunes (“Juke,” “Off the Wall,” “Roller Coaster,” “Boogie,” “Rocker,” etc.) that stand to this day as some of the best amplified blues harmonica instrumental playing ever. His phrasing especially is a focus of study for students wanting to play instrumentals. Album: The Essential Little Walter (Chess/MCA CHD2-9342 - 2 CD set) & Confessin’ The Blues (Chess MCD 09366). Both recommended albums are unfortunately out of print, but His Best (MCA 9384) is readily available. Charlie also says he has a lot of the now out of print Blues With A Feelin’ (MCA 9357). Some great sideman work, besides that with Muddy Waters, is with John Brim and Jimmy Rogers (Chess). • Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) – Not to be confused with the original John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Rice Miller was also a harmonica powerhouse. Miller primarily sang and played acoustic harp, rarely recording amplified. Along with Little Walter, many of Sonny Boy II’s songs live on as blues standards and have hugely influenced players of today. Album: The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson (Chess/MCA CHD2-9343 - 2 CD set – out of print), Real Folk Blues/More Folk Blues (MCA 28232) and King Biscuit Time (Arhoolie 310). His other Trumpet recordings are nice as well as his work backing Baby Boy Warren on Excello. •


More Classic Players – All of these players can be considered fathers of blues harmonica as well, though they came a little after the above artists. • James Cotton – Known as “Mr. Super Harp,” a killer player with a performance career spanning over 50 years as a bandleader and backing other players such as Muddy Waters and Otis Span. His bestknown harmonica tune is “Creeper,” which is still a showstopper and performed regularly. Album: Best of the Verve Years (Verve D108381) is out of print, but Feelin’ Good (Acrobat 4009) is of the same period. Rick recommends checking out Chicago, the Blues Today!. • Louis Myers – Harmonica player commonly overlooked due to backing Little Walter in the Aces band on guitar. Myers plays surprisingly fine harmonica. Album: Harp & Soul (Fuel 2000) and other collections mentioned in the compilation section. • Jimmy Reed – Known for his frequent use of the 1st Position high end. His phrasing is sparse and very melodic. A great study for his 1st Position and 2nd Position work. Album: The Very Best of Jimmy Reed (Rhino R2 79802) • Junior Wells – Another heavy-hitter of blues harmonica. Wells came into his own in the mid 60’s where his funky harmonica style really jumps out. “Messin’ with the Kid” (Chicago The Blues Today, Vol. 1, Vanguard #9213, 1966) contains a phenomenal harmonica solo. Album: Junior Wells Hoodoo Man Blues (Delmark DD-612). It’s My Life Baby on Vanguard is recorded live and is a masterpiece of blues performance. His earlier work can be heard on Blues Hit Big Town on Delmark. Notable side work can be heard backing Muddy Waters, Floyd Jones, T-Bone Walker and J B Lenoir. • Howlin’ Wolf – Though basic in approach, his presentation was bold with a strong vibrato. Album: His Best (Chess Anniversary Collection)

More Classic Players – Players you might not have heard of, but should take a listen to and study. Slim Harpo – Very musical player (good phrasing) who recorded for many years. Best-known song is “Baby Scratch My Back.” Album: The Best Of (Excello) • Lazy Lester – Very tasty playing with a Cajun twist. Album: I’m A Lover Not A Fighter (Ace 518). • Papa Lightfoot – Really an amazing early player whose recordings you don’t see often. His Imperial Records recordings are particularly nice. Can be heard on Official CD #5254. • Jerry McCain – Jerry recorded very early in his career and then stopped music for many years, to come back to it late on life. His most well known instrumental recording is “Steady.” Album: That's What They Want: The Best of Jerry McCain (Excello) or Blues Masters The Essential Collection, V4 Harmonica Classics (Rhino R2 71124) • Junior Parker – Parker started off as a harmonica player with vocals soon taking over the spotlight. Though not known as a harmonica-player’s-harmonica-player, everything he played was very tasty. Album: Junior’s Blues/The Duke Recordings V1 (MCA MCAD 10669) is now out of print, but V2 is available Backtrackin’ (MCA 11786). • Dr. Ross – Great one-man-band. Album: Boogie Disease (Arhoolie CD 371) • Sam Myers – Album: Change in my Pocket (Bullseye Blues). His early albums on Blacktop Records with Anson Fundenburgh are great. •

More Classic Players Still Alive – Great traditional blues players with recordings still coming on the market. • Billy Boy Arnold – Album: Eldorado Cadillac (Alligator Records) • Carey Bell – Album: Deep Down (Alligator Records) My favorite is Carey Bell playing with Robert Nighthawk on the 1964 Maxwell Street recording (Rounder) • James Cotton – James is still alive and gigging heavily! • Johnny Dyer – Album: Jukin' (Blind Pig) • Lazy Lester – Lester is still alive and gigging as well! • Snooky Pryor – Album: Pitch A Boogie Woogie (Westside 869) for his early stuff and Too Cool To Move (Antones 17) for his contemporary. Check out his early V.J. and J.O.B. work backing Floyd Jones.


Obscure Classic Players • Jimmy Anderson – Jimmy Reed-style player who recorded on Excello. Can be heard on Ace CDCHD 604. • Little Willie Anderson –Little Walter’s valet, he shadowed every aspect of Walter’s life. Did a pretty cool album in 70’s. Decent, but not too strong a player. Album: Swinging the Blues (Earwig CD4930) • Easy Baby – Recorded an album in Chicago on Barrelhouse in 70’s, on Chicago Harmonica Spotlight. Album: Low Blues (Rooster CD R2610) • Sonny Blair – Album: The Modern Downhome Blues Sessions Vol. 1 (Ace CDCHD 876) • Louis “Little” Boyd – Hot player who backed Smokey Smothers in the early 1960’s on the King label. Can be heard on Ace CDCHD 858. • Big Leon Brooks – Played in the Chicago scene in the 1950’s. Nice tone and phrasing. Can be heard on Earwig CD4931. • Buster Brown – Best known for “Fannie Mae,” but also played quite a bit of harp. Album: Raise A Ruckus Tonight (Relic 7064) • Dusty Brown – Another solid player that recorded for Parrot in the 1950’s and can be heard on Parrot HJP CD 8575-2 and Relic CD 7015. • Mojo Buford – Former longtime Muddy harp man now in Minneapolis. Album: Mojo Buford’s Chicago Blues Summit (Pvine1850) • Whispering Smith – Album: Deep Harmonica Blues ACE LC 5982 • Wild Child Butler – Made records in Chicago; played with Jimmy Rogers for years. Album: Stranger (Bull 9539) • Good Rockin Charles – Pretty good player who had quite a reputation in his day. He did one album in 70’s with Aces backin’ him up. Album: Low Blows, Chicago Harmonica Blues (Rooster CD R2610) and (P-Vine CD-5249) • Lester Davenport – Chicago player still making records. Played harp on Bo's "Pretty Thing". Album: When The Blues Hit You (Earwig 4923) • Little Sammy Davis – Terribly underrated player who recorded under is own name, and as a sideman for Earl Hooker on the Rockin’ label in the 1950’s, HTCD 5502-2. His contemporary recordings can be heard on Delmark DE-682 and FFR5771. • Little Willie Foster – Very powerful singer and player who was under-recorded. One of Charlie Musselwhite’s favorites. Hit “Parrot” side can be heard on HJP CD 8575-2. • Sonny Harper – Rick states “He cut a side called ‘Lonely Stranger,’ sometimes called ’Going Away Baby’ and credited to Jessie Belvin. This song has some of the most incredible 1st position TONE ever!!!” Album: West Coast Down Home Harmonica (El Segundo) and Country Blues Obscurities (Tapper) • Harmonica “Blues King” Harris – Obscure player that recorded the classic tune "Blues King Mango." Album: Big Walter Horton & Alfred “Blues King” Harris, Harmonica Blues Kings (Delmark DD-712) and Country Blues Obscurities (Tapper) • Little Hatch – Obscure player that just recently passed away. Was a main harp player in Kansas City. Album: Goin' Back (Apo 2007) • P.T. Hayes – Obscure basic harmonica player found on sessions with Johnny Williams in the early 50’s. Album: Chicago Blues “The Chance Era” (Charlie CDGR-146-2) • Joe Hill Louis – Sun records, one-man band. Billed at times as Little Walter Jr. Can be heard on The Be Bop Boy (Bear Family Label 15524). There are some cool Big Walter Horton tracks on this CD as well. • Sammy Lewis – Obscure player in the style of Sonny Boy II. Recorded for Sam Philips on Sun Records in 1955 with Willie Johnson Combo. Album: Sun Records “The Blues Years 1950-1958, Disc 8. • Little Mac – Not a bad harp player with some good songs. Album: Chicago Blues Harmonica Wizard (The Famous Groove Records) • George Mayweather – 50's harp player. Played some good stuff for Eddie Taylor and JB Hutto records. Solo record is Whup it! Whup! on Tone Cool • Forrest City Joe Pugh – Very underrated player who could do a perfect knockoff of John Lee Williamson. He was the first to record the Tommy Dorsey’s “Boogie Woogie” on harp, which eventually became most associated with Walter Horton. Also recorded some incredible music for Lomax in 1959,


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including some country blues pieces and a third position instrumental. Can be heard on Atlantic Sounds of the South box set. Whispering Smith – Another notable Excello player. Also on Ace CDCHD 604 in addition to CDCHD 578 and CDCHD 661. Kid Thomas – LA harp player who died young. Wolf Pack is an album on Wolf Records that compiles some of their 45’s. Can be heard on Ace CDCHD 717. Big Wheeler – Traditional player that played with the Icecream Men. Album: Bone Orchard (Delmark) Arthur Williams – Played the killer harp on Frank Frost's Jewel CD 5013 (1973). Slim Willis – Very good harmonica player that should have been better known. Album: I Blueskvarter, Chicago 1964, Volume 1 Big John Wrencher – Solid player with a Howlin’ Wolf vibrato. Can be heard on many of the Testament releases and the P-Vine PCD-1889.

Country Blues Sonny Terry – “King of the Country Blues Harmonica”… Terry’s playing style was so distinct that you can’t really group him with other players. He did much solo work, but was best known with partner Brownie McGhee. Many of today’s players state that Sonny Terry’s style was very influential in their playing. Album: Absolutely the Best (Varese Records); Document Records DOCD-5230 which has his earliest solo work from 1938; Folkways CDSF40033 called Sonny Terry, The Folkways Years 19441963. • J.C. Burris –Sonny Terry’s nephew and certainly influenced by him. Album: Blues Professor (Arhoolie CD 497) • Percy Randolph – Percy is a fairly unknown player, but did some notable recording with Snooks Eaglin and can be heard on Arhoolie CD 348. In addition to playing some of the train standards, he was also playing some nice 1st and 5th position. • Peg Leg Sam A.K.A Arthur Jackson – His style is much more mainstream sounding and more accessible than Sonny’s. Album: Kickin’ It (Trix 3302). The video Born For Hard Luck available from Davenport Films, shows what an unsurpassed showman Peg was. • Elder Roma Wilson – Although actually a gospel player, he plays in the country style. His Arhoolie (CD 429) recording shows a player with a voice, tone and throat tremolo that are not surpassed. This collection also has his early sides from Detroit in 1948, which show he was as powerful and driving as John Lee Williamson. • Johnny Woods – Played some unforgettable music with Fred McDowell in the late 1960’s. There has probably never been such an amazing hypnotic groove created between the harp and guitar. It may be fair to say that Woods had a corner on the Delta Blues style of harp playing. Album: Mama Says I’m Crazy (Fat Possum) •

Moving from Chicago – Both of these players were very influential in turning on the next generation of harmonica players to the music. Though neither are (Butterfield has passed away) very “classic” in sound, they definitely embody what we know as the Blues. Both were diverse players spending a period of their performance and recording careers in the early rock movement, though always true to the Blues. • Paul Butterfield – Album: Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Elektra/Asylum) • Charlie Musselwhite – Album: Ace of Harps (Alligator Records)

Today’s Great Players – In alphabetical order • West Side Andy – Very tasty harp player. Album: Handyman (Self Released) • Tom Ball – Great primarily acoustic player in the school of Sonny Terry who is best known for his work with Kenny Sultan. Album: Filthy Rich (Flying Fish) • David Barrett – Yours truly. Album: Serious Fun (Harmonica Masterclass) • “Big” Al Blake – Best know for his work with the Hollywood Fats band. Album: Mr. Blake’s Blues (Blue Collar BCM7108-2) and anything he did with Fats.


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Sugar Blue – The modern-day Chicago player. Fast and tasty player who often uses 3rd Position. Album: In Your Eyes (Alligator ALCD 4831) Billy Branch – Great modern Chicago player. Album: Satisfy Me (House of Blues) Norton Buffalo – Known for both his acoustic work with Roy Rogers and his diverse playing style that ventures out of blues time to time. Album: King of the Highway (Blind Pig) William Clarke – A hugely influential player. Album: Serious Intentions (Alligator ALCD 4806) Wallace Coleman – Very tasty harp player in the Little Walter vein. Album: Wallace Coleman (Fish Head Records) Bob Corritore – Great harp player who also owns The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Arizona. Album: AllStar Blues Sessions (HMG Records 1009) Paul deLay – A very, very fresh diatonic and chromatic player. If you like blues with a different perspective, check him out. Album: Take it to the Turnaround & Ocean of Tears (Evidence) Carlos del Junco – One of the best overbend players in the blues. Album: Big Boy (Big Reed) Magic Dick – Best known from the J. Geils Band. He has also released albums under the band Bluestime. Helped to define blues-based Rock harmonica (along with Huey Lewis) Album: Bluestime (Rounder) or Full House (Atlantic). Mr. Downchild – Tasty harmonica, guitar, vocal player. Album: Behind the Sun (Mascita Music MM124) Mark DuFresne – The current singer for Roomful of Blues. Album: There’s A Song In There (Jeromed B00004I9WF) Rick Estrin – Best known working with Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Great traditional blues player and performer. One of the best shows around. Album: That’s Big (Alligator ALCD 4883) Mark Ford – Known for his work in the Ford blues band with brothers Pat (drums) and Robin (guitar). Blues/rock player with a horn like tone and sophisticated phrasing. Album: Mark Ford & The Blue Line (Blue Rock’it BRCD 129) Dennis Gruenling – Great 3rd Position player who uses low-tuned harps for a very horn-like sound in his more swing style. Album: Dennis Gruenling & Jump Time (BackBender BBR 701) Steve Guyger – Fine traditional player with albums under his own name and a lot of side work. Album: Past Life Blues Severn (CD-0002) James Harman – Great internationally known player and songwriter. One of the best showmen out there. Album: Mo' Na'Kins, Please! (Cannonball) Ryan Hart – Swingin’ harp playing in the style of Rod Piazza with nice vocals. Album: Empty Wallet (Far-Tone CD FT JT30) Mark Hummel – Great internationally known player. One of my favorites; great diatonic and chromatic work. Album: Golden State Blues (Electro-Fi 3375) Andy Just – Blues player with a rocker’s soul. Album: Don’t Cry (Blue Rock’ it BRCD 117) Mitch Kashmar – Great player fronting the Pontiax and some great solo work as well. Did some mutual recording with William Clarke. Album: Crazy Mixed Up World (Thumbs Up) Paul Lamb – Great UK harp player with a Sonny Terry influence. Album: Harmonica Man (Sanctuary) Jim Liban – Milwaukee's legendary harp god. Founding member of Short Stuff; “as great as the greatest!” (quote from Mark) John “Juke” Logan – Blues and funk player who’s done side work for many musicians. Album: Juke Rhythm (Mocombo) Lee McBee – Great player known for his work with Mike Morgan. Album: Any work on the Mike Morgan Blacktop CDs. R.J. Mischo – Great player, vocalist and performer. Album: West Wind Blowin’ (Mountaintop 3562). Raful Neal – Last of the Louisiana harp guys. Album: Louisiana Legend (All 4783) “Sugar” Ray Norcia – Great player and singer who worked with Roomful of Blues and did many solo releases. Album: Don’t Stand In My Way (Bullseye Blues) Paul Oscher – First white player with Muddy Waters that currently performs as a one-man-band. A great player on multiple instruments. Album: Living Legends (Blues Leaf Records) Michael Peloquin – Overbend player in blues and sax player with fine vocals. Album: House of Cards (Globe) Rod Piazza – A hugely influential player that set the bar for many of today’s performing harp players. Album: Harp Burn (Black Top Records CD BT-1087)


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Jerry Portnoy – Traditional player who backed both Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. I like his work with Waters and Clapton the best, though he did record some solo albums and many albums with the Legendary Blues Band. Gary Primich – Great internationally known player. Too many good things to say. Album: Mr. Freeze (Flying Fish FF 70649 – out of print) and Dog House Music (Antones 57). Annie Raines – Great blues harp player who is best known for her work with Paul Rishell. Album: I Want You to Know (Tone Cool) Jason Ricci – Innovative overbend player that fuses blues, funk and rock into electrifying music. Album: Blood on the Road Tad Robinson – Great vocalist with very tasty harp playing. Album: Last Go Around (Delmark DE-722) Pete “Madcat” Ruth – Innovative blues harp player known for his Country Blues playing style. Album: Madcat & Kane, Up Against the Wall (Hit Records HR101) Curtis Salgado – Solo and with Roomful of Blues. Major influence on the Blues Brothers. Great player and singer. Album: Hit It ‘n Quit It w/Terry Robb (Lucky Records) Jumpin' Johnny Sansome – The Big Easy's main Harpblower (Rounder), at Ottawa Blues Festival each year (Mark Hummel). Matthew Skoller – One of the most active young harp blowers in Chicago and Europe. Album: Shoulder to the Wind (Tongue ‘N Groove) Lynwood Slim – Solid vocals paired with a Rice Miller tone and jazzy phrasing. Often recorded with Junior Watson & the Hollywood Fats Band. Album: World Wide Wood (Pacific Blues 9903). Little Sonny – Funky 60’s and 70’s harp player. Playing was weak at times, though cool to listen to. Album: Blues with a Feeling, the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival Volume 2 (Sequel Records) Gary Smith – My mentor (David Barrett); huge tone! Traditional blues harmonica with a FAT sound. Album: Blues for Mr. B (Mountain Top) Shakin' Smith – Big fish in a small pond, king of Buffalo harp players (Mark Hummel). South Side Steve – Ottawa's & the Great White North's best export - Steve's the best young harp player I've heard and only 18, way into it! You'll be hearing about him soon (Mark Hummel). Bill Tarsha - Phoenix harp wizard (of the Rocket 88s). Album: A Decade in the Desert (Published by the Phoenix Blues Society) Greg “Fingers” Taylor – Former 20 year harp man for Jimmy Buffet. Great blues blower who also played with Houston Stackhouse & Joe Willie Wilkins. Album: Hi Fi Baby (Warehouse Creek, wcrc 0114). David Waldman – Founder of the Ice Cream Men. Chicago player who has studied the style of Little Walter to a “T.” A great player. Phil Wiggins – Piedmont blues player best known for his work with John Cephas. Album: Homemade (Alligator) Kim Wilson – A killer player that influenced many of today’s younger players. Early work with the Thunderbirds and his solo work is great. Album: Tiger Man (Antone’s ANT 0023)

Compilations Here are some compilations well worth having in your collection. • Blow’n the Blues ‘Best of the Great Harp Player’ (Vanguard) • Blow’n the Blues ‘A History of Blues Harmonica Classics 1926-2002 (Indigo IGOTCD 2536) • Blues, Booze, Harps & Guitars (Fuel 2000 (302-061-273-2) • Blues Harp Greats (EasyDisc CD7023) • Blues Harp Hotshots (EasyDisc ED 12136-7073-2) • Blues Harp Meltdown (2xCD CDMT101) (Mountain Top) • Blues Harp Meltdown Vol. 2 (2xCD) (Mountain Top) • Blues Masters The Essential Collection, V4 Harmonica Classics (Rhino R2 71124) • Blues Masters The Essential Collection, V16 More Harmonica Classics (Rhino) • Deep Harmonica Blues (ACE LC 5982) • Essential Blues Harmonica (HOB 51415 1300 2) • Greasy Kid Stuff (Kid Ramos with an all-star lineup Evidence ECD 26117-2) • Got Harp If You Want It “The Best of the West Coast Blues Harp Players” (Blue Rock’it BRCD 111) • Legends of Harmonica (Rhino R2 78265)


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This is the Blues Harmonica (Delmark) West Coast Down Home Harmonica (El Segundo ESR 01004)

Instrumentals Listed below are instrumentals that are worth checking out. Learning some instrumentals like “Roller Coaster” by Little Walter will challenge the best player for months. You’ll appreciate others more for their tasty phrasing and approach. Most of the players below recorded more instrumentals than shown. If you like a song listed, pick up all of that player’s recordings—you won’t be disappointed. There are also many players that are great, but didn’t record many instrumentals (Rice Miller for example). Don’t use this list alone to determine which artists’ recordings you purchase. Again, these are instrumentals that students commonly ask to learn. If this were a “complete” listing, it would be huge and defeat the purpose of pulling out common favorites.

Traditional Diatonic Instrumentals 1. “Ash Street Boogie” – Forrest City Joe (w/Robert Nighthawk): Killer harp lines with questionable guitar chord changes! 2. “Back Track” – Little Walter (The Essential Little Walter, Chess) 3. “Blue Midnight” – Little Walter (The Essential Little Walter, Chess) Great slow blues. 4. “Blues in My Sleep” – James Cotton (Best of the Verve Years, Verve): Great slow blues with big tone. 5. “Bluesy” – Louis Myers (Harp & Soul, Fuel 2000): Surprisingly fine harp on this. 6. “Boarding House Blues” – Rhythm Willie: Some of the most killer 1st position harp you’ll ever hear! 7. “Boogie in the Dark” – Jimmy Reed (Essential Blues Harmonica, HOB) 8. “Bye Bye Bird” – Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller). Though the song has a spoken line, it’s primarily an instrumental. The first verse of Whammer Jammer (Magic Dick) comes mostly from this song. 9. “Cha Cha Cha in Blues” – Junior Wells (1957-1963 Messin’ With the Kid, Paula Records/Chief Records) Fun tune. 10. “Chitlin Con Carne” – Junior Wells (Hoodoo Man Blues, Delmark) Very funky. 11. “Creeper” – James Cotton (Fore Day Blues, Success or Best of the Verve Years, Verve) One of the all-time killer harp instrumentals covered my modern artists all the time. 12. “Don’t Have To Hunt No More” – Little Walter 13. “Easy” – Big Walter Horton (Blues Masters The Essential Collection, V4 Harmonica Classics, Rhino R2 71124) Great adaptation of an older tune for harp with great repetitive phrasing. 14. “Ends & Odds” – Jimmy Reed (Blues Masters Volume 4 Harmonica Classics, Rhino) Nice phrasing. 15. “Floyd's Blues” – Snooky Prior (Floyd Jones & Snooky Prior) 16. “Goin’ Back to St Louis” – Walter Horton: Killer melodic 1st position harp. 17. “Harmonica Stomp” – Jazz Gillum 18. “Hoofin’ Blues” – Sonny Terry (Country Blues) 19. “Juicy Harmonica” – George “Harmonica” Smith (Rod Piazza also did a version on the Bacon Fat album) (West Coast Down Home Harmonica, El Segundo ESR 01004) 20. “Juke” – Little Walter (The Essential Little Walter, Chess) The most famous harp tune ever recorded. 21. “Just Whaling” – Louis Myers (Harp & Soul, Fuel 2000) 22. “Off the Wall” – Little Walter (The Essential Little Walter, Chess) Tune covered by other players often due to the catchy hook in the head. 23. “Off the Wall“– James Cotton (Best of the Verve Years, Verve) 24. “Rocker” – Little Walter (Confessin’ the Blues, Chess) 25. “Roller Coaster” – Little Walter (The Essential Little Walter, Chess) One of his best. Stays on the I the whole time. 26. “Sonny Boy’s Harmonica Blues” – Sonny Boy Williamson II: Killer solo piece with great chord-tone usage. 27. “Sharp Harp” – George “Harmonica” Smith (West Coast Down Home Harmonica, El Segundo ESR 01004) Smooth 2-beat.


28. “Slam Hammer” – James Cotton (Johnny Young Chicago Blues, Arhoolie) Nice hook-driven tune. 29. “Steady” – Jerry McCain (Blues Masters The Essential Collection, V4 Harmonica Classics, Rhino R2 71124) Great example of tone and approach… a true masterpiece. 30. “Trouble in Mind” – Walter Horton: Great harmonica/guitar tune. 31. “Walter’s Boogie” – Big Walter Horton (Can’t Keep Lovin’ You, Blind Pig) Definitely a harp standard. A good study for learning tongue block pulls. 32. “Williamson Shuffle” – Snooky Prior (Homesick James & Snooky Prior) 33. More to come… Modern Diatonic Instrumentals 1. “Annie’s Rocker” – Annie Raines (Blues Harp Meltdown Vol. 2, Mountain Top) 2. “Back In The Hot Seat” – Dave Morris (Big Dave & The UltraSonics) 3. “Big Leg Mama” – Mark Hummel (Harmonica Party, Mountain Top) 4. “Blowin' My Top” – Dennis Gruenling (Jump Time, BackBender) 5. “Blowin’ the Family Jewels” – William Clarke (Groove Time, Alligator) 6. “Cash Money” – William Clarke (Blowin’ Like Hell, Alligator) 7. “Christo Redemptor” – Charlie Musselwhite (Blow’n the Blues, Vanguard) 8. ”Don’t Fight It” - David Barrett (Serious Fun) 9. ”Extra Napkins” – James Harman (Extra Napkins, Cannonball) 10. ”Fogtown Swing” – Gary Smith (Up The Line, Messaround) 11. ”Gibson Creek Shuffle” – Mark Ford (The Charles Ford Band, Arhoolie) 12. ”Got it Good” – Rick Estrin (Shadow of the Blues, Alligator) 13. ”Hand Jive” – Mark Hummel (Harmonica Party, Mountain Top) 14. ”Heddon Tadpolly Spook” - Carlos Del Junco (Big Boy, Big Reed) 15. ”Hopefully” – Paul de Lay (Ocean of Tears, Evidence) 16. “Jimmy Jones” – Paul de Lay (Heavy Rotation, Evidence) 17. ”Jr.’s Jump” – Kim Wilson (Lookin’ for Trouble, MC) 18. ”Lick Train” – David Barrett (Serious Fun) 19. ”Little Bitty Pretty One” – Rod Piazza (Harp Burn, Black Top) 20. ”Marion's Mood” – Rick Estrin 21. ”Mood Room Boogie” – Jerry Portnoy (Muddy’s Shuffle is also a nice LW cover) 22. ”Mr. Itch” – Gary Primich (Botheration, Black Top) 23. ”Oat Bran” – Paul de Lay (The Other One, Evidence) 24. ”Punchy” – Paul de Lay (Nice & Strong, Evidence) 25. ”Red Top” – Gary Primich (Mr. Freeze, Flying Fish) 26. ”Rocket Ride” – Garry Smith (Up the Line, Messaround Records) 27. ”Screamin’” – Paul Butterfield (The Paul Butterfield Blues Band Album) 28. ”Teaser, The” – Rod Piazza (Tough and Tender, Tone-Cool) 29. ”Tribute to Little Walter, A” – Charlie McCoy (Harpin’ the Blues, Sony Music) McCoy is not known at all as a blues harmonica, but a hugely imitated country player. What he plays on this song is very tasty and is an often request from students who like him. 30. ”Upsetter, The” – Rod Piazza (Harp Burn, Black Top) 31. ”Varmint” – Gary Primich (Company Man, Flying Fish) 32. ”Whammer Jammer” – Magic Dick (Rock/Blues - More Harmonica Classics, Rhino)

Traditional Chromatic Instrumentals 1. “Blues in the Dark” – George “Harmonica” Smith (Blues Masters The Essential Collection, V4 Harmonica Classics, Rhino R2 71124) Best known tradition blues chromatic instrumental. 2. “Blues For Reverend King” – George “Harmonica” Smith (West Coast Down Home Harmonica, El Segundo ESR 01004) As bluesy as it gets. 3. Other great George Smith tunes are: “Boogie'n with George,” “Hot Rolls” and “Last Chance.”


Modern Chromatic Instrumentals 1. “Blowin’ Like Hell” – William Clarke (Blowin’ Like Hell, Alligator) 2. “Briar Patch, The” – Gary Primich (Company Man, Black Top) 3. “Chromatic Jump” – William Clarke (Tip of the Top, Alligator) 4. ”Coastin' Hank” – Rick Estrin (That’s Big , Alligator) 5. “Devil's Foot” – Rod Piazza (Keepin' It Real, Blind Pig) His version of the big band standard "Big Noise From Winetka" 6. “El Train” – Paul deLay (Paul deLay Does Chicago, Evidence) 7. ”Harpburn” – Rod Piazza (Harp Burn, Black Top) 8. ”Humble Bug” – Mark Hummel (Harmonica Party, Mountain Top) 9. “One Mint Julep” – Rod Piazza (Harp Burn, Black Top) 10. “Paul Train” – Paul deLay (Burnin’) 11. “Rough News” – Charlie Musselwhite (Rough News, Pointblank) 12. “Second-Hand Smoke” – Paul deLay (The Other One, Evidence) 13. “Texas Love Kit” – Gary Primich (Dog House Music, Antones)

Other than Blues 1. “Summertime” Mark Ford (Got Harp if Want it, Blue Rock’ It) 2. “Georgia on My Mind” Lee Oskar (Those Sunny Days, DanFlex) 3. “Orange Blossom Special” Charlie McCoy (Legends of Harmonica, Rhino) 4. “La Cucaracha” Big Walter Horton (Fine Cuts, Blind Pig) 5. More to come…

Books 1. Harmonicas, Harps, & Heavy Breathers by Kim Field (Cooper Square Press, New York) Distributed by National Book Network @ 800-462-6420 – A Great book covering the history of the instrument and players. 2. Blues with a Feeling ‘the Little Walter Story’ by Tony Glover, Scott Dirks & Ward Gaines. (Routledge Press) ( 3. Children of the Blues ’49 Musicians Shaping a New Blues Tradition’ by Art Tipaldi (Backbeat Books) There’s some great words of wisdom in here.

Videos 1. American Folk Blues Festival 1962-66 (3 Volumes) DVD – Sonny Boy Williamson II, Jr. Wells, Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, Sonny Terry and other great blues musicians. Video and sound quality is great. An essential DVD to own. HIP-O Records B0000750-09 & B0000751-09 & 3rd DVD Just Released 2. American Roots Music – A wonderful two DVD set with original footage and great interviews. James Cotton is featured in some sections. (PALMDVD 3039-2) 3. B.B. King & Friends A Night of Red Hot Blues – Features a great line-up of players including some nice footage of Paul Butterfield leading and backing. HBO Video (1987) ISBN: 1-55803-211-8 4. Blues Harp Experience (Non-Performance Video) – A video of Rod Piazza talking about general feelings about music and gear. Not much educational content, but a neat video to watch if you’re a fan of his music. Self released. Can acquire copies from him at: PO Box 993, Murrieta, CA 92564-0993. 5. Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry Red River Blues 1948-1974 – Great footage of these players over a long span. Rounder Video (1997), Vestapol 13056. 6. Gary Smith Amplified Blues Harp Demystified (Non-Performance DVD) – A very cool video to watch Gary go though some favorite songs and a few techniques. Though Gary mislabels some the equipment shown, the amp and mic section of the video is pretty cool as well. Mountain Top Video 7. Howard Levy New Directions for Harmonica (Non-Performance DVD) – An interesting look into the world of overbending. Homespun Tapes VD-LVY-HA01


8. The Howlin Wolf Story – An interesting look into one of the great blues performers of our time. Bluebird 82876-56631-9 9. Mark Hummel Harmonica Party (Non-Performance DVD) – A cool video to watch Mark go though some songs and a few techniques. Mountain Top Video 10. Muddy Waters Got My Mojo Working – Great live footage of Muddy with harp players Carey Bell, Paul Oscher and Jerry Portnoy. YaZoo 521 DVD. 11. Peter “Madcat” Ruth The Ins and Outs of Rhythm Harp - An interesting look into the world of Peter’s unique chugging style. Homespun Tapes VD-RTH-HA02 12. Sonny Terry Whoopin’ The Blues 1958-1974 – Some really incredible footage of one of our great fathers of country blues harmonica. Footage is of Sonny talking and playing into a camera all by himself. Killer stuff. Rounder Video (1997), Vestapol 13057.

For a continually updated listing of artists, their albums, songs, keys of songs, harmonicas and positions used, visit the Harmonica Masterclass Website at: •

Thanks to singer/harmonica player Diane Smith for her editing and proof reading of this listing.

© 2004 (Revision © 2006) David Barrett and the Harmonica Masterclass® Company. All rights reserved.

Essential Blues Harmonica Listening - 5th Edition

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