Various: Blow'n the Blues: Best of the Great Harp Players

Ed Kopp By

Sign in to view read count
With my 44th birthday staring me in the face, I recently decided to do something I’d contemplated since my teens: I decided to learn the harmonica.

It wasn’t any special love for the instrument that finally motivated me to take up the harmonica. Rather, I had reached a brick wall while trying to hone my piano skills, and I thought the harp might be a less frustrating instrument to master. I soon discovered that the harp is NOT a less frustrating instrument to master.

For three months I have tounged, sucked and puffed on my $23 marine band. I have purchased instructional videos and poured over beginner's manuals. I have puckered my lips into countless odd ovals and recycled half of the earth’s atmosphere through my wheezing lungs. Despite all of this effort, I still haven't figured out how to consistently bend a friggin' note!

If nothing else, this whole experience has deepened my respect for blues harpists. I now count the players on this CD as heroes — men who not only learned the intricacies of the blues harp, but mastered them.

Blow'n the Blues is a superb 19-track CD featuring seven of Chicago's finest blues harpists on tracks recorded in the mid-1960's, a time when most of these cats were at the height of their creative capabilities. The Best of the Great Harp Players doesn't include tracks by Little Walter or either of the Sonny Boy Williamsons, so the title is a big misnomer. And while I'm being picayune, let me insert a note of caution to discerning blues consumers: six of these 19 tracks can also be found on Chicago, The Blues, Today!, a better collection. Now that my kvetching is done, let me say that this is a fine retrospective in its own right.

First up are five classic cuts from Junior Wells, the James Brown of the blues, whose staccato style was learned at the feet of Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller). The next five tracks feature James Cotton, a player whose relentless, attacking approach to the harp is finally earning him acclaim for its power and uniqueness. Two tracks feature Big Walter Horton (one with the Johnny Shines Blues Band), one of the most versatile dudes ever to wield a harp. Horton might have been one of Chicago's greatest blues stars had he not been so damn shy. Native American bluesman Charlie Musselwhite is showcased on four tracks. In the '60s, Musselwhite was a fast-livin' up-and-comer but a very lyrical player. The album closes with tracks by the Siegel-Schwall Band and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, two seminal blues-rock outfits fronted by terrific harpists: Corky Siegel and Paul Butterfield.

Fact is, you don't have to love the harmonica to dig this CD. It features many classic tunes, and it also showcases some legendary guitarists.

I plan to further dissect these tracks, and even play along with some. I may be frustrated by my $23 Hohner, but I'm not ready to throw it out the window — yet.

| Record Label: Vanguard Records | Style: Blues


More Articles

Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark CD/LP/Track Review The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Les Deux Versants Se Regardent CD/LP/Track Review Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by John Sharpe
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Molto Bene CD/LP/Track Review Molto Bene
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read "True North" CD/LP/Track Review True North
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: March 10, 2016
Read "Falga" CD/LP/Track Review Falga
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 18, 2016
Read "Nearness And You, Duets and Improvisations" CD/LP/Track Review Nearness And You, Duets and Improvisations
by John Sharpe
Published: November 16, 2016
Read "Long After Midnight" CD/LP/Track Review Long After Midnight
by Edward Blanco
Published: June 21, 2016
Read "Closer To The Sun" CD/LP/Track Review Closer To The Sun
by Mark Corroto
Published: September 10, 2016
Read "Eight Track II" CD/LP/Track Review Eight Track II
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 4, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!