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Players: Pioneers in Blues Harp

Art- Players These players from the 1960's and earlier, paved the way for all modern blues harmonica. Almost all styles of diatonic blues harmonica today can be traced back to playing by these men. Visit our Harmonica Store to purchase recommended blues instruction books, DVDs, and related items.

Sonny Boy Williamson I
"Sonny Boy made the harp the lead instrument in the blues and his first (May1937) recordings were in country style. He is considered as one of most important and creative blues performers to emerge during the mid-to late 1930's."

Sonny Boy Williamson II
"Sonny Boy Williamson II was an enigma. One of the most influential blues artists of all time, he was so disdainful of interviewers that next to nothing has been known about his early life. Even his real name and date of birth remained elusive, beyond the fact that he variously called himself Aleck "Rice" Miller, Willie Williams, "Little Boy Blue" and "The Goat" and gave birth dates between 1893 and 1909."

Little Walter
"Little Walter could make his harp sound like a tenor sax, he was instrumental in defining the sound that is now known as Chicago blues harp. Singer, composer, bandleader and peerless harmonica virtuoso, Little Walter was unquestionably the single finest blues artist to have been produced by the post war Chicago blues movement."

Big Walter Horton
"Walter Horton was considered by peers and fans alike to be a genius of the blues harmonica. He created a unique, fluid style that fused blues feeling with an uplifting jazzlike tone. The beauty that he created through his music was in striking contrast to the troubled life he lived."

Sonny Terry
"Whooping and wailing like a man possessed, Sonny Terry drew listeners into a sultry musical world populated with hot headed women and worried men. Though he often employed an ethereal falsetto voice, he was also capable of unleashing hair-raising hollers. His harmonica style was similarly compelling. The North Carolina-born legend would vocalize through his harp, thus intensifying the plaintive moan of the instrument."

Jimmy Reed
"Jimmy Reed was born September 26, 1925 in Dunleith, Mississippi. It is this beginning that provided the exposure to the Blues. His tools for the blues were a Harmonica, Guitar and his pleading, boasting, chuckling or threatening voice. Reed's simple but evocative sound of walking bass lines mixed with high and slow harp did develop that unique, stacatto style, a blowing style with a lot less suck than someone such as Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson."

DeFord Bailey
"If you asked people who they thought the first star of the Grand Ole Opry was, they'd probably name stars like Uncle Dave Macon, or even Jimmie Rodgers. But the actual answer is none other than legendary 'Harmonica Wizard,' DeFord Bailey."

James Cotton
"James Cotton is one of the best-known blues harmonica musicians in the world, and certainly one of the best of the modern Chicago blues stylists, recognized for the power and precision of his playing." More James Cotton.

Paul Butterfield
"In the 1960's in the blues clubs on Chicago's south side, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was setting off the first depth charges of what would come to be a worldwide blues explosion. Its main role model was the reigning Hoochie Coochie Man himself, Muddy Waters."

Junior Wells
"If the harmonica is to blues what the saxaphone is to jazz, then Junior Wells is a post-bebop legend and one of the better players of the blues. He was along with James Cotton the last of a generation that grew out of Chicago in the late 40's and early 50's, when the blues scene featured such notables as John Lee Williamson and Rice Miller, Little Walter and Walter Horton."

John Mayall
"Mayall's bands have provided firm and amazingly fertile grounding for many stellar musicians, allowing them to give their creative stamp and push harder at the ever-shifting perimeters of the blues. Eric Clapton, John McVie, Aynsley Dunbar, Peter Green and Mick Taylor are just some of the stars to have played in Mayall's Bluesbreakers."

Charlie Musselwhite
Musselwhite masters the old Chicago tradition and at the same time experiments like no one else does. Understanding what position he plays on certain tunes is an interesting challenge! This site is the new official one and features lots of info, soundbytes, and goodies to purchase.

George "Harmonica" Smith
"Although Marion Jacobs, Aleck Miller, and Walter Horton are widely regarded as the chief architects of post-war blues harmonica, any list would be remiss without George "Harmonica" Smith. Like his contemporaries, Smith was a master of the instrument and left behind a legacy that still echoes in the playing of several harmonica players of the west-coast school; a school built in large part by the man himself."

Howlin' Wolf (aka Chester Arthur Burnett)
"The Wolf began playing "folk blues" acoustic music when he got his first guitar in 1928. Influences include Charlie Patton and Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). Although he began in an acoustic style, he is best known for his loud and boisterous electric blues."

Slim Harpo (James Moore)
"Probably the leading practitioner of "swamp blues". His songs are typically slow, loping blues with a very soulful feeling. His harp playing was simple but very effective. He wrote most of his own material, and his songs have been covered frequently by everyone from the Rolling Stones (I'm a King Bee) to the Fabulous Thunderbirds (Rainin' in my heart and others)."

Taj Mahal
"For more than 30 years, Taj Mahal has delighted fans with his effortless and eclectic blending of musical styles. He is a master of finger-picking country blues, bluegrass banjo, slide guitar, southern blues, soul, and R&B, reggae, music of Hawaii, the Caribbean, and beyond, and more. His influences and abilities are seemingly endless and his energy to share and perform is equally as deep."

Lazy Lester
"I never get in a hurry; I'm never in a hurry," says Leslie Johnson of why he is called Lazy Lester during a phone interview from his home in Michigan. In 1957 he became Lazy Lester during a recording session with Lightnin' Slim. Record producer Jay Miller gave him the name after noticing his slow, lazy-like harmonica style."

Tony "Little Sun" Glover
"Tony Glover has been a music writer and performing musician since 1962. In the mid-sixties, he recorded and toured as part of the folk-blues trio, Koerner, Ray & Glover, with five seminal albums released by Elecktra. He authored three books on harmonica instruction, and has written countless feature articles, book and record reviews for publications such as Creem and Rolling Stone."

Carey Bell
"One of Chicago's defining harpists (though often overshadowed by legends like Junior Wells)... Born in Macon, Mississippi on November 14, 1936, Bell moved to Chicago in 1956 with his godfather, respected blues and country and western pianist Lovie Lee. After having taught himself to play harmonica at eight years old, he started taking lessons from Little Walter, and met Honeyboy Edwards. He remains an eloquent harpist with a commanding voice." More Carey Bell.

Little Sonny
"Born Aaron Willis in Greensboro, Alabama, "Sonny" (His mom's nickname for him) had been playing harmonica since he was a child. Seeing Sonny Boy Williamson preform in a Detroit bar in 1953, Willis saw his destiny as a musician."


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SAMPLE VIDEO:  Harmonica Instruction for Beginners
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A simple playing tip to speed up your movement and add accuracy in single notes.
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Dave gives a general overview of what you can obtain from both diatonic and chromatic harmonicas in regards to harmonica chords.
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In this excerpt, Dave discusses some of the reasons for playing in either 1st Position or 2nd Position.

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SAMPLE VIDEO:  Advanced Harmonica Instruction
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Dave explains how the concept of "Follow Through", as found in many sports, also applies directly to your breathing and airflow.
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Dave explains the value of not just learning a scale up and down, but dividing it into smaller "bite-size" chunks, which can then be used as blues riffs.
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Dave demonstrates how you can use the "Tonguing" technique to create interesting sounds such as the "Chicken Call".



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