Little Walter — Marion Walter Jacobs — is considered by those who know about such things to be the greatest blues harmonica player who ever lived. And, if you are the greatest blues harmonica player, it figures you are the greatest harmonica player overall.
Here is some background from Biography.com. Waters, of course, refers to Muddy Waters:
At the end of a Waters recording session in 1950, Walter recorded a new track of his own, called “Juke,” and the record became a hit, launching him to a level of fame he hadn’t previously known. Over the next several years, Walter sent 14 songs to the Top 10 on the R&B charts, including “Sad Hours,” “Mean Old World,” “You Better Watch Yourself” and “My Babe.” Despite the vocal display on Walter’s records, his singing is generally overlooked, as the shadow cast by his harmonica was huge. (Continue Reading…)
There seems to be complete unanimity about who the greatest blues harmonica player was. It was Little Walter. The point is made — no debate, thank you — at All Music:
Who’s the king of all post-war blues harpists, Chicago division or otherwise? Why, the virtuosic Little Walter, without a solitary doubt. The fiery harmonica wizard took the humble mouth organ in dazzling amplified directions that were unimaginable prior to his ascendancy. His daring instrumental innovations were so fresh, startling, and ahead of their time that they sometimes sported a jazz sensibility, soaring and swooping in front of snarling guitars and swinging rhythms perfectly suited to Walter‘s pioneering flights of fancy.
This short film is from Little Walter’s posthumous induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. He died as a result of injuries received in a street fight in 1968, He was only 38 years old. Here is a nice appreciation at Culturespill.
Above is Little Walter’s “Jump” and below is “Wild About You Baby.” Hound Dog Taylor is the guitarist in both.
Blues Traveler was featured in a cute scene in Blues Brothers. Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd, of course) performed Rock Me Baby with the band later. He seems to be having the time of his life and plays pretty well for a non-professional.
A New York-based blues-rock quartet formed in 1988 by singer/harmonica player John Popper, guitarist Chan Kinchla, bassist Bobby Sheehan, and drummer Brendan Hill, Blues Traveler were part of a revival of the extended jamming style of ’60s and ’70s groups like the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin. Signed to A&M, they released their first album, Blues Traveler, in May 1990 and followed it with Travelers & Thieves in September 1991. Popper was in a serious car accident in 1992, leaving him unable to perform for a number of months. Fortunately, he recovered, yet he still had to perform in a wheelchair for a period of time. In April 1993, Blues Traveler released their third album, Save His Soul, which became the band’s first to make the Top 100. (Continue Reading…)
Rolling Stone offers more:
Like Phish and Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler emerged in the early 1990s as part of a new vanguard of jam bands in the tradition of the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers. Early on, the band’s reputation was built on relentless touring, marathon sets, and the explosive harmonica solos of oversized frontman John Popper. (Continue Reading…)
There is no reason to link to a dull profile or biography of Charley Patton when the story is told by R. Crumb, the iconic, eccentric cartoonist responsible for Zap Comix and Fritz the Cat. Clearly, Crumb used the photo above and below for the image in the first panel of the graphic bio.
Crumb also is a musician with an interest in early American music. Here is the rest of the graphic bio. Above is Patton’s Shake It and Break It. Below is Big Jim, Part 1. Big Jim, Part 2 — which apparently is rare — is here. The recording is poor. One comment rightly pointed out that the song sounds like Skip James’ Crow Jane.
I had the opportunity to see David Lindley perform last weekend through a very nice invitation by a couple of friends. Lindley was eccentric, brought a wide variety of string instruments with him and is immensely talented. He seemed to be upset that the 1960s ended, but also appeared to have adjusted quite well to the new millennium.
As the first paragraph of his AllMusic profile suggests, Lindley certainly comes out well if he is judged by the company he keeps:
David Lindley is the consummate musician’s musician. A much-respected session player, Lindley has added his melodic string playing to albums by a lengthy list of artists, including Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt, Rory Block, Ry Cooder, Warren Zevon, Terry Reid, David Blue, James Taylor, David Crosby, and Graham Nash. From 1971 until 1981, Lindley played a guiding role on Jackson Browne’s recordings and concert performances. Lindley’s eclectic approach provided the foundation for his own bands, Kaleidoscope (1967 — 1970) and El Rayo X (1981 — 1990). (Continue Reading…)
One of the instruments he had with him was an oud, which is an antecedent of the lute. He also brought what looked like a rather bulky acoustic guitar. The bulkiness was due to the fact that the neck of the guitar wasn’t solid. Instead, the cavity in the body continued through the top of the neck.
Above is Mercury Blues, performed with Jackson Browne. (If you like car songs, check out Deuce and a Quarter, performed by Levon Helm, Keith Richards, Scotty Moore and other notables.) There are several very good and high quality videos from the same concert on YouTube, including Running on Empty and Take It Easy. I recommend them. Below is King of the Bed.
Here is a rather odd line from Wikipedia’s bio of Leon Redbone:
According to the Toronto Star report in the 1980s, his birth name is Dickran Gobalian, he came to Canada from Cyprus in the mid-1960s and changed his name via Ontario, Change of Name Act. (Continue Reading…)
For some reason, it doesn’t seem surprising. I never really knew if Redbone was on the level. He is remarkably talented, but I never quite bought the shtick. But the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter.
Jon Niccum writes an engaging bio at Redbone’s site which, again unsurprisingly, doesn’t say anything about Redbone himself:
The careers of performers who reside in the limelight are usually short-lived and over-overexposed. So it’s refreshing to encounter Leon Redbone, who has for decades remained so musically resonant and personally elusive. Though his iconic guise of white fedora, jacket and sunglasses has been thoroughly satirized (anybody remember the “Leon Redbone workout” Far Side cartoon?), it’s easy to overlook what a genuinely gifted artist he remains – a role he inevitably tries to downplay.
“In some ways I’ve always been complacent in my approach to music,” Redbone says. “So in some ways maybe I’m the pure definition of consistent.”
At the core of his initial calling was the desire to simply honor songs from the past – a waltz with bygone days that established him as sole curator of the museum of 20th century music. Over the course of his 30+ year, 15+ album career, the bard has continued his love affair with tunes from the turn-of-the-century (as in the second-to-last century), flapper-era radio ditties, Depression-spawned ragtime and World War II folk-jazz. (Continue Reading…)
There isn’t a great deal of good video of Leon Redbone, but the 1991 clip from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson is excellent. Redbone performs Up a Lazy River and Mr. Jelly Roll Baker. The guy — whoever he really is — is very talented. Looking that relaxed and seeming to do so little as he does so much is unique. In a way, it’s reminiscent of Willie Nelson.
Check out the slide guitar player about halfway through the second song.
This weekend was the fourth time that Sonny Landreth played at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival. His name can get lost amid the megastars that Clapton brings out. But it is no wonder that he gets invited.
Wikipedia gets uncharacteristically technical in its entry on Landreth:
Landreth is best known for his slide playing, having developed a technique where he also frets notes and plays chords and chord fragments behind the slide while he plays. Landreth plays with the slide on his little finger, so that his other fingers have more room to fret behind the slide. He’s also known for his right-hand technique, which involves tapping, slapping, and picking strings, using all of the fingers on his right hand. He wears a special thumb pick/ flat pick hybrid on his thumb so he can bear down on a pick while simultaneously using his finger style technique for slide.
Sonny Landreth is known for his use of Fender Stratocaster guitars and Dumble Amplifiers. He is also known to use Demeter and Fender amplifiers on occasion. Landreth uses Jim Dunlop 215 heavy glass slides and Dunlop Herco flat thumb picks. His guitars are fitted with DiMarzio and Lindy Fralin pickups, a special Suhr back plate system, and D’Addario medium nickel wound strings gauges 0.13 – 0.56. (Continue Reading…)
About.com leads with the Clapton connection:
No less an authority than the legendary Eric Clapton has called slide guitarist Sonny Landreth “the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced.” During a career that has spanned four decades, Landreth has earned a well-deserved reputation as a gifted slide guitarist, whose unique playing style mixes traditional slide with the unconventional technique of fretting the strings behind the slide. Throw in Landreth’s songwriting skills, and you have an exciting and original artist whose work plumbs the depth of roots-rock and swamp-blues. (Continue Reading…)
Above is Zydeco Shuffle and below is Z Rider.
Odetta was an influential singer in the 1960s folk/protest movement era. Here is how Wikipedia starts its profile:
Odetta Holmes (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008), known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a civil and human rights activist, often referred to[by whom?] as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”. Her musical repertoire consisted largely of American folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals. An important figure in the American folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s, she was influential to many of the key figures of the folk-revival of that time, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mavis Staples, and Janis Joplin. Time included her song “Take This Hammer” on its list of the All-Time 100 Songs, stating that “Rosa Parks was her No. 1 fan, and Martin Luther King Jr. called her the queen of American folk music.” (Continue Reading…)
Above is This Little Light of Mine and below is Glory, Hallelujah.