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.
From his body language while playing to his unique, free flowing improvisations, there is nobody like Keith Jarrett.
This is from AllMusic:
Pianist, composer, and bandleader Keith Jarrett is one of the most prolific, innovative, and iconoclastic musicians to emerge from the late 20th century. As a pianist (though that is by no means the only instrument he plays) he literally changed the conversation in jazz by introducing an entirely new aesthetic regarding solo improvisation in concert. Though capable of playing in a wide variety of styles, Jarrett is deeply grounded in the jazz tradition. He has recorded nearly 80 albums as a leader in jazz and classical music. And he has won the Down Beat Critics Poll as a pianist numerous times — including consecutively between 2001 and 2008. (Continue Reading…)
Jarrett has played for years with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Gary Peacock. NPR also offers a profile of the pianist:
Whether playing solo or in an ensemble, Jarrett has always taken improvisation to its highest degree. When playing solo, he often begins with no music or preconceived notions. His top selling 1975 album, The Koln Concerts provides ample testament to Jarrett’s prowess on the piano. Incidentally, when Jarrett improvises, he really doesn’t hear the piano. (Continue Reading…)
This website describes itself as an unofficial place to find Jarrett news. Above is “Summertime” and below is “God Save the Child.”
I am not a guitar player, but to me Furry Lewis’ technique seems unique. “Kassie Jones” is a song about a conductor, but doesn’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead song of the same — though differently spelled — name. It is quite possible that the later song was a tribute.
Wikipedia notes that Lewis was one of the first of the older African American blues players whose careers were given a second lease on life by the explosion of interest in their music in the 1960s
Smithsonian Folkways has a nice profile of Lewis. Here is the start:
Walter “Furry” Lewis (1893– 1981) personified the relaxed and intimate character of the early blues. A master of multiple guitar techniques, he was most notably an impressive bottleneck guitarist who echoed his vocal phrasings with an expressive set of sliding notes. He was able to give his performances a spontaneity, subtlety, and feeling that made him, in the words of blues historian Sam Charters, one of “only a handful of singers [of his era] with the creative ability to use the blues as an expression of personal emotion.” (Continue Reading…)
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…)
ZZ Top was offered $1 million apiece by Gillette to shave their beards for a television commercial in 1984. The good news is that both lead guitarist Billy Gibbons and bass player Dusty Hill refused.
Here is the beginning of the band’s profile at AllMusic:
ZZ Top is an American blues rock band, formed in 1969 in Houston, Texas. The band members are Billy Gibbons (vocals and guitar), Dusty Hill (bass guitar and vocals), and Frank Beard (drums). They hold the distinction of being one of the few rock bands still comprised of its original members for over 40 years, and until 2006, with the same manager/producer, Bill Ham. (Continue Reading…)
The story behind I Gotsta Get Paid (above), is interesting because of the involvement of Rick Rubin, who seems to be all over the place. The band seems open to new influences, which may be one reason the same three guys have played together for so long. From Wikipedia:
Entitled La Futura, the album is produced by Rick Rubin. The first single from the album, “I Gotsta Get Paid,” debuted in an advertising campaign for Jeremiah Weed and appears on the soundtrack of the film Battleship. The song itself is an interpretation of “25 Lighters” by Texan hip-hop DJ DMD and rappers Lil’ Keke and Fat Pat. The first four songs from La Futura debuted on June 5, 2012 on an EP called Texicali. DJ Screw was a major influence on the album as well, particularly because Gibbons and Screw both worked with the engineer G.L. Moon during the late 1990s. (Continue Reading…)
Below is La Grange, the band’s biggest hit.
B.B. King is introduced in the above clip by Jimmy Walker, of Good Times fame (Dyn-O-mite!). The song is of How Blue Can You Get? Below King sings Just a Little Bit of Love on a show hosted by David Steinberg, another 1970s/80s television comedian. David Brenner and Nipsy Russell aren’t far behind.
B.B. King, of course, is one of the most important musicians the U.S. has produced. This is the beginning of the bio at his website:
His reign as King of the Blues has been as long as that of any monarch on earth. Yet B.B. King continues to wear his crown well. At age 76, he is still light on his feet, singing and playing the blues with relentless passion. Time has no apparent effect on B.B., other than to make him more popular, more cherished, more relevant than ever. Don’t look for him in some kind of semi-retirement; look for him out on the road, playing for people, popping up in a myriad of T.V. commercials, or laying down tracks for his next album. B.B. King is as alive as the music he plays, and a grateful world can’t get enough of him. (Continue Reading…)
King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Here is part of the very well written bio at the Hall’s site:
As a guitarist, King is best-known for his single-note solos, played on a hollowbody Gibson guitar. King’s unique tone is velvety and regal, with a discernible sting. He’s known for his trilling vibrato, wicked string bends, and a judicious approach that makes every note count. Back in the early days, King nicknamed his guitar “Lucille,” as if it were a woman with whom he was having a dialogue. In fact, King regards his guitar as an extension of his voice (and vice versa). “The minute I stop singing orally,” King has noted, “I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
There have been many Lucilles over the years, and Gibson has even marketed a namesake model with King’s approval. King selected the name in the mid-Fifties after rescuing his guitar from a nightclub fire started by two men arguing over a woman. Her name? Lucille. (Continue Reading…)
Here is the beginning of Wikipedia’s profile of Room Full of Blues:
Roomful of Blues is an American blues and swing revival big band based in Rhode Island. With a recording career that spans over 40 years, they have toured worldwide and recorded many albums. Roomful of Blues, according to The Chicago Sun-Times, “Swagger, sway and swing with energy and precision”. Since 1967, the group’s blend of swing, rock and roll, jump blues, boogie-woogie and soul has earned it five Grammy Award nominations and many other accolades, including seven Blues Music Awards (with a victory as Blues Band Of The Year in 2005). Billboard called the band “a tour de force of horn-fried blues…Roomful is so tight and so right.” The Down Beat International Critics Poll has twice selected Roomful of Blues as Best Blues Band. (Continue Reading…)
AllMusic takes another tack:
Over the course of their decades-long existence, Roomful of Blues effectively became a franchise unto themselves, built more on a brand-name collective identity than on the voices of the myriad individual members who kept the band a smoothly humming machine. Describing Roomful of Blues that way, however, gives short shrift to the many accomplished musicians who have emerged from the band’s ranks over the years: guitarists Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl, organist Ron Levy, pianist Al Copley, singer Lou Ann Barton, vocalist/harmonica player Sugar Ray Norcia, and drummer Fran Christina (later of the Fabulous Thunderbirds), to name the most prominent. Plus, the band’s horn section blossomed into a renowned freelancing unit, backing countless other artists both on-stage and in the studio. They’ve evolved over the years, too; from a swinging jump blues revivalist group into expert blues historians with a handle on numerous regional variations: Texas, the West Coast, Chicago, New Orleans, Kansas City. Perhaps the best way to put it is that regardless of who was in the group, Roomful of Bluesjust kept going strong. (Continue Reading…)