There are loads of harp players that most people are familiar with. The harp is kind of a specialized instrument, so it does tend to stand out in a crowd. Names like Little Walter, John Popper, Sonny Boy Williamson, Rod Piazza and Junior Wells are tossed around like footballs at a tailgate bbq. Here’s a few cats I love that you may not be familiar with…
Col JD Wilkes–The Colonel is the singer and harpy for the Legendary Shack Shakers. If you know them, then you know why this cat rules. JD is a total flamethrower!
His tones are really sick and he can get down acoustic style like nobody’s business. My Dad turned me on to the album “Swampblood” by Shack Shakers a while ago and HOLY CRAP! I’ve played the title track probably about 700 times and have learned (or tried to learn) just about every lick.
(side note: I think that we played with the Legendary Shack Shakers in Holland at a blues festival many years ago. I remember this because I blew out all of my A harps, and the Colonel gladly gave me a fresh one, thus saving the day (and the FHJ set!) THANKS JD!
Jim Fitting– Jim is rad. He is one of the first “non blues” guys that I heard that made me want to pick up the harp. You would probably know him best as the harp man from the 90’s band Treat Her Right. You would know THR because it was Mark Sandman from Morphine’s first band. They had a hit song called “I think She likes me”.
I remember buying the cassette of the first album and playing it over and over. The second album “Tied to the tracks” is where this guy really destroys though (Check out the tune “Big Medicine” for proof) .
ANOTHER reason Jim rules is because he plays with the band The The. That’s him on the tune “Dogs of lust” which is one of the gnarliest harp tunes and tones ever–nuff said. Gentleman Jim Fitting even played on a record by the stoner rock band Scissorfight…HEY, thats getting into my territory Jim me lad!
(side note: In my early playing days, I was the harp player for the Detroit band Big Chief, and we did a huge outdoor festival in the D with the band Morphine. I only played one key so only had one harp and kept that in my pocket, Right before we went on I got a quarter stuck in said harp. It was like three minutes till showtime and I was really sweating. Suddenly out emerged Morphine singer and two string bassist Mark Sandman from out of the backstage shadowy deep! He whips out a tiny screwdriver, grabs my harp and instantly takes it apart like the one man pit crew on a tiny silver NASCAR! I’m standing there like a little kid with his uncle fixing a broken toy…he looks at me and says “Used to happen to Jim all the time. I’m keepin the quarter as a tip.” that was so awesome.)
Billy Branch–Billy is one of those dudes that is SO cool, and SO nice and SO socially responsible and most of all SO f*&ing good that it kinda makes me mad.
Not only does this guy kill on the harp but he also runs the “Blues in Schools Program”, a program that takes blues players to inner-city schools.
When I started playing I was pretty sure that any blues albums recorded after 1965 was shit, then I heard a handful of albums that changed my mind–Bllly’s “Mississippi Flashback” was one of them (along with albums by RL Burnside, Jr. Kimbro ect) because it really, truly rips all while keeping a legit old school blues vibe. His playing is cool because its wayyy meaner and dirtier than any other “blues” album that was released around that time and it still feels that way today.
More to come…