Blues Shock – Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues

A crazy little feeling called.. blues shock

Regular visitors to Harp Surgery will know we’re huge fans of Billy BranchThis weekend we look forward to catching him live at the annual Blues Festival in Chicago’s Grant Park. A stunning performer and renowned blues recording artist for over forty years, Billy has a knack for reigniting the blues, then blasting it clean into the new year. Given the chance, you’d be crazy to miss him on the big stage, but Blues Shock iof course you can also enjoy his rich back catalogue of recorded material from the comfort of your own back porch.

For the unacquainted, the best point of embarkation is probably the Harp Attack album recorded in 1990 with Junior Wells, James Cotton and Carey Bell. It’s an explicit illustration of Billy’s roots. From here, check out Billy’s personal favourite, Mississippi Flashback from 1992, when he emerged with his own band, Sons of Blues. Then our own favourites from 1995 The Blues Keep Following Me Around and 1999 Satisfy Me. You’ll be hard pressed to find a collection more evocative of contemporary electric Chicago blues. (more…)

Raw Blues – Will Wilde

Raw Blues album coverI just wanna be your play thing

Will Wilde’s latest album is out now and he’s touring it in Germany next month. Brits can catch the full band at The Hayling Island Blues Weekend in January 2014.  Should you go see him? Should you buy the album? Should you buy the t-shirt?

Yes if you want to witness a young blues artist in his prime, delivering his music with every last ounce of passion. Yes if you’re looking for blues as dirty as engine oil on your jeans. And yes if you’re looking for something to go with your jeans. (more…)

Goin’ To The Church – ‘King King’ Revisited

Came home with her eyes on fire

Dear reader, indulge us in a moment of unadulterated nostalgia, courtesy of our very dear friend, The Riverboat Captain. Bandanas and bullet mics at the ready..

King King was a former Chinese restaurant on the north west corner of 6th and La Brea in Hancock Park. In the early 90s, Monday night regulars The Red Devils staked their claim to be Los Angeles’ biggest bar band, drawing in city bluesheads and celebrity scenesters alike with their raw, straight-ahead juke joint sound. (more…)

It’s Called a Heart – Marli Harwood

Who plays harmonica on It’s Called A Heart?

It was a typical Friday down at the Harp Surgery. A pile of letters in the Good Doctor’s in-tray, a stack of reed plates awaiting attention, a half-finished cup of tea on the desk and the phone ringing off the hook. Suddenly the Doc’s ears pricked up. 

Through the hubbub his attention was drawn to a song on the radio which, unless his senses deceived him, had a subtle hint of harp in the mix. He attacked the volume dial, picked up his tea cup and tapped along with a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer. (more…)

Jason Ricci Needs Help

My, what a good time for an album review

Writing about Jason Ricci has been on my agenda more or less since I started blogging on the Harp Surgery. It’s odd, really, that he doesn’t get much airtime here, considering he’s one of the most phenomenal players alive AND his unsolicited praise adorns our sidebar. In fact, the first gig review Wilf ever did for this website was Jason Ricci but that was years ago. It’s high-time we checked in on him again.

So today I’m finally going to review Jason’s album, Done with the Devil. What finally got me off the couch (figuratively anyway) was the news that he’s had a bad run of luck recently. We saw reports in June, and a great deal of speculation, that there had been some reshuffles in, or departures from, his (very very good) band, New Blood – and that all engagements were on hold ‘til August. On top of that his website is down, he’s in hospital with a punctured lung and no health insurance, and a series of financial calamities seem to have come calling at just the wrong time.

And because Jason Ricci is to 21st century harmonica what sliced bread was to sandwiches, I’ll make a suggestion of what you can do to help. (more…)

Learn How (Not) To Play Harmonica

Hey Negrita’s harmonica player teaches our Apprentice a lesson about tasteful playing

Some time back I got my hands on this acoustic single, “Burn The Whole Place Down” by the British country blues band Hey Negrita, which features my friend Will “Captain Bliss” Greener on harmonica. I’ve mentioned Captain Bliss once or twice here, as his approach to harmonica has taught me a great deal – without really showing me too many riffs and licks, if you catch my meaning.

Perhaps you already see why I thought it was worth consideration. First of all, it’s just a damned catchy song. But I believe there also are (at least) two lessons to be learned in their approach to this performance, and in Will’s contribution to it.

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Our First-Ever Blues Harp Albums (Part 3)

In the final installment of the albums that first got us hooked on blues harp, The Captain picks out.. a blues concept album??

The Captain’s choice:
One night way back in 1991, listening to Paul Jones’ blues show on BBC Radio 2, a track sneaked out of the speakers, lodged itself in my brain and wouldn’t go away. The low hum of a vintage slide guitar, sensitive bass notes, and a brush-powered shuffle with the kind of deep, rich, effortless harmonica tone it taks half a lifetime to achieve.

The James Harman Band - Do Not DisturbThe song was ‘Stranger Blues‘ from ‘Do Not Disturb’, the Black Top Records debut of the James Harman Band.

Before I describe it, an admission. Having been asked to write about my ideal harmonica starter pack, or an album that will convert sceptics.. well, I couldn’t say 100% that it’s either. It’s a (gulp) concept album, with a loose theme of the trials and tribulations of touring and being in a band. It’s a ‘band’ album.. the variety of rhythms and sounds are effectively bound together and presented as a great blues record by a group of musicians who really know what they are doing. It DOES have harmonica (how could it not, with one of the West Coast’s leading harmonica exponents at the helm?) but it’s not a harmonica album per se. It IS, however, in my opinion, essential.

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Our First-Ever Blues Harp Albums (Part 2)

As we review the albums that first got us hooked on blues harp, The Good Doctor tries to pick out his all-time favourite harmonica album from his days as a beginner.

The Good Doctor’s choice:
When she was a pre-schooler, I used to joke that my eldest daughter was the epitome of indecision. Presented with two options, she would innocently substitute ‘either or’ with ‘and’. Bargaining was fruitless. Consequently I developed my own circus act, flipping pancakes and toasting waffles simultaneously.

I have since learned that, given the opportunity of two best options, ‘either or’ is quite simply an unfair question. So I am taking a leaf from my daughter’s book and, free of compunction, I have to name two favourite albums. In the frying pan we have Girls Go Wild by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, while under the grill we have Live at The Marquee by 9 Below Zero. No amount of balloon debating will change my mind.

As a teenager, both these albums had me air-harping in front of the bedroom mirror. Nothing else mattered. Kim Wilson and Mark Feltham were my surrogate blues harp mentors. Real-life harp tutors did not exist in 1980 suburban England. There was Tony ‘Little Sun’ Glover’s now famous reference manual, but we had no Youtube or DVD. We had to engage our ears and our imagination, take a deep breath and figure it all out by ourselves. Which is another reason why these two albums rarely left the turntable. While they were a joy to listen to, I was also trying to copy and learn from them. (more…)

Our First-Ever Blues Harp Albums (Part 1)

Which record got you hooked on blues harmonica? This week the Harp Surgery team goes back to Original Spin…

Elwood’s choice:

I’ll never forget the day I decided to take up blues harmonica. I was 18 years old, doing a crappy internship in a run-down part of the most boring town in England, and I decided to go shopping for music in my lunch hour. I can’t remember where I found the CD, but I do remember it just jumped right out of the shelf at me: Blue Skies, by some soulful-looking fellow named Muddy Waters.

The first track was ‘Mannish Boy’. I don’t recall the first listening per se, and yet I know exactly how it must have felt, because this bellowing, ball-tightening number still sends giant surges of electricity down the ole tendons. With Muddy on vocals, Willie Big Eyes Smith on drums, Bob Margolin on guitar and Johnny Winter on slide, the track’s signature riff has James Cotton on harp. I’d never heard of James Cotton, but that electric riff came shredding through my earphones like demonic buzz-saws being shot outta Satan’s crossbow.

I was hooked. (more…)