Another real blues man has left us here in Chicago. Harmonica Khan has passed at age 70. This man was a piece of living history. He played a chugging style on the harmonica, and broke up his playing with whoops and hollers. His singing was hoarse and urgent, his face would twist into grimaces and his eyes bugged out of his head as if he were astonished at his own behavior. He played the bones, he brought a plywood panel to his gigs so he could tap dance while sitting down. He would lay on his back and honk through the harp while bicycling his legs like Lance Armstrong.
Harmonica Khan was born George Meares in 1934. He grew up in North Carolina and shuttled up to the northeast to work day jobs and nightclub gigs. He finally hit Chicago in the late 1960's. He was a regular performer at some of the great old clubs - the Trocadero on South Indiana and Pepper's on 43rd.
Harmonica Khan would get in trouble from time to time. He drank and would get into fights. He did a little time for his escapades. Then, in 1976, he killed a man during a fight in the lobby of the LaSalle Plaza Hotel; he was sentenced to 25 to 75 years. He kept playing when he was incarcerated at Stateville; he even was on a record called "Jammin' the Joint" back in 1985. He was finally paroled in 2002 and resumed his career as a blues man in Chicago.
I have seen him perform several times; he was always delightful. He lived the last few years clean - he joined the Moorish Science Temple and changed his name to Meares-El. And he was just about to break out when he died - I heard rumors that he had, or was about to get, a record deal.
Harmonica Khan lived the real blues, and he paid the price in Stateville. I am going to miss this man. Eternal peace to you, Harmonica Khan.