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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Junior Parker, SBII and Big Walter

Junior Parker has slipped into blues obscurity, dead now for 34 years. He came from Clarksdale, Mississippi - like so many other giants of the blues - and eventually died in Chicago of a brain tumor - he didn't live to see his 40th birthday.

JP was a singer and harmonica player. His motto was "I sing stories sad and true. I sing the blues and play harmonica. too. It is very funky." He had his first hits in the 50's, and was a bigger act than Bobby "Blue" Bland, for a while.

My friend and harmonica guru, Joe Filisko, burned a CD for me of some out-of-print Junior Parker tunes. Junior cut some great tracks during his heyday - "Funny How Time Slips Away" (I love his long conversation with his dog, Sam, between the verses); "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water;" "I Done Got Over It." He was a calm, soulful, understated musician - a major contrast to other cats who were big blues men - Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, et al.

Junior Parker's harmonica playing came from exposure to and lessons from Sonny Boy Williamson II (aka Rice Miller), an edgy dude who inspired legions of blues harp players, wannabees and posers. Sonny Boy II was out there - he stole another harmonica player's name, his vocals had a wierd, gargling thing going on during sustained notes; his harmonica snarled and spit at you. Late in his life, he toured England, where he was loved by British Blues crowd. This experience influenced him - he took to wearing a bowler hat and even effected an English accent at times.

I spent the early hours this Sunday morning on my back porch with my battered "A" Special 20 harmonica. (This is the harp that I sat on, which severely bent the cover plates. I pounded out the covers with a small ball peen hammer; I kind of like the way it looks now. It isn't very airtight, though). So I sat in the rocker on the porch and toiled away trying to perfect "Big Walter's Boogie," an intrumental tune that is a rite of passage for all blues harp players. Big Walter Horton was overshadowed by other blues musicians - he was even overshadowed by other harp players. This is ironic, since he was an amazing player - very innovative, and the tone he pulled from the little old harmonica was huge. "Big Walter Tone" is one of the many quests we blues harp players pursue. Big Walter gave tips to Little Walter Jacob and Sonny Boy Williamson II. He started recording before he was 10 years old. He had quirky musical tastes, often tossing in a cheerful version of "La Cucaracha" during his shows. He was a serious drinker. Bluesman to the core.

So I will keep plugging away at Big Walter's Boogie. I may never get it right, but it feels right to work it.


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Mr. G said...
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