Sometimes ersatz just won’t do.
No. No. No.
Today you need the pure drop.
The real thing.
Taste and texture.
Something with the Kick that ignites your senses and gets your heart pumping fit to bust right through your ribs.
Low down Swamp Blues out of Louisiana.
Today, right this very minute, you want, hell, you need, some vintage Slim Harpo.
That’ll flat out do the job!
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Let’s Buzz a while!
Sting it then!
Slim Harpo. Slim Harpo.
Sleepy vocals and insistent, buzzing, stinging, right inside your mind Harmonica.
I sometimes debate which debut single might be said to be the greatest of all time and, of course, never reach a settled decision.
But, always, always, high in contention is Slim Harpo’s ‘ epochal debut ‘King Bee/I Got Love If You Want It’ from 1957 on Excello Records.
Produced by the Sultan Of The Swamps J. D. ‘Jay’ Miller in his Crowley Lousiana Studio.
Guitar Gable on the stinging Guitar, John ‘Fats’ Perrodin on Bass and Clarence ‘Jockey’ Étienne on the Drums – collectively the Musical Kings.
Incredibly ‘King Bee’ was the B Side .. but once heard, especially when blasting out of a Juke Joint Juke Box it is, no doubt about it, an Alpha A Side!
King Bee has the perfect combination of musical economy and impact wholly characteristic of Slim Harpo’s entire career.
In record after record he came up with winning vocals and melodies, memorable lyrics, and addictive instrumental instrumental interludes – all in under three minutes!
No wonder his records were Juke Box classics all over the South.
Slim Harpo, enormously aided by the ambience created by J D Miller, managed to cram everything essential to produce a great record into his sound and cut out everything else.
So his records cast a spell and have you coming back again and again in search of the secret of their allure.
For me, in addition to the hypnotic overall sound on King Bee it’s the moment when Slim drawls ‘Well’ before adding with a mixture of masculine menace and charm – ‘Buzz a while … sting it then’.
I’m sure it was a rare barfly who didn’t imagine himself one hell of a buzzing, stinging King Bee when this one came blasting out of the Jukebox.
Mick Jagger and all The Rolling Stones were certainly stung by the sound.
On their debut album the first track on Side 2 is none other than a faithful take on King Bee – though it would be many years before The Stones would be able, on record, to come anywhere near the relaxed authority of Slim Harpo’s sound.
Slim Harpo’s sound and pared down songs because they effortlessly combined so many Blues, Country and Swamp Pop elements proved enormously attractive to a multi racial audience at home and to neophyte Bluesmen in Britain.
Virtually every Group you might hear in The Marquee or on Eel Pie Island had a Slim Harpo Song in their set.
The Kinks before Ray Davies emerged as one of the great original Songwriters mined Slim’s catalogue and came up with a creditable version of, ‘I Got Love If You Want It’.
Of course, it’s not a patch on the original!
You got the rock ‘til your back ain’t go no bone rhythm.
You got the teasing vocal and the seductive Harmonica.
You got the I can’t believe it’s finished – I’ll have to cue it up again at once economy.
You got a great Slim Harpo Record.
Though King Bee had a big impact on fellow musicians and musica aficionados it didn’t set the cash registers ringing madly.
For that Slim, who was never a 7 days a week full time musician, had to wait until 1961 when he came up with a Song that just won everybody over – ‘Rainin’ In My Heart’.
Deservedly Top 20 R & B and Top 40 Pop In the Billboard Charts.
By now Slim’s Band had Rudy Richard on Guitar, James Johnson on Bass and Jesse Kinchen on Drums – and it’s hard when you hear them play to imagine you could ever find yourself a better Saturday Night Out Band to laugh and love and drink to!
All such Bands need a romantic swooner and they don’t come more romantically swooning than Rainin’ In My Heart.
I’ve seen fabulous live versions of this one by The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Van Morrison (the latter rarely outdone on swoon when he has a yen for it).
Van has an encyclopaedic knowledge of all aspects of The Blues and is no mean Harmonica player so it was no surprise that with Them he cut a dynamite version of Slim Harpo’s, ‘Don’t Start Crying Now’.
Now, Lordy Mama, ain’t that a blast!
From the first instant the Band lock in and you’re barrelling down the tracks until you hit the buffers less than three minutes later.
Nothing to do but get back on the train and set off again!
Slim Harpo’s biggest Hit came in 1965 with the scorching, ‘Scratch My Back’.
Get To It!
Seductive, Slinky, Sexy as all get out, aah Scratch My Back.
Scratch My Back.
Nothing as satisfying as an Itch that gets well and truly scratched!
Remember when I said what a great Saturday Night Band Slim Harpo had?
Well, well, well, here’s the ultimate proof.
If, ‘Shake Your Hips’ doesn’t get you up and out on the Dancefloor there’s just no hope for you.
No Hope at all.
This is pure Voodoo.
The Rolling Stones were ready to do justice to Slim’s Sound when they recorded this on their magnificent 1972 Double Album, ‘Exile On Main Street’.
Slim Harpo died, tragically young at 46, in 1970, just as he was about to tour Europe for the first time – where he would surely have been received as the Music Hero he was.
Slim Harpo Records define Swamp Blues and I will never tire of listening to The King Bee.
I’m stung every time.
I’ll leave you with a valedictory ballad that cuts like a scalpel to the heart.
Oh Slim, you sure were a Good Thing.
A very Good Thing indeed.
I thoroughly recommend ‘Buzzin’ The Blues’ Bear Family’s encyclopaedic set of Slim Harpo’s recorded career which includes a wonderful live show from 1961.
Thanks due to Dave Emlen from kindakinks.com for pointing readers of his excellent site in this direction!