Slim Harpo : The King Bee – Swamp Blues Superstar!

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.

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.

 

 

Notes :

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!

Little Walter : 50 Years Dead but he will never be gone! The King of the Blues Harmonica

Little Walter died 50 years ago in tragic circumstances.

The term irreplaceable is too often used – in the case of Little Walter no other term will do.

Since his untimely death many fine musicians have been inspired by the majesty of his Sound and in consequence produced superb records.

None have matched Walter’s. No one ever will.

In his honour I present again The Immortal Jukebox tribute to the greatest Blues Harmonica Player of all time.

You gotta say Little Walter invented the blues harmonica .. No one had that sound before him. No one could make the thing cry like a baby and moan like a woman.

No one could put pain into the harp and have it come out so pretty. No one understood that the harmonica – just as much as a trumpet, a trombone or a saxophone – could have have a sound that would drop you in your tracks!’. (Buddy Guy)

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Some people have just got it.

And, by it, I mean IT – the mojo that definitively separates the great from the very good and the merely good.

From the sidelines or from the stalls we can often recognise, without expert knowledge ourselves, some invisible aura that marks out the special one, the summiteer, from those still scrambling up Mount Parnuss’ lesser slopes.

It’s not necessary to have been a Major League Baseball player to have recognised, on first sight, that Ted Williams was a great hitter or that Sandy Koufax was the pitcher you’d want pitching for you if your life was at stake.

Intensive years of conservatoire schooling are not needed to know, for certain, that Maria Callas had a gift for dramatic singing that is beyond compare or that Glenn Gould as he hunched over the keyboard and played Bach’s divine music was some kind of angel himself.

Anyone, after watching even one round of Muhammad Ali boxing in his peerless prime would in head shaking wonder have had to exclaim, ‘There’s never been anyone like him!’.

Little Walter (Jacobs) a bluesman and instrumentalist of undoubted genius and the subject of today’s Immortal Jukebox post is assuredly one of that elect company.

With the certainty that advancing age brings, I confidently declare that there never will be a harmonica player to equal, let alone out do, Little Walter for drive, flair, command, show-stopping technical skill and outrageously imaginative musical daring.

Listen to the brilliance of his playing on, ‘Juke’ his first solo 45 from 1952, recorded with his colleagues in Chicago blues finest ever outfit – The Muddy Waters band.

I believe the proper expression after bearing that is, ‘Lord, Have Mercy!’.

This is Little Walter stepping up the stage, front and centre, to announce to his fellow musicians and the wider world that he was the new royal ruler of the blues harmonica.

Sure, on his way up he had been influenced by the two blues harpists named Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Walter Horton. He had arrived in Chicago as WW2 ended by way of his birthplace, Marksville Louisiana, New Orleans, Helena Arkansas, Memphis and St Louis – all the while soaking up music and developing his awesome technique.

It is clear that he had also been listening intently to thrusting saxophonists like Big Jay McNeely in addition to harp masters. But, then Walter took everything he had learned and at the warp speed of his imagination, moved into interstellar overdrive, taking the humble harmonica into uncharted territory. The territory all subsequent blues harmonica players live in.

Juke, recorded at the end of a Muddy Waters session for Chess subsidiary, Checker Records, became an enormous hit. It was biggest seller the label had up to that point and the first (and still only) harmonica led instrumental to top the R&B charts.

Walter and the commercially savvy Chess Brothers realised that while Walter should remain an essential part of the Muddy Waters sound he now needed to have his own band, The Jukes, for recording and touring purposes.

Walter was obviously the star of the show but he was fortunate to have such alert and sympathetic sidemen as guitarists, Louis and David Myers and drummer Fred Below.

Together in the period 1952 to 1958 they had 14 top ten R&B chart successes – records that are rightly regarded as blues classics. The general pattern was for each 45 to feature an instrumental allowing Walter to swoop and soar wherever his seemingly unlimited imagination took him coupled with a tough, street wise vocal side.

Walter was not a great singer but he could give a lyric a dramatic authority that lodged a song deep into your memory. It’s hard to believe that any set of sides were ever more perfectly engineered to blast out of South Side Chicago Jukeboxes!

On, ‘the threatening ‘You Better Watch Yourself’ below his harmonica doubles as a switchblade slicing the air powered by intoxicant fouled male bravado.

Or perhaps that should be doubles as a, ‘Saturday Night Special’ handgun waved to all and sundry in the joint as a signal – a declaration, that, ‘look out brothers and sisters! I’m a mean, mean dude and you had best not get in my way or mess with MY woman’.

More evidence here of Walter’s ability not simply to plug in to use the power of electricity to add volume to his harmonica but his understanding that testing the limits of the amplifiers could produce feedback and other distorting effects which he could harness to produce ever more individual and wondrous sounds.

There was something of the sorcerer about Walter – casting mysterious musical spells from a book unreadable to all but him.

Walter was a genius. He was also mean, moody and unreliable though he could be charming when he wanted to. Easily slighted, especially when drunk (and he was rarely without a bottle to hand) he was always one step, one sideways look, away from a fight.

His hungry indulgence in booze and drugs inevitably wore down his body and though his talent was immense it could not survive in its true glory beyond the late 1950s given the sustained onslaught of self abuse he visited upon it.

But when he was in his prime there was no one in Chicago or the whole wide world to touch him!

Walter, certain in his mastery of his instrument could play at the fastest tempos to whip an audience into a frenzy. But, like all the great musicians, he could exercise a mesmeric hold on his listeners playing at very slow tempo.

Listen to him on, ‘Quarter To Twelve’ sounding like some orchestral nocturnal spectre briefly visiting this material world to pass on some vital message.

I hear many things in the harmonica sounds of Little Walter.

I hear the cry and moan Buddy Guy heard.

I hear air renting sobs of pain, sly seduction, bitter rage – sometimes suppressed sometimes inescapably aimed right between our eyes and ears.

I hear terror and exultation, anxiety and ambition, lust, longing, and oceans of loss. Oceans of loss.

I hear a proud and angry grown man and a bewildered, bereft child.

I hear all the swirling sea of human emotions we are heir to drawn from the very air and brought to shining dramatic life through Walter’s miraculous sound.

A last treat – here he is, courtesy of the pen of blues godfather WIllie Dixon, with what has become a blues standard, ‘My Babe’.

What a huge sound! No fooling, this is Chicago blues at its best – this is the stuff of life.

Goodnight Walter.

May your story be heard and your tears dried.

You gave us treasure from your magnificent gifts.

Your Sound will never die.

Notes

The Chess catalogue has zig zagged through many incarnations for reissue purposes with complications appearing and disappearing with frustrating frequency.

The compilation I listen to most is the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection. You could also investigate the sets from the Proper and Jasmine labels.

A record not to miss is, ‘The Blues World of Little Walter’ on blues specialist label Delmark. This is a quartet outing with Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Leroy Foster. Their 1950 version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin” will send shivers through your whole being.

Randy Newman : I Think It’s Going To Rain Today

Some days, some nights, Life can be a struggle.

Seems like Easy is getting Harder every day.

Every day.

High water rising everywhere.

Everywhere.

All the hedges blown down – strewn along the road.

You come naked and crying into the world and that’s how you’ll go out.

You inherit a world of trouble.

Flames rise up to scorch the sky.

Every morning you wonder how you’ll get through the hours until the darkness comes and you can somehow sleep.

Every night you wonder how you’ll get through the hours until you can find the energy to face the light for another day.

Nothing to be done.

Seems like your soul has hardened to steel.

Pale dead Moon.

Not even the murmur of a prayer.

Pink, pink, pink. pink Moon.

Ravens blackening the sky.

High water everywhere.

Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles.

Nothing at the end of the rainbow.

All the women came and went.

Not even the murmur of a prayer.

Two riders.

High water everywhere.

Going down three times.

Coming up twice.

I think it’s going to rain today.

You must say words as long as there are any.

Must go on.

Can’t go on.

Go on.

I  think it’s going to rain today.

 

 

 

Mary Chapin Carpenter : When Halley Came To Jackson

‘It’s not every night a comet comes around’

The current President of France Emmanuel Macron is a man, as you might expect, of Gallic flair and charm as well as vaulting ambition.

Un homme pour Le Grand Geste.

So when he visits other World leaders and presents a gift it’s not going to be a silver salver!

When he went to China Emmanuel gave his host a throroughbred Horse – Vesuvius.

And now, in a master stroke of diplomacy, he has decided to ‘cement’ relations between France and The United Kingdom by loaning us the priceless artwork The Bayeux Tapestry (which just happens to commemorate the successful Norman invasion of England in 1066!).

I will be at the head of the queue to see the Tapestry because it is a great work of art and craft with immense historical interest and significance.

Not least be because it includes one of the first representations of the appearance of Halley’s Comet.

Halley's Comet of 1066, Bayeux Tapestry Stock Photo

For hundreds of thousands of years a bit of heaven has orbited our Solar System. Shooting across the sky – bright as a torch to the naked eye here on Earth about every 80 years or so.

The Comet has been a part of recorded human experience since 467 or 240 BC depending upon which academic authority you rely.

Lets just say Humankind has been looking up into the heavens for a very long time and wondering what sign or portent the appearance of Halley’s Comet could signify.

In 1066 for England’s King Harold – defeat in battle and  death.

For William of Normandy – conquest and a Crown.

When it appeared in 1301 the great artist Giotto will have seen it blazing in the sky. It is surely Halley’s Comet that he used as the model for the Star over Bethlehem in his exquisite Nativity Of 1305.

 

Image result for giotto adoration magi 1305

Just as artists have always looked into the night sky for inspiration so too have scientists and astronomers avid to map the heavens, predict orbits and understand the mathematical keys to the music of the spheres.

Enter astronomer, geophysicist, meteorologist, physicist and mathematician Edmund Halley (1656 – 1742).

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Halley would make important contributions in many fields of science and win numerous honours including the Posts of Astronomer Royal and Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford.

Yet, his immortality in the human imagination will undoubtedly rest on his correct calculation, published in 1705, of the periodic orbit of the comet now named after him.

As predicted by Halley the comet reappeared in 1758 some 16 years after his own death.

And, every 74-79 years it comes around again.

It comes around again reminding us of the immensity of the Universe and our small place in it.

When it came around in 1910 it shone above two great American writers – Mark Twain and Eudora Welty.

Twain managed to be one of those fortunate enough to be alive for two appearances of Halley’s Comet as he was born in 1835 and died in April 1910. Characteristically, Twain wrote, ‘It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet’.

As Twain went out Eudora Welty came in (she was born in April 1909).

In her wonderfully lyrical book, ‘One Writer’s Beginnings’ (get the Audio Book On CD she reads herself!) she makes reference to being a babe taken to the window in her Father’s  arms when Halley’s Comet loomed above her native Jackson Mississippi in 1910.

Among the admiring readers of that Book was Mary Chapin Carpenter one of the most highly literate and emotionally intelligent songwriters of our time.

Mary is a writer who ponders deeply the dizzy ups and downs of life’s carousel before capturing our situations in songs filled with feeling, wit and craft.

Her imagination caught by Eudora’s luminous prose she wrote a luminous, deeply touching, work of her own in, ‘Halley Came to Jackson’.

 

 

Mary’s melody and lyric are tenderly poetic.

Her vocal is both wistful and heartfelt while Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle reels in the passing years for all of us.

There is always flesh and blood humanity in Mary’s songs; a present sense of the social, moral, imaginative and emotional plenitude every life is heir to.

Daddy in the song will only get to see Halley fly this one time.

This one time.

Aware, as parents always hauntingly are, of the fleeting span of life we have allotted to us here he tenderly holds his infant daughter in his arms and prays that when Halley comes around again that, though he will be long gone, she will look up into the heavens and see it bright as a torch above Jackson again.

And to that I say Amen .. Amen .. Amen.

Halley is due again in 2061.

None of us can know what joys and calamities will visit us between now and then.

All we can do is have Faith.  Have Hope. And Love.

Make sure when Halley comes again and the wind is still that you look up and make a wish for the ones who will survive you.

Dream a little dream of a Comet’s charms.

 

 

This Post for Stephen, Irene, Kevin, Ronan and Hugh (not forgetting Cooper) with thanks for the welcome to The Kingdom and the hospitality.

I don’t hold you responsible for the hailstorms but I do for the good fare and good cheer.

Halley comes around again in July 2061. Given my dietary and exercise regime I hope to be around to share a toast then.

If not, raise a glass for me.

 

Notes :

In addition to being a wonderful song ‘Halley Came to Jackson’ is also available as an utterly charming illustrated book by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dan Andreasen published by Harper Collins.