Junior Wells

Blues Harp Greats

Episode 1

Episode date - September 15, 2006

How Music Changed

    Anybody can recognize how old harmonica players influenced later harmonica players, but not everybody can hear the profound effect they all had on contemporary music.

    Sonny Boy Williamson I and II (yes, there were two distinctly different people who went by the name of Sonny Boy Williamson, and they were not related – but that’s another story for another show) are the original heroes of blues harmonica, mostly through Sonny II’s affiliation with the original King Biscuit Flour Hour Program (a name that many classic rock fans will recognize for hosting live concerts). Little Walter changed the face of the instrument by blasting his harp through a distorted amplifier and frightening everybody half to death with his menacing stage presence. That combination set the standard for blues harp until this very day, but the influences of these harpists lie even deeper when you listen to the material that they introduced to our culture.

    Sonny Boy Williamson (I) gave us “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” which was subsequently made famous by Hot Tuna, The Grateful Dead, Johhny Winter, the Yardbirds and scores of others. Remember “Eyesight to the Blind,” from the Who’s “Tommy”? It was written by Sonny Boy (II). Elvis Presley’s version of “Mystery Train” might be the single most influential rock and roll recording ever! Do you know where he got it from? Little Junior, who later became famous as Junior Parker. The Rolling Stones took “I’m a King Bee” from Slim Harpo, and I hardly know where to begin when it comes to the influence of Little Walter. Besides being the most technically gifted and innovative harp player of his time, he is also credited with making the blues harp a solo instrument for the electric age. Do you recognize any of the songs that he helped to popularize? How about “Key to the Highway” (Derek & the Dominoes, for one), “My Babe” (The Animals, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Foghat) or “Mellow Down Easy” (the Black Crowes even took a stab at this one)?

    Junior Wells also has an influence that goes beyond mere name recognition. The Allman Brothers Band turned “You Don’t Love Me” into a twenty minute free-form masterpiece. His work with Buddy Guy had a profound influence on some of rock’s biggest icons, from Jimi Hendrix (“Catfish Blues”) to the Blues Brothers (“Messin’ With the Kid”). Latter day heroes of the harmonica such as Paul Butterfield, John Mayall and Charlie Musselwhite helped to popularize the instrument as a staple of contemporary rock music. From these not-so-humble beginnings, the influences spread like wildfire throughout our music culture, and you can be sure that today’s pop music would be drastically different if not for these pioneers.

    Here is a list of songs covered in today’s program, plus a few “Bonus Track” suggestions for further listening;

    1) Good Morning Schoolgirl – Sonny Boy Williamson I

    2) Eyesight to the Blind – Sonny Boy Williamson II

    3) BONUS – Cool Disposition – Sonny Boy Williamson II

    4) BONUS - Fattening Frogs for Snakes – Sonny Boy Williamson II

    5) Train Whistle Blues –Blind Boy Fuller, feat. Sonny Terry

    6) Mystery Train – Little Junior’s Blue Flames (Junior Parker)

    7) I’m a King Bee – Slim Harpo

    8) BONUS - Maxwell Street Jam – Carey Bell (from “And This Is Maxwell Street”)

    9) Baby Please Don’t Go – Muddy Waters, feat. Little Walter

    10) Juke – Little Walter

    11) BONUS - Blues with a Feeling – Little Walter

    12) BONUS – Key to the Highway – Little Walter

    13) BONUS – My Babe – Little Walter

    14) Off the Wall – Little Walter

    15) BONUS – Mellow Down Easy – Little Walter

    16) BONUS – Hay Lawdy Mama – Junior Wells

    17) You Don’t Love Me Baby – Junior Wells

    18) BONUS – Hoodoo Man Blues – Junior Wells

    19) Catfish Blues – Buddy Guy and Junior Wells

    20) BONUS – Messin’ with the Kid – Buddy Guy and Junior Wells

    21) King Biscuit Time Theme – James Cotton

    22) BONUS – Cotton Crop Blues – James Cotton

    23) I’ve Got My Mojo Working, part 1 – Muddy Waters, feat. James Cotton

    24) Born in Chicago – Paul Butterfield Blues Band

    25) BONUS – East West – Paul Butterfield Blues Band

    26) Room to Move – John Mayall

    27) BONUS – Chicken Shack – Charlie Musselwhite

    As for the artists who have been influenced, try these on for size;

    1) Good Morning Schoolgirl – The Yardbirds

    2) Good Morning Schoolgirl – The Grateful Dead

    3) Good Morning Schoolgirl – Hot Tuna

    4) Good Morning Schoolgirl – Johnny Winter

    5) Eyesight to the Blind – The Who

    6) Mystery Train – Elvis Presley

    7) Mystery Train – The Band

    8) I’m a King Bee – The Rolling Stones

    9) Baby Please Don’t Go – Van Morrison and Them

    10) Baby Please Don’t Go – Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes

    11) Key to the Highway – Derek & the Dominoes

    12) My Babe – The Animals

    13) My Babe – Foghat

    14) My Babe – The Fabulous Thunderbirds

    15) You Don’t Love Me – The Allman Brothers Band

    16) Catfish Blues – Jimi Hendrix

    17) Messin’ with the Kid – The Blues Brothers