Monday, August 29, 2016

HARP ATTACK! The Origins of a Phenomenon by Karla Darocas

The harmonica has a lengthy and respected tradition in blues music, and its role as a lead instrument is second only to the guitar in blues history.

From the earliest days of the Mississippi Delta blues, when traveling bluesmen would tuck a "mouth harp" in their pocket and grab a train, through the 1950s when giants like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson brought new popularity for the instrument, to 1960s-era trailblazers like Junior Wells and Paul Butterfield, the harmonica has become a mainstay in the blues tradition world-wide.

AND - Long before Costa Blanca Blues created the tradition of bringing together the top blues harmonica players of this region together for a dueling showdown of talents, there was an American musical recording.

Harp Attack! the CD was the result of four recording sessions that brought together the best blowing legends of the blues scene together in 1990. These monster performers were James Cotton, Junior Wells, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch.

While Cotton and Wells were both big box office hits by 1990, Bell was less well-known but no less respected by blues aficionados. Branch, on the other hand was the "kid" of the gang. He had grown up listening to, and learning from the music of the others.

The challenge for Alligator Recorders owner Bruce Iglauer was to bring these harmonica players together in one setting. Unlike guitars jamming together, harmonicas are sol instruments and the concept of chording and rhythm isn't involved hence the evolution of "dueling".

The perfect showcase to all of these performers talents is the opening track on Harp Attack! "Down Home Blues," gets everyone into their grooves and spotlight.

The seasoned pro - James Cotton sings the first verse, and delivers a down-home, delicate flowing harp solo before handing it over to youngster Billy Branch. Branch blows up some ripping high riding notes and croons out some lyrics.

Then Wells, who again is a seasoned singer belts out his verse before launching into his amazing solo.

Bell then delivers his smokin' vocals and a red-hot solo before Cotton, Wells, and Branch play the song out.

Each harpist provides a unique tone and viewpoint to their solo, giving the song the feel of an extended blues jam as they riff on top of Lucky Peterson's piano and Michael Coleman's subtle six-string fills.


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