Friday, August 15, 2014

Weekend Listomania's Greatest Hits: Special Just Put Your Lips Together and Blow Edition

[I first posted this one in 2008(!), back when the world and this blog were barely removed from diaper-wearing, but with the sad passing this week of Lauren Bacall (nee Betty Perske -- she was a nice Jewish girl, 'natch) it seemed at least tangentially relevant, so here it is again. As is my wont, I've done some rewriting and added two new entries, just so you don't find me unduly indolent. Enjoy. -- S.S.]


By "best," we mean either in a blues or non-blues idiom, just to keep it totally wide open. And by "solo" we mean anything of any length, even if it's just a riff.

Totally arbitrary rule: Don't even try to nominate something by that fat guy from Blues Traveller. The Hendrix of the Blues Harp my ass....

Okay, that said, here's my totally top of my head Top Thirteen:

13. The White Stripes -- Hello Operator

Just because we needed something actually recorded in the 21st century.

12. Jimmy Reed -- Honest I Do

The very definition of sly concision. (Hey -- I made a couplet!!!!)

11. The Pretenders -- Middle of the Road

Chrissie Hynde -- first she growls, then she makes her harp sound like a stray cat in heat. Can we just admit she's the greatest female rocker who ever was or will be and be done with it already?

10. The Prostitutes -- Down Below

A great New York City rock band in the tradition of the Velvets and the Heartbreakers, and some of the most fabulously blues-wailing harp (courtesy of NYC fixture Jon Paris) on a sort of Doors-Meet-the- Smithereens song you'll ever hear.

Incidentally, Prostitutes bass player Steve Early, the guy on the left in the picture, is also my favorite bartender of all time; stop in at the Broome Street Bar (363 West Broadway in fabulous downtown SoHo) before it shuts down (yes, it's closing after 42 years, alas) on a Wednesday or a Thursday and he'll be happy to pour you a drink, even if you mention my name.

9. Bruce Channel -- Hey Baby

That's Delbert McClinton playing the harmonica stuff. I seem to recall it was a huge influence on a certain four-piece band from the UK.

8. The Broadcasters -- Down in the Trenches

One of the great lost singles of the 80s (produced by Wayne Kramer of the MC5, incidentally). These guys should have been superstars. I have a video of me singing "Route 66" and "Gloria" at a party with three of them; get me hammered some time and I might even show it to you.

7. J. Geils Band -- Whammer Jammer

The aptly named Magic Dick. 'Nuff said.

6. Stevie Wonder -- For Once In My Life

As brilliantly structured and performed a solo as you'll ever hear on any instrument.

5. A tie --

The Rolling Stones (Mick Jagger) -- Stop Breaking Down


The Rolling Stones (Brian Jones) -- Good Times Bad Times

Amplified Chicago blues harp in the former, acoustic country blues harp in the latter, both brilliant.

4. Bob Dylan -- I Want You

Short, melodic, and it frames the song perfectly, front and back. Anybody who says Dylan's a crappy harp player really isn't listening....

3. XTC -- Ballad of Peter Pumpkin Head

Blues harp on a revisionist folk rock song. Andy Partridge is god, obviously.

2. Creedence Clearwater Revival -- Run Through the Jungle

John Fogerty channels Howlin Wolf. It doesn't get any spookier, song OR harp part.

And the number one, no question about it, all time coolest harmonica solo on a hit record is --

1. Slim Harpo -- Scratch My Back

Hands down, the down and dirtiest blues performance ever to crack Top 40 radio.

Alrighty now -- what would your choices be?

[h/ts to Brooklyn Girl and John McPartlin]


Anonymous said...

Canned Heat - Huautla (the solo over the bongo breakdown) and Big Fat, both from "Hallelujah." I think the liner to Hooker 'n Heat has John Lee Hooker giving compliments to Alan Wilson.

Jaco Pastorius - Three Views of a Secret. There's youtube video of Jaco and Toots Thielemans dueting the tune live.

Take your pick of the War/Lowrider Band catalog.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I nominate Lowell George on this terrific Howlin Wolf medley also featuring Ry Cooder, from their first 1971 lp. This is as good as white boys have ever played the blues. The harmonica is swell all the way through, however the first solo begins at 1:24 or thereabouts.

steve simels said...


That is fucking awesome. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

How could you not include Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks"?

Vickie Rock

buzzbabyjesus said...

I like Percy's break on "Nobody's Fault But Mine" better than "Levee".

Brooklyn Girl said...

The Broome Street Bar is closing? Fuck that shit.

Personally, going way back (and this may not count as a solo), but I love Keith Relf and Jeff Beck's call and response on "I'm a Man" ---actually, the riff itself, short as it is, is pretty damn fine.

Anonymous said...


Yeah, Nobody's Fault is a better solo, but When the Levee Breaks has the edge sonically IMHO, you know, the way it's recorded stirs the delta stew.

To quote myself about Levee:

"It's Bonham's drums reverberating from the stairwell at Headley Grange, summoning the Gods from both Mount Olympus and the Mississippi. It's the backwards-echoing, swirling harmonica merging with the flanged slide guitar, propelling the sludgy, primal ooze of the swollen and mournful river.

It's bathing and splashing under that Memphis bridge in the dirtiest of water. It's a torrential blues harp warning like Gabriel's trumpet as Old Man River overflows his banks and floods our senses.

It's like letting a snakelike guitar slide through your loins and take a sensual, psychedelic trip up that sultry, saturated delta. It's like slipping him the tongue in a soft-filtered, slow motion blur.

It's like letting God and the Devil share and possess our supple spines so that we can drown ourselves in their omniscience."

Speaking of this:

Dirty Water - The Standells has a short but sweet solo and it makes me want to fuck to it on repeat ad infinitum. Perfect for a slip and slide bone ride.

Funny you should mention "Nobody's Fault" because it was on this list I didn't submit earlier because I had to give my daughter, Volupta, a lift.

Superb call on the Little Feat medley, btw.

God, I'm really off my game today. This calls for a large dose of Adderall and a few Roach Special's at the local watering hole.

Aerosmith - One Way Street

Sugar Blue - Miss You

Led Zeppelin for Nobody's Fault But Mine

Stones - Midnight Rambler [sets mood well]

Grand Funk Railroad - Time Machine

Cream - Four Until Late [simple but effective - thankfully not Traintime]

Blackfoot - Train Train

Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue; All Along the Watchtower

And this guy's pretty good too, for a guitar player engaged in a long boring jam:

Vickie Rock - Not firing on all cylinders, too much brain jelly last night.

pete said...

Let's have some love for John Sebastian, ya'll. His harmonica breaks in Spoonful tracks like "Daydream" were perfectly scaled and technically miles ahead of anyone else in blues, rock, OR folk.

Hannes A. Jónsson said...

Harmonica --- a rather dull instrument if you ask moi. But as smooth as silk when it comes to the Chi-Lites...

Anonymous said...

Grateful Dead - Big Boss Man

Romantics - What I Like About You

Vickie Rock

steve simels said...


I totally concur on John Sebastian.

Hannes A. Jónsson said...

This "post Elvis" shit...I'm not altogether sold on that one. Well, as far as I'm concerned, Elvis was viable force until, at least, 1973. Big Boss Man, what?

Anonymous said...

In regard to John Fogerty, another harmonica solo by him I really like is on "Graveyard Train", from CCR's second album, "BAYOU COUNTRY". (Technically, I think it's actually TWO similar harmonica tracks blended together.) It's another song, and solo, in which John is clearly channelling Howlin' Wolf.
You could also probably include several items by Paul Butterfield here. One I really enjoy is his solo on "I Don't Wanna Go", from his 1975 album "PUT IT IN YOUR EAR", on Bearsville. I think people might debate the merit of the Ray Charles-with-strings production on this track (I actually like it; others might find it too slick) but the harmonica playing near the end of the track is definitely hot and accurately conveys the desperation of the lyric. (This song also has some excellent work from Levon Helm on the drums).

J. Lag

Anonymous said...


Yeah, Charlie McCoy rules and I like Elvis' version of Big Boss Man. For me, that was the beginning of the comeback. That string of three singles, "Big Boss Man," "Guitar Man," and "U.S. Male."

"Long-Legged Girl (With a Short dress On) was a precursor.

Mickey Raphael is pretty ace too.

Also, in reference to John Popper: Check out the harmonica solo on Frank Zappa's "Crew Slut" by Craig Steward to see where Popper got his annoying licks.

Vickie Rock - off to see the Sonics and Thee Midnighters with Crystal Antlers.

P.S. - I saw Elvis about twenty times in Vegas between 1969 and 1975. My boyfriend's mother, Hilda, and chubby sister, Rita, were huge fans. My guy and me, not so much. It was more of a trippy sociological study for us.

We used to cruise out in his mom's various Toronado's [she got a new one every year]. We'd shove mom and frumpy sis in the back seat and control the car stereo. They had bench style front seats, so I sat up close to Big John and often gave him multiple hand jobs all the way to Las Vegas. Sometimes I'd say I was tired and rest my head in his lap. Mom and sis seemed pretty clueless.

Anonymous said...

Beau Brummels Laugh Laugh wouldn't be the same without the harmonica.

Vickie Rock

cthulhu said...

Peter Hope-Evans contributed soulful mouth harp to a lot of Pete Townshend's solo work over the years. I'm partial to his work featured on the video for "Slit Skirts", a live-in-the-studio performance. Sadly, the harmonica piece didn't make it onto the album cut...

Dave said...

Steve, you hit two of my top three with the Stevie Wonder and Slim Harpo, but my #1 has to be Fingertips, especially part 1 that wasn't on the single. It kills me that Wonder has steadfastly refused to perform it since the 60s. To my ears, it's still one of the most exciting records I've ever ehard.

Got to add Buster Brown's immortal "Fannie Mae," which was a hit mid-Elvis: A timeless record.

Anonymous said...

Love - Signed D.C.

Vickie Rock

Anna said..., not a single Beatles track from the first two UK albums (and maybe something from latter albums that's eluding me right now)? "I'll Get You" comes to mind, but god! There's a dozen at least!

Anonymous said...

I think the harmonica makes "Church of the Poison Mind" by Culture Club.


Anonymous said...

Hollies - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

Vickie Rock

John Fowler said...

Gordy -
agree on 'Church of the Poison Mind', although Helen Terry's backup adds hugely too -

similarly, the harmonica on INXS's "Suicide Blonde" makes the song. Wikipedia tells me it's Charlie Musselwhite.

I'm going to agree with Anna that I'm surprised that it took so long to see a mention for the Beatles. "Love Me Do" - jiminy, that opening harmonica =still= gives me a thrill.

I will enthusiastically endorse Jason Ringenberg for adding some great harmonica to a number of tunes with the Scorchers - I'll pick "If Money Talks", off of Lost & Found. These guys were awesome live, one of the best, if not the best, concert I ever saw.

The opening for the Pogues's "Dirty Old Town", off of Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, is another wonderful harmonica kickoff.

Tom Waits has the wonderfully weird "Chocolate Jesus", off of Mule Variations, - and the internet tells me it's also Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica.

Steve mentions the harmonica and growl on "Middle of the Road" - !!! - and also thanks to him for the Broadcasters tune - not one I'd heard before…

also thanks to Hannes & Vicki for pointing out 'Big Boss Man' - not an Elvis tune I recall...

Anonymous said...

John F. - Since you liked The Broadcasters track try listening to my radio show.

I play something by two of The Broadcasters (Billy & Steve "Muddy" Roues) almost every week on the show. You'll like their music if your into Roots Rock'n'Roll.

Allan R. (Capt. Al)
Lost at Sea -

PS: Steve will be a guest on this Tuesday's show.

Anonymous said...

Well, I gave everybody a chance, but I refuse to wait any longer:

Mystic Eyes - Them

Vickie Rock

Anonymous said...

You heard these kids yet, Steve?

Anonymous said...

Captain Beefheart - lotsa stuff - but Diddy Wah Diddy was the first to catch my ear as it was a big hit in L.A. Moonchild / Frying Pan also got lotsa airplay.

Ennio Morricone - Man With a Harmonica and later covered by Muse in concert.

Steve Marriott - love the tone for the small bits he does on Red Light Mama [which combines harp with lotsa cowbell near the end] and Stone Cold Fever.

Huey Lewis for his harp part in Sammy Hagar's White Lie

And then there's this bitch:

Vickie Rock - Helped Billy Joe ring in his 75th last night and the night before. Always an amazingly down to earth performer.

P.S. Gotta run - Angry Samoans at 6:30 matinee show, followed by Uncle Meat screening, followed by Davie Allan and the Arrows. Then, .... Sunday blood worship and flesh offerings at the First Church of the Midnight Rambler where we swallow the holy Eucharist wholy. Mmmm,... to be anointed with the pearly essence of your redemption as we open those heavenly gates. And, dear god, please pull my hair. Bite me and take me on a rocket ride to the Gates of Eden. Overwhelm me with your grace and love. Slap me with your mercy till I make a joyful noise. Make me your disciple. Otra vez. Otra vez. Otra vez.

Also, John F: I have a pretty amazing Jason & the Scorchers story you might enjoy. No time to tell it now. They certainly were a blazing live act in their day. My story is from just before and after the mid-1990's reunion. Very inside dope in every sense of the word.

John Fowler said...

Allan - I am intrigued, will try and tune in to Capt. Al's Tuesday show!

Anonymous said...

Someone here has this blog confused with a trivia contest.

Anonymous said...

Little Charlie & the Nightcats - Coastin' Hank [Rick Estrin harp]

Anonymous: Did you know trivia means three-way in Latin?

Vickie Rock - Sister of Sodom

Unknown said...

"You Got To Me"..Neil that harp intro

Anonymous said...

wayne fraizer: Do you have any idea who's playing that harp? Is it Hugh McCracken? Anyone know?

It is a great intro, unfortunately, AM DJ's tended to step all over it to the point where you hardly knew it was there.

Vickie Rock - Wishing I was there with the Gang at Bang

Unknown said...

Vickie Rock.. I think it was Tommy Morgan

Anonymous said...

wayne fraizer: Thanks. Tommy did a lot of stuff. Good Vibrations comes to mind. And stuff with the Carpenters. I thought he was a west coast dude. Didn't realize he recorded in New York too.

Vickie Rock - Hoping for some good night surfing