Kim Field just shared a remarkable track by Rhythm Willie, something I hadn't previously heard. (I'm no expert on Rhythm Willie.) It feels to me like something every harp player needs to know about.
In particular, I like the way he several times anticipates the downbeat of bar 1 by hitting a note somewhere in the middle of bar 12 and then holding it. That creates intensity, swing, soulfulness. It works.
Sometimes in the recording studio people are just playing. And sometimes people are seriously inspired and pushing hard, chomping at the bit, determined to rule. I hear that in this track.
So: For the sake of argument, and assuming that you agree with me, let's stipulate that Rhythm Willie belongs somewhere in the Top-20 all time list of great blues harmonica players. Who would you demote to Honorable Mention to make room for him? (I'm copying and pasting from another page on this website.)
The argument against him would say, He's a strictly minority taste. Almost nobody has heard of him. He's, as they say, the greatest harmonica player you've never heard of. So: no influence. He's just a one-off genius. But genius is genius, and if "Breathatakin' Blues" isn't genius, we might well just throw our harps down and walk away. (BTW, you're permitted to say, "Does nothing for me.")
Who would you demote to make space for him? For me, I would probably have to let Carey Bell go. And I love Carey Bell.
TOP-10 ALL-TIME: Little Walter (Jacobs) Big Walter (Horton) James Cotton John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson (aka, Sonny Boy I) Rice Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Boy II) Sonny Terry Junior Wells Sugar Blue Jason Ricci Paul Butterfield George “Harmonica” Smith
SECOND-10 ALL-TIME: Kim Wilson Jimmy Reed Carey Bell Magic Dick Paul deLay DeFord Bailey Charlie Musselwhite Howlin' Wolf Billy Branch William Clarke
Holy Moly....I'm not a fan of that retro 20/30's sound/style, but when settling back to just focus on the high end harmonica artistry, was totally impressed. Don't know of anyone else today that has "that sound" up there.
I'd bump Billy Branch off to make room. ---------- The Iceman
Last Edited by The Iceman on Dec 31, 2019 5:35 PM
Fine work, brilliant in fact, but after the fourth tune from him on YouTube , I began to a bit tired of his style. Different times and styles abounding, I am aware, and admire his facility for balancing a diatonic , first position harmonica soloing and theme stating a full jazz band . A little tinny for my ears after twenty minutes. I don't think you need to remove anyone from the top 10. Those players in your first list have influenced the playing of millions of players who came after them. Their impact is profound as well as their innovative skills. That counts for a lot. RW is original, but I doubt he has influenced generations as the others have.--------- www.ted-burke.com
I first heard this track a few years ago and it was such a different and original style(to me)that I was actually quite amazed at what he was doing with the Harp. But ted has a valid point when it comes to 'influence'
Ist top ten i'd knock out Junior wells and the second it'd be Howlin' Wolf. Now i'm running for cover..
His flutters at the end of the phrase are a little busy to my ear; they really do sound like a product of their time. If there was an era appropriate video for it I could see it being played at a speakeasy. I would have prefered just vibrato, but that sustained note you are talking about, yeah, that was powerful.
I'm nitpicky about St. James Infirmary though. His choices go in the opposite direction from how I like to hear it. I just seem to have a different emotional center that I hear in it.
I really did like it and there were some things that sounded very different than other harp players to me. Next I listened to Boarding House Blues. St. James sounded like he was imitating a harp part, but Boarding House Blues leans into the harmonica sound a bit more. I like the vibrato in it a lot better.
It would be interesting to hear it with a bit richer instrumentation around it. It sounds like something it would be really cool to sample and break up into a longer song.
Funny, did you notice, consistent with the "get the biggest harmonica you can find on the album cover" he has one of those MB Tremolos stuck in his mouth. Anybody believe he recorded with one of those? My only problem with Rhythm Willie is there's not enough of him recorded out there. I believe I first became aware of him here, about 10 years ago.
Last Edited by Thievin' Heathen on Jan 01, 2020 5:30 PM
Why do you feel the need to limit yourself to a top 10 or top 20 even? Why does someone have to be bumped from a list? Surely all of these players have in some way or another influenced/inspired the playing of others. I don't see why it has to be taken down to the level of some kind of competition. Music is about art, expression and emotion. It's not about being better than others. The only competition in music in my opinion is the desire within each individual person to be the best they can be. Thereby enabling them to express themselves more fluently through their instrument within their chosen musical form. Maybe I'm missing something, but I really don't get the whole 'Everything is a competition' type of mindset at all. Personally if I were making a list, I'd just add him to the list of players who've inspired me to want to be a better interpreter of my emotions through the use of music. I'm sure many will disagree with me, but that's my take on it all.
1. If groyster1 listened to more Paul deLay, I'd bet he'd change his mind. 2. Top 10 lists are not about competition, but just a fun way for people to express who they feel is most influential/important/appealing and to see how one person's opinion stacks up with others. It also helps promote healthy discussions about differing opinions. ---------- The Iceman