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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > one of the top-10 all-time recordings?
one of the top-10 all-time recordings?
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6612 posts
Dec 31, 2019
5:10 PM
I'm just asking.

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.

Rhythm Willie, Breathatakin' Blues

Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition

Last Edited by kudzurunner on Dec 31, 2019 5:11 PM
6613 posts
Dec 31, 2019
5:19 PM
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.")

Yes. So....

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.

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

Kim Wilson
Jimmy Reed
Carey Bell
Magic Dick
Paul deLay
DeFord Bailey
Charlie Musselwhite
Howlin' Wolf
Billy Branch
William Clarke

Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition

Last Edited by kudzurunner on Jan 01, 2020 4:37 PM
The Iceman
3992 posts
Dec 31, 2019
5:34 PM
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
ted burke
797 posts
Dec 31, 2019
8:20 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.---------
581 posts
Dec 31, 2019
8:48 PM
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..
266 posts
Jan 01, 2020
6:11 AM
Mark Hummel covers this on his upcoming recording.
69 posts
Jan 01, 2020
7:26 AM
Thanks Adam for passing this music on, I'm urged to work on my 4th position now. I would take Musselwhite off the list to replace.
10213 posts
Jan 01, 2020
9:23 AM
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.

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First Post- May 8, 2009
195 posts
Jan 01, 2020
4:27 PM
Blues bird head and Rhythm Willie were very talented. But the pitch is too high for sustained listening. The low C, D (etc) harps would have been great for these guys.
6615 posts
Jan 01, 2020
4:39 PM
I think they were all in thrall to Louis Armstrong. That's why they're working the high end.

It's good to listen to stuff like this because you realize that the aesthetics of each age are different. People with taste back then cared about different things.

Good conversation. Thanks.

Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition

Last Edited by kudzurunner on Jan 01, 2020 4:40 PM
Thievin' Heathen
1187 posts
Jan 01, 2020
5:29 PM
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
2053 posts
Jan 01, 2020
8:47 PM
I like it, it is good, and it is not the usual style of harp commonly recorded.

Certainly it is a recording that harp students should hear and explore.

However, recording a really good and unusual "must hear" harp cut doesn't mean you should be listed among the top 20 players of all time.

I really like the cut, but I don't think we need to drop anyone from the list.

Doug S.
3509 posts
Jan 02, 2020
4:54 AM
carey bell is in my top 10 and would never bump him.....probably would bump paul delay on second top 10....just never heard him much....but willie definitely should be in second 10
4153 posts
Jan 02, 2020
8:15 AM
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.
The Iceman
3994 posts
Jan 02, 2020
9:23 AM
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
3628 posts
Jan 02, 2020
10:14 AM
Here's my favorite Rhythm Willie tune:

Barbeque Bob Maglinte
Boston, MA
CD available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/bbmaglinte

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