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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Paul deLay appreciation thread
Paul deLay appreciation thread
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1417 posts
May 08, 2010
8:34 PM
I'm not sure if we've ever done this, but this website deserves a dedicated thread to one of the masters of the contemporary blues harp. I saw Paul live only a couple of times, but I first heard his name in Ferrara, Italy when I was over there in 1990. He was one of the two or three great living players mentioned by the Italian harp players I met. I'd never heard of him.

He spent some time in prison on a weird drug charge, if I'm not wrong. He joked later about his "Federal vacation." Then he came back out playing like a bat out of hell.

I love what he did. He really blew the doors off the instrument. He knew all the old stuff--in fact, he did an album specifically devoted to Chicago blues, because he loved that stuff and wanted to show that he could play it--but his musical imagination went way beyond Chicago blues. I always felt the urgency in his playing. He knew how to leave space to create musical meaning, too. He does that in the following video. You'll need to listen all the way through for his second solo at the end, but the first one exemplifies what I've written above. You think you know where he's going and then BAM. No you ain't. He was a wildman.

Please search YouTube for more videos. Please post personal stories, if ya got 'em.

Last Edited by on May 08, 2010 8:37 PM
1418 posts
May 08, 2010
8:44 PM
Here's a nice portrait of deLay:

Check out the stuff he does between 7:40 and 8:18 or so. That is some badass harp. (Memo to Bharath: This is what it sounds like when somebody is going back to the source rather than listening over their shoulder to align themselves with Little Walter. The difference is crucial. I'll love what you do when you start posting videos that make it clear you know the difference. Call me crazy, but I actually want to hear YOU, not you proving that you've mastered the Mozart songbook.)

Last Edited by on May 08, 2010 9:00 PM
340 posts
May 08, 2010
8:57 PM
I saw him dozens of times at the portland waterfront blues festival. He was HUGE in portland and could have toured a lot more than he did. But he loved playing in portland. And portland loved hearing him. I didn't play harp when I saw him, but I remember the smell of pot and incredible energy when he was playing. Everybody danced on the waterfront when he played. Wish I had more awareness of who he was when I saw him at the time!
227 posts
May 08, 2010
9:03 PM
Damn Adam! The appreciation thread starts out nice and then you blast someone in message two. Shouldn't we get down to message 9 or 10 before that stuff starts? I'm not a huge fan of his, but he's got skills and would the world of harp laying be worse off, if the average player played like him?

I saw Paul a couple of times. He was a really good harp player. I think he was a fantastic songwriter whose songwriting skills were really under-recognized.

Last Edited by on May 08, 2010 9:04 PM
108 posts
May 08, 2010
9:10 PM
Paul was obviously a galvanizing harp player with really soulful and fun phrasing. Fresh and happy stuff too. Dennis Gruenling was telling me not long after Paul's death that he was in the genesis of starting a project with him. I found Paul to be generous, audience friendly, and verbally intelligent. I use one of his phrases "hugging the speakers" whenever I want to convey my deepest heartfelt respect for a musician. d
Myspace: dennis moriarty
231 posts
May 09, 2010
12:53 AM
who is bharath?
1143 posts
May 09, 2010
1:46 AM
MP - This is Bharath.

Paul Delay was a very good harp player with a different approach.
371 posts
May 09, 2010
2:19 AM
Delay is one of my favourites. But I agree, why take a shot at Bharath?
15 posts
May 09, 2010
6:32 AM
Paul DeLay was one of a kind. I got to see him many times here in the Seattle area, met him, talked to him some, the music was always full of surprises. His songwriting always full of surprises and his brilliant sense of humor. Not sure what was weird anout his drug bust, got busted went to prison? He played and wrote all the time he was in and organized music programs for the inmates. I think he was much more pleasant to be around after prison when he had cleaned up.
I was supposed to drive him and an old friend to Bellingham for a Norton Buffalo show one time, but Norton had to cancel. That would have been a crazy night, damn!

I think it's pretty remarkable that Bharath can do what he does, not every musician needs to blaze a new frontier. It's funny to me when I hear someone say "I hate it when a harp player plays 'JUKE' note for note". I don't think most of us can, even remebering JUKE note for note with all subtlties is well beyond me. 'nother 2 cents in the pot, JD
70 posts
May 09, 2010
6:40 AM
They're right, Adam: talking about what's wrong with Bharath rates a thread of its own, not a digression from talking about what's right with DeLay.

DeLay was one of the most complete and individual blues harmonica artists ever, one who made music that happened to be blues, rather than the other way around. One of the best pure musicians: few blues harp players give such a strong impression that they are playing or writing what they hear inside their head, rather than what you're expected to play or write. He really, really, really sang through the harp, both chromatic and diatonic.

In terms of the sheer range of tones that he exploited on amplified harp, isn't DeLay one of the closest to Big Walter? That's something in itself, right there.

Can't say enough good things about his writing, but his songs seem hard to cover if you don't keep a band together. The twists and turns in his songs ought to be as well known as the ones in Albert Collins' more popular numbers, for example. It seems to me that Collins and Paul Butterfield might have been a couple of the biggest influences on DeLay's musical approach, in the absence of a strong older indigenous African American regional style up there in the Northwest. DeLay wrote more in the vein of that later African American progression from soul blues toward funk blues, and not many white harmonica bandleaders did that successfully (Let me sneak in some props to Greg Heumann and BlueState for doing it well these days).

I didn't like his DeLay Does Chicago record much at all when it came out, didn't listen to it for years. It's been in heavy rotation here the past few weeks. I think I must have been disappointed that there was so little old-school electric Chicago on it: it strikes me as a hard, spare 1970s-1980s feel to it, more like Magic Slim than Little Walter.
373 posts
May 09, 2010
6:57 AM
The best "close to trad" thing Delay did was "$14 in the Bank" on an album that, as 'Fess says, is closer to Collins than Chicago.
510 posts
May 09, 2010
7:25 AM
I am a HUGE DeLay fan. I regret never seeing him live. He was a triple threat- great singer,songwriter and harp player. His core band also needs to be noted. Those guys are super tight and always throwing little "surprises" into the songs. Paul was a trooper who literally played on Saturday and died on Tuesday from undiagnosed leukemia! I still miss him.
I was seriously planning on flying to Portland and get a week's worth of lessons from him. @ 35/hr. a great bargain IMHO. Alas,I waited too long.

Last Edited by on May 09, 2010 7:29 AM
17 posts
May 09, 2010
7:38 AM
Good point about that band, they were a tight organazation, stayed together with very few personel changes. This may not be well known outside the pacific NW, but they played together all the time while Paul was in the joint, with Linda Hornbuckle as vocalist. Linda Hornbuckle and the No DeLay Band.

Fess, I felt the same way about the Delay in Chicago album, still like most of his earlier stuff the best. Yep, up here in the isolated pacific NW where Albert Collins lived part time in 68-73, he had a big influence on many musicians, Paul Delay, Robert Cray, Curtis Salgado, and many that you wouldn't know. JD
511 posts
May 09, 2010
7:58 AM
DeLay in Chicago does have an entirely different band. That could have something to do with it. I still like it,but that core band is hard to beat.
I also think Paul was one of the first to experiment with effects pedals. I strongly suspect Jason got some of his effects idea from Paul,since Jason's a big fan,but I'm not sure. ViolinCat-are you out there?
64 posts
May 09, 2010
8:07 AM
I live in Portland and had the opportunity to see DeLay many times. He played this lonely gig at the "Spare Room" back in 2001, and I had the chance to sit with him while he had dinner. His #1 piece of advice was to learn holes 6-10 like you do 1-5. This was advice that was given to him as a struggling harmonica player, by an old timer in Longview, WA. You can hear that work in almost every solo.
By the way, he played out of the box Big River harps up to the day of his death.
109 posts
May 09, 2010
8:19 AM
So. And I know this has been reported elsewhere at some point (and Paul's tone was Paul's tone) can someone definitively break down his "box": the effects he was reported to carry with him. Certainly that is another aspect of Paul's playing. His funky effects were additive and tasty rather than distracting and overly electric. d
Myspace: dennis moriarty
374 posts
May 09, 2010
8:25 AM
He's the only "effects pedal cat" who really floats my boat. The guy was a TRUE innovator when it comes to advancing the blues palette on the harp. Tastey tone and unique phrasing. "Too Old to Scold" and just about everything on that CD is essential listening for delay fans.
73 posts
May 09, 2010
8:28 AM
Here's what Drori Hammer said about DeLay's "Space Case" briefcase on Harp-L in 2003:

I had the opportunity to meet and jam with Paul deLay
a few years ago (it's worth coming out of lurk-mode
just to brag about that ! :) ), so for whoever was
wondering, here's what he uses (at least did in 1999).
He was playing Hohner Big River diatonics and (I
think) chromonica Chro's (in several keys), using a
JT-30 mic.
The "Space case" is a briefcase which he uses as a
harp carrying case AND amp. In it he installed a
direct box plugged into a "ZOOM" multi-effect amp
simulator, which he uses to get the great variety of
sounds he uses. This goes direct to the PA soundboard.
Apropos the discussion of marking harps - Paul
actually had a small desktop lamp installed in the
case as well, to see the harps on a dark stage!
1420 posts
May 09, 2010
10:46 AM
Point taken about my sidebar on Bharath. I should do that in another thread. This seemed like an obvious point to make that non-obvious observation, but then again: a thread devoted to appreciation should be just that. Let's keep this on topic, and let's say only appreciative things about Delay, please. :)
379 posts
May 09, 2010
10:48 AM
233 posts
May 09, 2010
1:08 PM
thanks for clearing that up for me.
Greg Heumann
440 posts
May 09, 2010
1:29 PM
Another DeLay fan. Got to see him live twice - he was larger than life in several respects. He was a harmonica monster - just wicked huge tone, emotion from the gut, fluid, inventive - wonderful.

One of the first tunes I ever performed in public was his "Stop Your Groanin'" and it is still a regular part of our set list.


BlowsMeAway Productions
BlueState - my band
Bluestate on iTunes
74 posts
May 09, 2010
2:43 PM
I love Paul DeLay's playing and singing.


One of the wisest things I've heard about playing harmonica came (via Grant Dermody) from him:

"beware of gratuitous vibrato."

360 posts
May 09, 2010
2:58 PM
I'm another huge Paul DeLay fan.
It seemed like he never came down to L.A., so one night when I got a call from a friend asking me "Did you know that Paul DeLay is playing in town tonight starting in about an hour?", I was out the door in a flash.
That was the one time I saw him live and I was not disappointed.
Awesome harp and awesome band.
bluzlvr 4
125 posts
May 09, 2010
6:09 PM
I saw Paul deLay and his band at the 2006 Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival in Helena which was not long before Paul died. It was the only time I saw him live and I was very impressed. He was a huge man with huge talent. He was a great frontman and had a really good sense of humor. I think he played chromatic on all the songs at that gig and it was some of the best chromatic playing that I ever heard live(except for Carey Bell). There is a great (mostly) live out-of-print album that's worth looking up called The Paul deLay Band Burnin'.

Last Edited by on May 09, 2010 8:40 PM
319 posts
May 09, 2010
7:19 PM
a great and unique approach to blues harmonica... if Paul Butterfield cracked open the door of modern blues harp, DeLay is one of those that really swung it open.

also his influence on the west coast blues sound in general, and on vocalists coming out of portland in specific (listen to how robert cray phrases like DeLay)
439 posts
May 11, 2010
12:10 AM
Wow!!! I had never heard of Paul DeLay before. Can anyone recomend an album by him. There's alot on Amazon and im not sure where to start, Any ideas?
440 posts
May 11, 2010
3:29 AM
Thanks Ev630, i'll put an order in now, cheers.
397 posts
May 11, 2010
3:36 AM
Also, if you can download the song, "Say What You Mean" on the Kid Ramos CD, "Greasy Kid Stuff" is an awesome fifties R&B thing he wrote, with a killer solo.
105 posts
May 11, 2010
6:55 AM
Paul and his band stayed with my freind Carlos and his wife for a month while they were doing and east coast tour. Paul was making an attempt at getting clean and sober.
He taught us a lot about tuning our own harps,and music in general.
At this time,he was modifying and tuning his own harps-mostly Big River harps by Hohner.
517 posts
May 11, 2010
7:24 AM
htownfess-thanks for the Spacecase info. He makes teasingly brief mention of it in the liner notes on "Heavy Rotation". Does that mean he never used an amp?
27 posts
May 11, 2010
9:31 AM
Paul packed his own gear around town so he liked to use light weight solid state amps....he said he got all the "warmth" he needed on the harp from the spacecase.

He told me he didn't read or write music and did not practice scales. His favorite harp album was Junior Wells "Hoodo Man Blues"

Someone else got it right that he would tell you to try to play what you can on the bottom of the harp at the top. He told me that he started doing that(when he was young) after an old farmer heard him play and then commented that he was only playing half of his harp.

He said the trick to writing a good song was that the song "sounds like it was easy to write".

He told me he figured out how to play chromatic by playing the octaves.

When Paul played around town in various configurations of his act I rarely heard him play any of the material you hear on his recordings. He loved to cover the old stuff and he would tweak the lyrics to his liking. I loved it when he would whip out a "shortharp" and play a Jimmy Reed shuffle....what a great ride.

In my opinion, he had it over everybody else on chromatic harp for R&B and blues hands down.

78 posts
May 11, 2010
9:56 AM
Thanks Bubba, that's great information.
637 posts
Jul 04, 2010
5:53 AM
Thought I'd bump this for Wolf.
20 posts
Jul 04, 2010
8:30 AM
I am another Delay FAN. What a sad loss!

Helix is right on with the chromatic comments. One of my favorites is "Right There In The Pocket". It shows his awesome musicality and his incredible ability to play the chromatic.

Note to self: For years I said, I have to go see Paul Delay. I'm just going to jump on a plane and go do it. I waited too long :(( The next time I get moved like Paul's music moves me, I will not wait too long!

-- BTMF --
Thievin' Heathen
1238 posts
Feb 02, 2022
2:06 PM
Funny, it seem like a good time to appreciate some Paul deLay. I don't know if I needed to go back 12 years but this is where Google sent me. I was listening to a lot of PD last night on a night shift quarantine and got to wondering if he was using any special tuning(s) on his chromatics? Anyone know?
131 posts
Feb 03, 2022
4:42 AM
Wow this thread started 12 years ago!!! I never saw him alive, but when he released "Ocean of Tears" he was kindly sent me a copy and a handwritten letter with some tips and the gear he used at that time.
He paid his dues to Chicago Blues with Brown Sugar Band. There's some youtube videos of it.Some years ago I met Curtis Salgado, and he loves Paul Delay's playing (he even playied some PD licks). I never noticed until that time, but there's some of Paul Delay on Curtis playing too.
739 posts
Feb 04, 2022
8:28 AM
i regret, I never saw him live. What I loved about his playing was, how he mixed it up. I can hear how he must of studied a bunch of players and then put his own take on it.

He keeps u listening. Just when u think u know where he is going next, he changes directions.

U never realize how good someone was or is, until u start trying to learn their stuff. He was a monster and apparently a super good guy.
741 posts
Feb 04, 2022
9:13 AM
u guys got me fired up---just ordered another cd of his
Im worried they won't be available later
462 posts
Feb 04, 2022
9:58 PM
Thank you, Thievin' Heathen, for putting Paul back into the spotlight. I love his playing and singing.

This old man was fortunate to have seen him at the Savoy Club in Gastown, some time in the seventies. Don't ask me to pin down the year.

Here's what I posted on MBH in 2010 when I was a newbie with only 14 posts. Twelve years later, my opinion of his brilliance has not changed:


Paul deLay, Portland songwriter, singer and harmonica player, deserves to be heard by all on this list. He died on March 7, 2007. Most of you will have heard him, on recording at least. For those who haven't, seek out a CD or two, and listen! Your ears will be opened.

I've been listening to him a lot lately. His first recordings were clearly blues based; his later ones not so much. He always retained a bluesy feel, to my ears. His songs always had a spark of originality. In his later years he had the advantage of having a jazzy, talented, rhythmically sophisticated organist and arranger in his band, Louis Pain.

He was more than a harmonica player. But-- for this harp forum I'll focus on what I hear in his harmonica playing:

1. Subtle manipulation of tone by hand placement. Not for him the constant supertight grip to get a dark compressed tone à la typical "Chicago Style" blues harp. His normal grip was looser, with the corresponding treblier sound. He would throw in contrasting darker tones by way of a tighter grip when appropriate. He often darkened the tone when he hit the low notes. The tone changes added a lot to the character of his playing.

2. Wonderful use of a delay pedal. He should have written a book-- "deLay on Delay". Anyone know what he used?

3. Use of arrangements to add power and punch to his live and studio offerings. Some of his solos, to my ears, are clearly improvised, but there are always parts in his songs that have been carefully thought out. As an example, he often used what we used to call "pushes", where the band plays rhythmic shots in unison at some point in the song.

4. Absolutely original note choices, runs and harmonies. You will hear things in his playing you haven't heard anywhere else, either before or after Paul's moment in the sun. He was equally original with chromatic or diatonic. His third position diatonic playing was outstanding, and wasn't limited to minor key songs.

5. A preference for a cleaner sound than most blues based harp players. Despite being relatively clean, the notes had plenty of body. The cleaner sound let him put in more detail. He had plenty of musical detail to offer.

6. Perfect pitch.

7. Few or no rhythmic missteps. He swung when he wanted to, but played in all sorts of rhythms. Whatever he did, it was always rhythmic.

If there's anyone in Dirty South Blues Harp Forum who hasn't heard him, have a listen. You are in for a treat.


wolf kristiansen

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