1-CD-Album DigiPac with 32-page booklet, 31 tracks. Playing time approx. 76 mns.
White rock bands couldn't get enough of Slim Harpo's atmospheric harmonica and nasal vocals. This is the music which inspired Canned Heat, Them, the Pretty Things and, of course, the Rolling Stones who revived I'm A King Bee and Shake Your Hips. Difficult-to-find selections include Cigarettes (digitally unleashed for the first time) and Slim Harpo's craziest rocker, Wild About My Baby. But the big hits are here too; no retrospective would be complete without Baby Scratch My Back and Rainin' In My Heart. Small ensemble electrified country blues that really rocks!
James 'Slim Harpo' Moore (1924 - 1970) crammed a great deal into his 45 years. One of the biggest Southern blues stars of the '50s, Slim Harpo appealed to rockabillies of all generations. Sun artist Warren Smith covered I Got Love If You Want It while Marty Stuart revived Shake Your Hips. Rock 'n' roll collectors embraced Slim Harpo's originals and a slew of similarly crisp, pounding rockers on the Excello label. The white blues boom opened new doors for Slim Harpo in the mid-to-late '60s but, amongst the soul and psychedelic movements, Slim Harpo still found time to rock 'n' roll.
This collection draws on all phases of Slim's 13 year recording career. As reissues go, his finest up tempo sides are scattered all over the place but this compilation cherry-picks 30 of the best, adding his archetypal swamp blues ballad, 'Rainin' In My Heart', as a bonus. It's the perfect overview of a largely unheralded rocker.
Whether it was another of Crowley, Louisiana swamp blues producer J.D. Miller’s brainstorms or the inspiration of the harpist’s wife (reports vary), James Moore was rechristened Slim Harpo at his first session as a leader in March of ’57 after being informed that his previous stage name, Harmonica Slim, was already spoken for. Miller didn’t have to search very hard to discover Moore, born January 11, 1924 in Lobdell, Louisiana near Baton Rouge. He was a sideman for the producer’s first important blues discovery, guitarist Lightnin’ Slim, and had recorded with him in Crowley as far back as the autumn of 1955.
"He was Lightnin's harmonica blower," said the late Miller. "I had no idea that he wanted to make records. He had Lightnin' come and ask me if I'd record him. Well, I hadn't heard him sing, so I told Lightnin', ‘I'll listen after we get through the session.’ I did, and it sounded pretty bad. So I told Lightnin', 'I don't believe I can use him. He's not too good a singer.' He said, 'Mr. Miller, I sure wish you would, because he might quit me if you don't.’ So I said, 'Well, we'll give him another try.'"
Miller had a novel idea that would serve the harpist well. "I instructed him to sing nasal," he said. "I'd never thought of that before. I asked him to sing nasal, and he didn't know what that meant. So I got in the studio, 'Sing through your nose, partially.' And that was really unique."
Slim was backed that day by guitarist Guitar Gable, Gabriel ‘Fats’ Perrodin (Gable’s brother) on bass guitar, and drummer Clarence ‘Jockey’ Etienne. He came up with a classic his very first time out: The strutting I’m A King Bee incorporated the nasal gimmick perfectly, while Slim’s amplified harp work stuck close to the distinctive melody and Gable’s stinging guitar answered in all the right places.
Although it didn’t pierce the R&B charts after Miller shipped it up to Ernie Young’s Nashville-based Excello Records for release, I’m AKing Bee found its way over to England in time for the Rolling Stones to include it on their debut album. Slim’s catchy flip side I’ve Got Love If You Want It attracted immediate cover action when Warren Smith turned in a vicious rockabilly rendition on Sun.
There was still room at the top of the R&B hit parade for a savory slice of lowdown blues when the groove was as funky as the one powering Baton Rouge harpist Slim Harpo's bayou-bred Baby Scratch My Back. J.D. Miller, the Crowley, Louisiana producer who did as much as anyone to record the region's swamp bluesmen, had unearthed Slim—born James Moore—through his top act, guitarist Lightnin' Slim.
"He was Lightnin's harmonica blower,” said the late Miller. "I had no idea that he wanted to make records. He had Lightnin' come and ask me if I'd record him. Well, I hadn't heard him sing, so I told Lightnin', 'I'll listen after we get through the session.' I did, and it sounded pretty bad. So I told Lightnin', 'I don't believe I can use him. He's not too good a singer.' He said, 'Mr. Miller, I sure wish you would, because he might quit me if you don't.' So I said, 'Well, we'll give him another try.'” Miller liked Moore (then calling himself Harmonica Slim) better after he dreamed up a vocal gimmick for him. "I instructed him to sing nasal. I'd never thought of that before. I asked him to sing nasal, and he didn't know what that meant,” said Miller. "So I got in the studio: 'Sing through your nose, partially.' And that was really unique.”
The gimmick clicked on the harpist's 1957 debut single I'm A King Bee, which Miller sold to Ernie Young's Nashville-based Excello Records. Both Miller and Moore's wife have been credited with dreaming up his stage name, which appeared on a series of splendidly laconic Excello singles, including the swamp pop charmer Rainin' In My Heart, enough of a 1961 pop crossover item to actually get Harpo a lip-synch shot on 'American Bandstand'!
A disagreement with Miller shelved Slim for awhile, but he triumphantly returned to the hit parade in 1966 with Baby Scratch My Back, Miller behind the glass once more in Crowley. The vibrato-laden chicken pickin' guitar (Rudolph Richard and James Johnson were the King Bees' longtime axemen) and some mean percussion cut through the heavy bayou air behind Slim's laidback drawl and full-bodied harp wails. This is blues to shake your hips by, as the title of Harpo's next Excello single implored. Recognizing a superior groove when he heard one, Otis Redding covered Baby Scratch My Back on his '66 Volt set 'The Soul Album.'
Slim Harpo stayed with Excello until he died on January 31, 1970 at age 46, although he broke with Miller shortly after Scratch My Back vaulted to number one R&B and #16 pop. Along the way, his supremely atmospheric swamp blues caught the ear of everyone from Sun rockabilly Warren Smith, who covered his first B-side, I've Got Love If You Want It, to the Rolling Stones, who revived King Bee on their debut LP.
- Bill Dahl -
Various - Sweet Soul Music
Various - Sweet Soul Music 29 Scorching Classics From 1966