Thursday, 9 June 2011

Slim Harpo - The Hip Shake Man

Slim Harpo probably wouldn't fit into the category of obscure blues artists but he definitely isn't as celebrated as luminaries such as Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters etc, but Slim Harpo left a lasting musical legacy and was deeply influential on the rhythm and blues movement that swept the U.K in the early 60's. The Rolling Stones for one were deep admirers and covered a number of his songs including I'm a King Bee on their debut self titled album and Hip Shake Thing from the classic Exile on Mainstream album. This was how I first became aware of his music and I remeber hearing Tip on In on Mohair Slims Blue Juice radio show on PBSFM

Slim Harpo was a real pioneer of what was later termed swamp blues which orginated from Lousisana, his sound was stripped back especially on his early recordings. If you listen to I'm a King Bee, it sounds like a cardboard box is being used for the drums, there is not a lot of bottom to the tunes, the bass is not up in the mix. What is prominent is Harpo's harmonica playing there are some amazing short sharp bursts on songs like Got Love If You Want It which employs a Bo Diddley style arrangement. Slim Harpo had a very driven low down sound which seemed to be prominent in other Lousiana blues artists.

In 1961 Harpo achieved some national success with Raining In My Heart which while still retaining that laid back sound moved closer to rhythm and blues and featured a harmonica solo that sounded almost country & western. Most of his recordings were recorded with producer J.D Miller at his studio in Crowley Louisiana and were released on the Nashville based Excello records. In 1966 he cracked the Billboard Top 20 with the song Baby Scratch My Back which showed a real downhome funkiness in the call and response between the guitar and harmonica. What makes his music so interesting is how unique his sound is, it's a melting pot of styles that produces an orignality that a lot of blues artists at the time could not match.

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