The Blues Harp Page:
Slim Harpo
Cub Koda

[from ]

Slim Harpo

James Moore (1924-1970)

BORN: January 11, 1924, Lobdell, LA DIED: January 31, 1970,
Baton Rouge, LA

In the large stable of blues talent that Crowley, LA
producer Jay Miller recorded for the Nashville-based Excello
label, no one enjoyed more mainstream success than Slim
Harpo. Just a shade behind Lightnin' Slim in local
popularity, Harpo played both guitar and neck-rack harmonica
in a more down-home approximation of Jimmy Reed, with a few
discernible, and distinctive, differences. Slim's music was
certainly more laid-back than Reed's, if such a notion was
possible. But the rhythm was insistent and overall, Harpo
was more adaptable than Reed or most other bluesmen. His
material not only made the national charts, but also proved
to be quite adaptable for white artists on both sides of the
Atlantic, including the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks,
Dave Edmunds with Love Sculpture, Van Morrison with Them,
Sun rockabilly Warren Smith, Hank Williams, Jr. and the
Fabulous Thunderbirds.

A people pleasing club entertainer, he certainly wasn't
above working rock & roll rhythms into his music, along with
hard-stressed, country & western vocal inflections. Several
of his best tunes were co-written with his wife Lovelle and
show a fine hand for song construction, appearing to have
arrived at the studio pretty well-formed. His harmonica
playing was driving and straightforward, full of surprising
melodicism, while his vocals were perhaps best described by
writer Peter Guralnick as "if a black country and western
singer or a white rhythm and blues singer were attempting to
impersonate a member of the opposite genre." And here
perhaps was Harpo's true genius, and what has allowed his
music to have a wider currency. By the time his first single
became a Southern jukebox favorite, his songs being were
adapted and played by White musicians left and right. Here
was good-time Saturday night blues that could be sung by
elements of the Caucasian persuasion with a straight face.
Nothing resembling the emotional investment of a Howlin'
Wolf or a Muddy Waters was required; it all came natural and
easy, and its influence has stood the test of time.

He was born James Moore just outside of Baton Rouge, LA.
After his parents died, he dropped out of school to work
every juke joint, street corner, picnic and house rent party
that came his way. By this time he had acquired the alias of
Harmonica Slim, which he used until his first record was
released. It was fellow bluesman Lightnin' Slim who first
steered him to local record man J.D. Miller. The producer
used him as accompanist to Hopkins on a half dozen sides
before recording him on his own. When it came time to
release his first single ("I'm a King Bee"), Miller informed
him that there was another Harmonica Slim recording on the
West Coast, and a new name was needed before the record
could come out. Moore's wife took the slang word for
harmonica, added an 'o' to the end of it, and a new stage
name was the result, one that would stay with Slim Harpo the
rest of his career.

Harpo's first record became a double-sided R&B hit, spawning
numerous follow-ups on the "King Bee" theme, but even bigger
was "Rainin' in My Heart," which made the Billboard Top 40
pop charts in the summer of 1961. It was another perfect
distillation of Harpo's across-the-board appeal, and was
immediately adapted by country, cajun, and rock & roll
musicians; anybody could play it and sound good doing it. In
the wake of the Rolling Stones covering "I'm a King Bee" on
their first album, Slim had the biggest hit of his career in
1966 with "Baby, Scratch My Back." Harpo described it "as an
attempt at rock & roll for me," and its appearance in
Billboard's Top 20 pop charts prompted the dance-oriented
follow-ups "Tip on In" and "Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu," both R&B
charters. For the first time in his career, Harpo appeared
in such far-flung locales as Los Angeles and New York City.
Flush with success, he contacted Lightnin' Slim, who was now
residing outside of Detroit, MI. The two reunited and formed
a band, touring together as a sort of blues mini-package to
appreciative White rock audiences until the end of the
decade. The new year beckoned with a tour of Europe (his
first ever) all firmed up, and a recording session scheduled
when he arrived in London. Unexplainably, Harpo -- who had
never been plagued with any ailments stronger than a common
cold -- suddenly succumbed to a heart attack on January 31,
1970. ~ Cub Koda

Biography courtesy of All Music Guide to the Blues -
Paperback - 658 pages 2nd edition (1999) Miller Freeman
Books; ISBN: 0879305487 - the most comprehensive guide to
great blues recordings money can buy. 

The online version of the All Music Guides may be found at

[copyright Miller Freeman Books 1999 edited by by Michael
Erlewine, Chris Woodstra, Cub Koda, and Vladimir Bogdanov --