The "Mississippi saxophone" remains one of the most expressive solo instruments in the blues, and this second edition of Telarc’s acclaimed Superharps features four modern day giants of the instrument: Carey Bell, Lazy Lester, Raful Neal and Snooky Pryor. Superharps II is a harmonica master class that includes a variety of harp styles, all in shades of blue.
Produced by Randy Labbe, this 13-track recording mixes and matches the players in different combinations. Carey Bell opens the set with Muddy Waters’ "Walking Thru the Park." Snooky Pryor and Bell trade solos on Pryor’s "Keyhole in Your Door" and another Waters chestnut, "She’s Nineteen Years Old." Lazy Lester and Raful Neal pair up on the former’s "Strange Things Happen" and "I Made Up My Mind." Pryor and Lester join together for "Shake My Hand" and "Blood Stains on the Wall." All four masters unite on the finale, "Harp to Harp."
Carey Bell learned his licks first-hand by studying with Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Walter Horton. Born in Macon, Mississippi in 1936, Bell taught himself to play the harmonica by the time he was eight, and began working professionally with his godfather, pianist Lovie Lee, when he was 13. He moved to Chicago in the mid-‘50s, and, besides picking up harmonica tips from Little Walter and Horton, he also learned guitar from David "Honeyboy" Edwards, although his main instrument throughout the ‘60s was bass guitar. Later on, he had lengthy spells with Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. Besides being known as a leading harmonica player, Bell is also a very underrated singer.
Lazy Lester (a.k.a. Leslie Johnson) was born in 1936 near Baton Rouge. The early recordings of Little Walter and Jimmy Reed were his inspiration and soon got him interested in the blues harmonica. Lester is also a spirited singer and skilled multi-instrumentalist whose songwriting gifts have inspired rockers like The Kinks ("I’m A Lover, Not A Fighter"), Dave Edmunds ("I Hear You Knockin’") and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. At an age when most folks are enjoying retirement, he remains a dynamic blues artist.
Raful Neal was born in 1936 and grew up on a farm in Chamberlin, Louisiana. After his family moved to Baton Rouge, Neal's interest in music was sparked in 1954 when Little Walter came into town to play. At age 17, Neal and Lazy Lester formed a band and played the local circuit. When Lester left for Chicago, Buddy Guy took his place. The year Neal got married, the unimaginable happened: Little Walter performed in Baton Rouge, heard Neal play harmonica and invited the band to move to Chicago. Buddy Guy did move to Chicago the next year, but Neal declined. Today, he is perhaps best known for being the father of a brood of successful blues musicians, including Telarc recording artist Kenny Neal.
Born in 1921 in Lambert, Mississippi, Snooky Pryor has been grabbing the spotlight with his spirited harp playing and big, bluesy voice ever since he heard Sonny Boy Williamson II play nearly 70 years ago. Most impressive is that Pryor is widely credited for creating the electric harmonica sound. While serving in the army, he played over the camp’s PA system and developed his amplified style. He went on to gig with idol Williamson II and Homesick James, and in 1948 began a recording career with "Telephone Blues." Pryor also collaborated with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Jimmy Rogers, and continues to maintain a hectic touring and recording schedule.
But there is more to Superharps II than just great harmonica players. The supporting band is no less stellar, consisting of Kid Bangham on guitar (formerly of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Michael "Mudcat" Ward on bass (a member of Jay Geil's Bluestime for five years), along with Per Hanson on drums (from Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters) and Anthony Geraci on piano.
Each of these artists has crafted a style by blending traditional influences with a distinct personal vision. Superharps II is a perfect showcase for their combined talents.
The first Superharps recording (CD-83472) was released in October 1999 and featured harmonica champs James Cotton, Billy Branch, Charlie Musselwhite and Sugar Ray Norcia.