Phil Wiggins was born in Washington D.C. in 1954. He began his musical career with some of Washington’s leading blues artists, including Archie Edwards and John Jackson, and attributed his style to his years spent accompanying locally noted slide guitarist and gospel singer Flora Molton.
His harmonica sound developed from listening to piano and horn players, as well as the music of Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter Big Walter and Junior Wells. Phil also apprenticed with Mother Scott (a contemporary of Bessie Smith).
Phil first met John Cephas in 1976 at the Smithsonian National Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. Along with pianist Wilber “Big Chief” Ellis and bassist James Bellamy, John and Phil formed the Barrelhouse Rockers.
A year after Ellis’ death”, the duo of Cephas and Wiggins was born. Besides being a renowned harmonica player, Wiggins is also a gifted songwriter and singer whose material helped define the duo’s sound.
According to Wiggins, “People automatically think of sadness and depression when they think of blues. But the blues of course is uplifting music music to rejuvenate you to nourish the spirit. When you get down the blues will pick you up again.”
Little Hatch likely was the best harmonica player ever to make Kansas City home. He died on January 14, 2003 at 81 years-old.
Little Hatch was born Provine Hatch Jr. in Sledge, Mississippi in 1921. He picked up the blues harp [harmonica] when he was just 8 years-old. By his teens after his family had moved to Helena, Arkansas Hatch was under the direct spell of Sonny Boy Williamson II. The Blues and that harmonica overcame him.
‘I slept with it ate with it and everything else I could do with it ‘ Hatch said of his first harmonica in an APO Records interview.
The obsession turned into a profession for Hatch once he added vocals to his act.
The U.S. Navy drafted Hatch in 1942 and he served in World War II until 1946. On his way home to Arkansas, Hatch stopped in Kansas City. He liked the city’s feel Hatch told his family and after meeting a woman he decided to make his home there.
Hatch worked as a trash-hauler owning his own truck and accumulating 65 stops. He worked for Hallmark Cards for 32 years as a security guard and as a mailman earning a pension. But the Kansas City Mayor’s Office declared his birthday October 25th Little Hatch Day because of his Blues.
For more than 40 years Hatch was a Kansas City star. However Hatch’s fame and most of his gigs were limited to Kansas City. APO Records owner Chad Kassem couldn’t believe that Little Hatch wasn’t a recording star when he first saw him perform in the early 1980s. By the late 1990s Kassem had established Blue Heaven Studios and the Blues label APO in Salina, Kansas. He of course remembered Hatch and the two formed a relationship that produced 1998’s Goin Back (APO, 2007) and Rock With Me Baby.
Little Hatch died of natural causes at his home in El Dorado Springs, Missouri. He was 81 years old.
Multi-instrumentalist Howard Levy has appeared throughout the Americas, Europe and Japan in a variety of jazz, Latin, folk, blues, pop and world music settings. A superb pianist and composer, Howard’s most remarkable music is made on the harmonica.
He has revolutionized the technique of playing the instrument by devising a method of playing all twelve tones of the chromatic scale on the diatonic harmonica (which is only designed to produce eight tones).
In addition Howard is revered for performing with intense musicality a beautiful tone and a commanding stage presence. Howard was an original member of the outstanding Bela Fleck &the Flecktones. Howard is also credited for performances and recordings with the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, David Grisman, Kenny Loggins, Paquito D’Rivera, Glen Vele,z John Prine, Bonnie Koloc, Styx, Chuck Mangione and Dolly Parton.
Howard Levy’s discography is really extensive. His Web site has a long list of titles where he appears as a member of various ensembles and as a guest.
The Old Country (1999)
Stranger’s Hand (1999)
Howard Levy & Paul Sprawl (2005) Tonight and Tomorrow (2009)
Time Capsules (2009)
Concerto for Diatonic Harmonica and Orchestra (2010)
Alone and Together
Acclaimed blues harmonica player James Cotton died on March 16, 2017. He was a legendary musician who had performed with some of blues’ greatest musicians along with rock stars.
James Cotton (called Cotton by his friends) was born on the first day of July, 1935, in Tunica, Mississippi. He was the youngest of eight brothers and sisters who grew up in the cotton fields working together with their mother, Hattie, and their father, Mose. On Sundays, Mose was the preacher in the area’s Baptist church.
Cotton’s earliest memories included his mother playing chicken and train sounds on her harmonica and for a few years he thought those were the only two sounds the small instrument made. His Christmas present one year was a harmonica; it cost 15 cents, and it wasn’t long before he mastered the sounds of the chicken and the train.
King Biscuit Time, a 15-minute radio show, began broadcasting live on KFFA, a radio station just across the Mississippi River in Helena, Arkansas. The star of the show was the harmonica legend, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller). The young Cotton listened closely to the old radio speaker. He recognized the harmonica sound and discovered something – the harmonica did more! Realizing this, a profound change came over him, and since that moment, Cotton and his harmonica became inseparable. Soon after, he was able to play Sonny Boy’s theme song from the radio show and, as he grew so did his repertoire of Sonny Boy’s other songs.
Mississippi summers are unbearably hot and James was too young to actually work in the cotton fields, so little Cotton would bring water to those who did. When it was time for him to take a break from his job, he would sit in the shadow of the plantation foreman’s horse and played his harmonica. His music became a source of joy for his first audience.
By his ninth year, both of his parents had died, and Cotton was taken to Sonny Boy Williamson by his uncle. When they met, the young kid wasted no time – he began playing Sonny Boy’s theme song on his treasured harmonica. Cotton remembered that first meeting well and said, “I walked up and played it for him. And I played it note for note. And he looked at that. He had to pay attention.” The two harmonica players were like father and son from then on. “I just watched the things he’d do, because I wanted to be just like him. Anything he played, I played it,” he remembered.
James Cotton embarked on a long musical career. He joined Muddy Waters’ band, formed his own blues outfit called James Cotton Blues Band in the late 1960s and collaborated with rock artists such as Johnny Winter, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards.
“James Cotton’s talent as a blues harmonica player was unmatched. While the Mississippi native was best known for his collaborations with Muddy Waters, he was also an accomplished singer-songwriter and fronted his own group called the James Cotton Blues Band. A 10-time GRAMMY nominee, he earned the Best Traditional Blues Album GRAMMY for 1996 for his album Deep in the Blues. He was later inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2006. Our deepest condolences go out to James’ family, friends, and creative collaborators,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy.
The James Cotton Blues Band (Lilith 1967)
Pure Cotton (Lilith 1968)
Cut You Loose! (Vanguard 1968)
Taking Care of Business (Capitol 1970)
1% Cotton (Universe 1974)
High Energy (One Way Records 1975)
Live & On the Move (One Way Records 1976)
Two Sides of the Blues (SRI Jazz 1984)
High Compression (Alligator Records 1984
Live & On the Move Vol. 2 (Buddah 1986)
Live from Chicago Mr. Superharp Himself (Alligator Records 1986)
Take Me Back (Blind Pig 1987)
Live at Antone’s (P-Vine Records 1988)
Harp Attack! (Alligator Records 1990)
Mighty Long Time (Texas Music Group 1991)
Live at Electric Lady (Sequel 1992)
Living the Blues (Verve 1994)
Deep in the Blues (Verve 1996)
Superharps (Telarc 1999)
Fire Down Under the Hill (Telarc 200)
It Was a Very Good Year (Justin Time 2001)
35th Anniversary Jam of the James Cotton Blues Band (Telarc 2002)
Tomislav Goluban – Kaj Blues Etno (Spona CD194, 2016)
Tomislav Goluban is one of the best harmonica players in Central Europe. His album Kaj Blues Etno divides the musical pieces into three types.
Kaj makes reference to Kajkavian, which is a Croatian dialect from Zagorje in Central Croatia. Here, Goluban delivers a mix of Kajkavian pop and folk combined with jazz.
The Blues songs are pretty self-explanatory. In this set, Goluban plays songs in Croatian and instrumentals in a delta and country blues format, with notable harmonica solos.
The last set, titled Etno, is what we would call world music or world fusion. Goluban performs traditional and original pieces where he combines blues with jazz and folk music. And, even though blues has been performed in many languages other than English before, the novelty here is that Tomislav Goluban incorporates traditional Croatian musical instruments into the mix such as tambura, bagpipe, and a few others.
Kaj Blues Etno includes numerous guests although the backbone of the band consists of Tomislav Goluban on harmonica, vocals; Adalbert Turner, Hana Hegedušić, Nikola Santro, Ivana Kurs Podvorec on vocals; Mike Sponza on guitar; Damir Halilić Hal on mandolin, guitar; Miroslav Evačić on tambura; Toni Starešinić on keyboards; Marko First on violin; Stjepan Večković on bagpipe, double flute; Damjan Grbac on double bass; and Branko Trajkov on percussions. Two ensembles also participate in the recording, the Zagrje Brass Quintet and Ansambl Zabok.
Tomislav Goluban is a prominent Croatian blues harmonica musician, who has been playing for two decades. He does solo, duo and full band performances. Goluban has won several of Croatia’s most prestigious annual national music awards. He’s the founder of the ethno blues festival in his home region of Zagorje, northwest of the Croatian capital of Zagreb; he also works with young people, exposing them to the harmonica and music in general and hosts a blues radio show on the Croatian national radio station.