George “Harmonica” Smith

(check out my George “Harmonica” Smith: West Coast Legend article series)

April 22, 1924 – October 2, 1983

 

Recording history: mid-1950’s for RPM, late 1950’s-1960’s for $oToPlay/Carolyn, late 1960’s-1970’s for World Pacific/ABC-Bluesway/Blue Horizon…and more

Also recorded with: Big Jay McNeely, Little Johnny Taylor, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, Dave Alexander, Bacon Fat, Joe Turner, Harmonica Slim, Eddie Taylor, William Clarke, Philip Walker, Jimmy Witherspoon, Muddy Waters band

Important/historic recordings:Telephone Blues“, “Blues In The Dark“, “Sharp Harp“, “Juicy Harmonica“, “Last Night

Random fact: George Smith’s chromatic playing style has impacted the modern-day approach to blues chromatic playing more so than any other traditional blues harp artist’s style, even including Little Walter’s.

About: Born Allen George Smith in Arkansas, his family moved to Illinois not long after, and legend has it that George was playing harp at local parties and jukes and on the streets before his teen years. He would travel between the Chicago & Mississippi areas early in his life, gaining some experience with the Jackson Jubilee Singers (out of Jackson, MS). Around 1950 in Chicago starting performing with a young Otis Rush, and within a few years, being asked to fill the harp chair in Muddy Waters‘ band – THE job for a harp player in those days.

George Smith went on to make some legendary recordings for the RPM label in the mid-1950’s, including some great 3rd position harmonica masterpieces on chromatic & diatonic harp. Although never really gaining the popularity of players such as Little Walter, he continued to make recordings for smaller labels until the late 1960’s when he teamed up with a young harp player by the name of Rod Piazza in the band Bacon Fat. Rod Piazza was one of his main proteges on harmonica, and many younger players of the day took inspiration & tutelage directly from George (including Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, William Clarke, Mark Hummel and more…). George’s sense of swing & phrasing is among the best of the traditional harp players, and his unique style on the chromatic harmonica – with his use of octaves and full chords – continues to have a huge impact on today’s modern blues chromatic players.

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “Harmonica Ace” – Ace (early RPM recordings)
  • “Blowin’ The Blues” – El Segundo (rare 1950’s-1960’s recordings)
  • “West Coast Down Home Harmonica” – El Segundo (compilation with seven rare George Smith tracks)
  • “Complete Blue Horizon Recordings – George Smith & Bacon Fat” – Blue Horizon/Sony BMG (George’s “No Time For Jive”  & Bacon Fat’s “Grease One For Me” recordings…plus bonus live cuts)
  • “Now You Can Talk About Me” – Blind Pig (Murray Bros. recordings from 1982 w/The Mighty Flyers, plus some 1960’s tracks)

Recommended DVDs in-print (with some George Smith footage):

  • Muddy Waters – In Concert 1971 w/George “Harmonica” Smith

I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at:

blues harmonica, blues harp, lessons, history

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Video clips:

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