Rhythm Willie

1910? – May, 1954

Recording history: late 1930’s for Decca, 1940 for Okeh, 1947 for Aladdin, 1950 for Premium

Also recorded with: Peetie Wheatstraw, Lee Brown, Earl Bostic

Important/historic recordings: “Willie’s Boogie”, “Wailin’ Willie”, “I Got Rhythm”, “Breathtaking Blues”, “Boarding House Blues”

Random fact:* Louis Myers (of the legendary Chicago Blues band The Aces – which backed up Junior Wells & Little Walter in their heyday – and who was also a fine harmonica player in his own right) knew of Rhythm Willie since they played in Chicago during the same era, but not in the same club circuit. Louis Myers categorized Rhythm Willie as a “jazzman”, and added that Rhythm Willie “was one cat [Little] Walter wouldn’t mess with on the harp“!

About:* Born Willie Hood, not much is known of this undeservedly obscure and uniquely talented harmonica player. Not even his birth year or date! Started recording in 1939, presumably close to 20 years of age, and totally unique in his playing approach. One listen and you can hear this was a player who was influenced by the horn players of his day (in particular clarinet & trumpet come to mind). Though he mainly recorded blues or blues-related swinging instrumentals, he reportedly had also been popular in the lounges and supper-clubs of Chicago and performed a mix of jazz, standards, and blues. Most of his work was also done on the high-end of the harmonica (in 1st position), but totally different than the more “country”-style blues players of the day, or even the early Chicago harmonica players from his era. Again, Willie phrased and played melodically much like a horn player.

Sadly, not only has his life gone mostly undocumented, but so has his playing and small recorded legacy. Thankfully, there has been a recent CD re-issue of all known and available sides featuring his unique and pioneering harmonica talent. Rhythm Willie was one of the first harmonica players to really incorporate a more “jazz” or horn approach to playing single-note lines on the diatonic harmonica, much like John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson did (towards the end of his career somewhat), and which Little Walter took further with his amplified approach.

* (Thanks to Scott Dirks, some information taken from his article ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ – The Rhythm Willie Story for Blues & Rhythm Magazine with his permission)

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “The Greatest Harp Player You Never Heard” – Rhythm (includes all of his available recordings)

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

blues harmonica, blues harp, lessons, history