October 24, 1911 – March 11, 1986
Recording history: late 1930′s through the mid 1980′s for many different labels including Folkways, Gotham, Capitol, Storyville, Original Blues Classics & many more…
Also recorded with: Blind Boy Fuller, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Champion Jack Dupree, Cousin Leroy, Ry Cooder, John Mayall, and more…
Important/historic recordings: “Drinking In The Blues”, “Lost John”, “Fox Chase”, “Whoopin’ The Blues”
Random fact: Sonny Terry was not born blind, he lost his eyesight one eye at a time from two different childhood accidents. One at age 11, and the next at age 16. This apparently did not stop Sonny Terry from not only being one the most famous blues harmonica players in the world (and being remembered on a 1998 US Postage Stamp), but also becoming one of the most loved & respected of the traditional blues harmonica stylists.
About: Born Saunders Terrell in Greensboro, NC. After being caught sneaking in to play with his father’s harmonica at a young age, his father proceeded to show him a few things on the harp. Early in his career partnered with Blind Gary Davis & Blind Boy Fuller, which whom he also recorded with. Around 1940, Sonny Terry started a partnership with blues-folk singer/guitarist Brownie McGhee that would go one to become one of the most popular and successful duos in blues & folk history.
Sonny Terry developed a very unique approach to playing harmonica, with complete command of rhythmic chording and intermittent “whoops” & “hollers” in between the chording and wailing of blues notes. Having developed one of the (if not THE) hardest harmonica styles to duplicate and imitate, his approach somewhat differs between the two categories of recordings – his solo efforts, and his recordings as a sideman. Joe Filisko – world class harmonica builder/instructor/harmonica musician, and also the one player I’ve heard who has studied and can imitate Sonny Terry to an amazing degree – says of Sonny Terry’s solo recordings: “A sense of wreckless abandonment seems to take over, especially on the early recordings”.
Recommended Recordings in-print:
- “Country Blues Troubadours”- JSP (nice box set with lots of early solo Sonny Terry recordings)
- “Whoopin’ The Blues” - Capitol (1940′s ’50′s sides from Capitol)
- “Harmonica Rhumba” – Collectables (early sides on Gotham)
I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at: