September 15, 1921 – October 18, 2006
Recording history: late 1940’s thru 1950’s for Planet/Marvel/JOB/Vee-Jay, 1970’s for Big Bear, 1980’s for Blind Pig, 1990’s-2000’s for Antone’s, Electro-Fi, Blind Pig …and more
Also recorded with: Moody Jones, Floyd Jones, Johnny Young, Homesick James, Johnny Shines, Mel Brown…and more
Important/historic recordings: “Boogie”, “Telephone Blues”, “Fine Boogie”, “Cryin’ Shame””, “Judgement Day“
Random fact: Though Little Walter was the one to get most of the recognition & fame for playing riffs like a horn and amplifying his harmonica, not only was Snooky one of the first to amplify the harmonica (some would say THE first), but Snooky’s recording of “Boogie” (1948) preceded Walter’s “Juke” (1952) AND had some of the same licks in it, including the opening lick “Juke” is known for.
About: Born James Edward Pryor in Mississippi, Snooky spent some of his early years in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois. Following this he had a short stint in the army, during which he blow bugle through an electric PA system. This seems to be the place Snooky got the idea to play harmonica through a PA system and amplify the sound. Regardless of pointless “who was first” arguments, Snooky was undeniably ONE of the first ever to play “amplified” harmonica and one of it’s earliest pioneers and stars. Upon leaving the army, he settled in Chicago and started recording in 1947 with Floyd Jones. The next handful of years saw some remarkable early “Chicago” blues from Snooky with Floyd and/or Moody Jones, Johnny Young, Sunnyland Slim and others. As far as influences, it is clear that both John Lee Williamson (Sonny Boy #1) and Rice Miller (Sonny Boy #2) were big influences.One can easily hear the stylistic influence of Sonny Boy #1 on Snooky’s early “Telephone Blues” and of Sonny Boy #2 on his “Crosstown Blues”.
In the 1960’s Snooky gave up music as a career and moved further south in Illinois, while choosing to do carpentry to support his family. In the early 1970’s he started to record again (though sporadically), but a full-fledged comeback seemed to be taking shape in the mid-late 1980’s. Many recordings followed for labels such as Blind Pig, Antone’s, Electro-Fi and more. Snooky also was touring and performing worldwide during this period and seemed to be finally getting some of the recognition he deserved as not only a fine harmonica player, but as one of the first & earliest Chicago post-war blues pioneers.
Recommended Recordings in-print:
I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at: