Page 1 of 1

Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:48 am
by john poole
James Moore - born 11th January, 1924 (nr. Baton Rouge, Louisiana) [died 31st January, 1970] One of the very few bluesmen to have had Top 40 hits on the pop charts during the 60s - 'Raining in my Heart' (#34; 1961) and 'Baby, Scratch My Back' (#16; 1966 - #1 R&B) but no film of him appears to exist. As well as being a musician he ran his own trucking company - he never played in Europe, although he was due to come over here in 1970 had he lived.

'Shake Your Hips' (1966) - the follow-up to 'Scratch My Back' only "bubbled under" The Hot 100 at #116, but subsequently one of his best known songs after being covered on "Exile on Main St."

'I Got Love if You Want it' (1957) - 'B'-side of his first release - great double-sided record with 'I'm a King Bee'

A documentary is being produced -

Re: Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 5:01 pm
by Adam Blake
One of my absolute favourite bluesmen. Both perfect records, John, thank you.

For the guitarists among you - "Got Love If You Want It" is in F, but if you stick a capo on the 1st fret and play it in E it still doesn't sound right. It took me ages to figure it out but what he does is tune the guitar down two full tones, or four frets worth, and then play it in A - in the open position. He's probably using strings as thick as barbed wire because if you try this on a guitar with modern light tension strings it will just go out of tune. But in them days, men were men and guitar strings were built to last.

Re: Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 7:48 pm
by Alan Balfour
I realise John's posting is celebrating his birth but this obituary is worth a read

A Tribute by Mike Vernon
UK weekly Melody Maker (28 Feb 1970 p. 14)

THE NEWS of the death of Slim Harpo was indeed sad. Richard, my
brother, received a ‘phone call from Bud Howell, President of the Nashboro
Record Company, in Nashville, Tennessee, to inform us that on Thursday
February 5 James Moore, known to the blues world as Slim Harpo, had suffered a heart attack and had died that same day. Exact details of his whereabouts at this tragic time were not revealed, although such details will be available shortly.


Bud himself seemed stone struck by the news. Besides being one of the company’s biggest selling acts at the present time, Slim was also a close friend of all those working at Excello. He was liked wherever he went. He drank little and did not smoke: the news of a heart attack thus came as even more of a shock.

James Moore was born on January 11th, 1924 in the parish of West Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Little is actually known about his very early life (it seems that few people actually got to interview him for full press coverage), but it would seem that he did work at many different jobs throughout the South. Two noted: as a stevedore in New Orleans and as a labourer in Baton Rouge.

His first professional name was Harmonica Slim. but was changed following his meeting with Jay Miller, as there was another Slim working the Southern night spots ‹ and the latter had been working the circuit for some time Miller, from Crowley, Louisiana, was then, responsible or the discovery of Moore, in a local club in 1957.

His first record was released on Excello (2113) that same year. entitled “I’ve Got Love If You Want It” backed with “I’m A King Bee” In fact, it was this ‘flip’ side that proved to be the big seller. More than that. The Rolling Stones heard it on an American dub (you will recall that this was the period of Yardbards, T-Bones, Baldry Davies etc) and they recorded it on an album and before you knew what had happened every blues outfit in the country was singing and playing, “well, I’m a King Bee, honey, buzzing around your hive.”


But it was “Rainin’ In My Heart,” recorded and released in 1961 that broke Slim Harpo in the States. This record hit the number one spot on the rhythm and blues charts. Harpo put together a road band and went to work, six and seven nights a week. In fact, he became the strongest competition for Jimmy Reed, B. B. King and Lowell Fulson on the Southern club circuits.

Then there was a period of little action: his singles were selling but not in such quantities as to guarantee hits. “Baby Scratch My Back,” released in 1966 (Excello 2273) broke the bad-luck spell, for this record was \o prove his biggest yet. “Shake Your Hips” and “Tip On In” followed in the next ten months and then recently two more big successes, one with Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and his latest release, “I’ve Got My Finger On Your Trigger.”


Steady work was assured too for many months to come. More than that a tour was being arranged in conjunction with Blue Horizon to take place in April and May, to cover Britain and some Continental countries.

Terms of a deal to represent Excello Records in this country had also been completed and arrangements had been made with Bud Howell to record Harpo on his second return to the UK at the end of May. Musicians had already been booked to make the dates: Colin Allen (drums); John Best (bass) Paul Butler, Rick Hayward, Top Topham and Laurie Sanford (guitars) and Pete Wingfield (piano) and I was to produce the sessions. Pete Wingfield and Duster Bennett had already written songs for Slim to record.

Back in the States, Nashboro had a set of six sessions booked for next week to cut some new sides on Slim to complete an album and for his next single.

And then like a thunderbolt from the sky, the news of his tragic death. In the last eight months the blues world has lost Magic Sam, Billy Stewart and now Slim Harpo. Howlin’ Wolf suffered another heart attack; Muddy Waters escaped a fatal car crash; so sad.
From all at Blue Horizon, Melody Maker and all those true blues fans, our sincere condolences to widow, Mrs James Moore and family, Dick Allen, his personal manager and Bud Howell, head of Nashboro. We shall never know truly how sad a loss this has been.

Re: Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 9:39 pm
by Rob Hall
Thanks for this John. After reading it earlier today, I had "Baby Scratch My Back" stuck in my head for the next few hours. It improved my day no end.

Re: Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2012 10:56 pm
by Adam Blake
Thanks for posting that, Alan. So sad that he died just as he was about to gain some real exposure. He was amazing. Such clean harmonica lines, such economy, no fuss, no mess.

Re: Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 1:09 pm
by Alan Balfour
Adam Blake wrote:Thanks for posting that, Alan. So sad that he died just as he was about to gain some real exposure.
Too true. Here's Let It Rock's tribute by Mike Leadbitter. It was also he who wrote the first full appraisal of Harpo in 1965 for R&B Scene.

Harpo’s Hangover

"Lord, I wonder what's bin happenin'? Ain't nobody here but me. All these empty bottles on the table here — I know I didn't drink all this myself! I must have a blues hangover. What's this? My check! And I don't have change for a grasshopper…and that's two crickets. Oh, Oh... here comes trouble! Sent in for this doggie, but he ain't got no money. Look like he lost everything he ever had. Hey listen... hear me! I done give my baby 20 dollars for a Christmas present — all I got was a slice of jelly-cake … and Sam, I laid that up! Now that's a whoop-jenny. Well, I believe I'll go on back on the stem now, with James, Rudolph and Tomcat…get my head bad again. Don't seem like nothin' goin' right for me today. All right, here I go…same old thing again. Look out now!"*

Well, the man who said all that was Slim Harpo and Sam, James, Rudolph and Tomcat made up the band that laid down those solid rhythms behind the wailing harmonica and nasal vocals. Harpo died at the age of 46 on January 31st, 1970 and his reputation seems to have been buried with him in the cemetery at Port Allen, Louisiana, for songs like 'I'm A King Bee', 'I Got Love If You Want It', 'Rainin' In My Heart' and 'Shake Your Hips' — songs that once influenced everyone from the Rolling Stones on up — are now nothing but a memory.

At his funeral was Mrs. Lovell Moore, Harpo's wife, who once remarked, "My husband used to be as skinny as a rail, so when he got his first record in 1957 we called him Slim. The Harpo is for mouth-harp you know, with an 'o' on the end. My man did a little bit of everything before he became a singer, but he finally found what he wants to do most". But even that discovery came a little late.

Harpo did do a bit of everything before he became a record star. Born and raised James Moore, at Port Allen, in the parish of West Baton Rouge, he had little schooling and was forced to work at an early age when his parents died. His life as a field-hand and labourer introduced him to music, but it wasn't until he met Lightnin' Slim in the early 'fifties that his thoughts turned to playing harp as an alternative to breaking his back under the Louisiana sun.

Lightnin' was a relatively old man in 1954, when he cut a record for Jay Miller in "the rice capital of Louisiana", Crowley. One song, 'Bad Luck' became a local hit and he went on the road for the first time, often taking a 30 year old James Moore along as harmonica player. James suddenly needed a stage name, so he called himself Harmonica Slim, but in 1957 Lightnin' took him over to Crowley and everything changed.

Jay Miller liked James' harp playing, but hated his singing. He did, however, like the somewhat naughty song that James tried to interest him in. Getting Guitar Gable's little band into the studio they cut the boastful 'I'm a King Bee' for Excello, forcing James to sing while holding his nose. It was the curiously flat, nasal quality of the voice, coupled with a hypnotic beat, that led to the king size success. Harmonica Slim became Slim Harpo and he really could sting!

Though 'King Bee' created a lot of excitement in England, it didn't really get anywhere in White America and Harpo had to wait another two years for his first, really big record. 'Rainin' In My Heart' was a sort of hillbilly blues that eventually made the U.S. Top 30, much to everyone's surprise, for it was nothing but sheer corn. Earlier sides like 'Blues Hang-Over', 'What A Dream' and 'Snoopin' Around' with their beautifully controlled harmonica solos and pounding Jimmy Reed-style beat, reeking of the Louisiana swamps, deserved more recognition.

But 'Rainin'' introduced Harpo to the world and while collectors strove to find out something about him he just vanished. A quarrel with Miller over royalties drove him to earth and after an illicit session for Imperial in New Orleans nothing more was heard until 1963 when he turned up in Crowley once again to cut new songs based on old themes. We go 'Buzzin', 'Little Queen Bee (Got A Brand New King)' and 'Still Rainin' In My Heart'. Musically all were good, but the general lack of ideas seemed to indicate that Harpo's lost years would only lead to the end of a promising career.

Another two years of nothing were to pass by and then, in 1965, he struggled on top again. By using a bayou-beat, as he had at the beginning with 'I Got Love If You Want It', developing a more contemporary guitar sound and allowing himself to sing softly and more natural, Harpo turned in such ever-popular dance numbers as 'Baby Scratch My Back', 'Shake Your Nips' and 'I'm Yow Bread Maker Baby', while producing superb, urban blues like 'I'm Gonna Miss You' and 'Midnight Blues'. Somehow Harpo and his band had got themselves up to date with a vengeance while retaining an essential individuality that made them more than just another blues band.

And things were to improve. 1967 saw a final break with Miller and Crowley and a new contract with Excello Records in Nashville. For the first time, Harpo was his own man and 'Tip On In', yet another good-times special, shot him into the B.B. King bracket in terms of popularity outside the Black market. At the time of his death he was at his peak as an entertainer with several albums to his credit and a string of singles. The inevitable: British tour was also planned thanks to the enthusiastic support of all his work by the, London based Blue Horizon, company (now sadly defunct). However, the wailing and: gnashing of teeth that greeted the deaths of pop super-stars like Joplin or Hendrix were not to be his. He went almost as quietly as he arrived, unknown as a person to most of his fans, and with total success still hovering just around the corner.

Slim Harpo saw 62 titles from among the many he recorded issued between 1957 and 1970,; of which most appeared, in one form or another, on Blue Horizon in this country. Though all his Excello albums are currently available in America, British reissues are rapidly vanishing from the catalogue. The "Tip On In" set still survives on President (PTL 1017), there are a few tracks on Blue Horizon's "Excello Story" (available via Polydor), but the fate of the rest is uncertain although most specialist shops appear to have a ready stock of Harpo deletions.

Hopefully, Polydor, who now have the Excello catalogue, will decide to issue a well-thought-out selection of his best material in the near future, for Harpo deserves some sort of a memorial. He may not have been a folk-poet or a true country bluesman, but he was an innovator and let it rock in a manner that many have tried to imitate, but few have ever got close to recreating. A blues hangover takes an awful lot-of getting rid of. Perhaps Slim Harpo's final buzz may still be heard in years to come.

* "Blues Hang-Over" by Moore & West. Lyric reproduced by courtesy of Excellorec Music.

Re: Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2012 1:59 pm
by john poole
Thanks for posting the tributes by the two Mikes, Alan. I'll add 'Blues Hang-Over' (1960) as quoted at the beginning of the "Let It Rock" piece. I like the way he gave name-checks to his band towards the end of the song. ... re=related

I was interested to read that in an interview ca. 1967 unearthed by the documentary maker Slim Harpo said that his wife wrote 'Rainin' in my Heart', continuing - "my wife does just about all my writing for me".

Re: Slim Harpo (Born 11th January, 1924)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2017 1:17 pm
by john poole
No news yet on the documentary it would seem, but a biography "Blues KIng Bee of Baton Rouge" by Martin Hawkins (with forward by John Broven) was published last year - ... ac798.html

and if anyone also has a spare £100 or so - Bear Family Records have released the box set "Buzzin' the Blues - the Complete Slim Harpo"

Some little clips from the annual Slim Harpo Awards with Slim's wife Lovell Moore seen at the beginning -

'Don't Start Cryin' Now' (1960) its original B-side 'Rainin' in my Heart' later became the hit