Best Blues Harmonica Players


The Top Ten

1 Paul Butterfield Paul Butterfield

Even "extraordinary" is an understatement. Part of the magic derives from his playing harp upside-down and backwards. As a result, his tone was fuller and richer than anyone before or since, owing to his oral cavity being in unorthodox juxtaposition vis-a-vis the blow and draw plates. Because he played right-to-left, he came upon licks and created runs never before heard. His wind was superhuman. His vibrato is unmatched to this day. His use of chords was revolutionary, and when he laid vibrato on his chords, the effect was celestial, as it was with single notes, as well. You'll not see his like again. Though his musical ability was superhuman, May 4th marked thirty years since we lost him to his own all-too-human weaknesses. RIP.

While it was difficult to me to choose a best Blues Artist, choosing a best Harmonica Player is so much easier. Where I love listening to Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite et al, Paul's playing is hypnotic; it's like there's nothing else in the world except me and this amazing sound. When he plays, I drift. Simple. - Britgirl

What can I add that hadn't been so eloquently put already? He deserves to take gold. Simple. - Britgirl

The contest is from #2 on...

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2 Little Walter

Lush, if you've never ridden in a 1972 Cadillac Coupe Deville at 100 miles an hour you don't understand. Every time I listen to him you hear different layer and the different angle. Not what you call fancy. Just deep!

The pioneer of amplified harp, and really the only choice, overall, for #2. A great deal is owed him.

3 George "Harmonica" Smith
4 Sonny Boy Williamson II
5 Jimmy Reed

Correction: Hadn't noticed Jimmy was on this list. He doesn't belong here any more than does Mick Jagger. Jimmy was a repetitive screecher; pretty much a one-trick pony with little imagination and no virtuosity in his playing. Anyone breathing could master his "technique" in a week or less.

My personal taste would say that Jimmy Reed's playing is a little screechy and scratchy. For me, it has to be smooth and have that 'up and down' flow like sea waves. Paul Butterfield, Junior Wells, Charlie Musselwhite, Taj Mahal and King Biscuit Boy are all able to produce that perfect sound. - Britgirl

6 Junior Wells
7 Walter Horton

Everybody borrowed from Shakey, including me. (Oops... Fergot. Ah'm invisible, now.)

8 Mick Jagger Mick Jagger Sir Michael Philip "Mick" Jagger is an English singer, songwriter, and actor, best known as the lead vocalist and a co-founder of the Rolling Stones.

Owing to national pride and other emotional attachments, some may think Jagger "deserves" to be here. But reality bites, and he really is not a good harp player, and certainly far outside the abilities and musicality of everyone else on this list. Sorry, but what is, IS.

Sorry, but Jagger has no place on this list. He's been at it for at least fifty-five years, and still sounds about like I did when when I'd been playing less than a year, forty-five years ago.

He does deserve to be here and I'm glad he was added. - Britgirl

9 Charlie Musselwhite Charlie Musselwhite

For an overview of Charlie in his prime, check "Arkansas Boogie," "Help Me," "Blu Stu," and "Christo Redemptor" (piano version).

Charlie playes his heart out. Like B.B.King on Lucille!

10 Alan Wilson

Never reached his full potential. Drugs and depression took him out early. For sumpin' tasty, try "Huautla" (Canned Heat).

The Newcomers

? Paul Jones

Lead with Manfred Mann - 76 and still playing at his best. Got to be in the top ten!

? Johnny Dyer

The Contenders

11 Sonny Boy Williamson I
12 James Cotton
13 Sugar Blue
14 Robert Plant Robert Plant Robert Anthony Plant is an English musician, singer, and songwriter best known as the lead singer and lyricist of the rock band Led Zeppelin.

I didn't add him into the top 10 at first because his only really impressive harp playing is on When The Levee Breaks. - BrianScott01

15 Rick Estrin

Check out "D.O.G." The song's a hoot, and his licks mighty respectable.

Saw little charlie and the nightcats twice. Rick estrin is awesome
So is little charlie by the way

16 King Biscuit Boy King Biscuit Boy

Rich was an old acquaintance of mine, and a really nice guy. And when he was switched on, he was pure screamin' smoke. RIP.

17 Norton Buffalo
18 Taj Mahal Taj Mahal

Butterfield is rightly first choice but Taj's talent with the harp mustn't go unnoticed. Should really be in the top five. - Britgirl

Dirty, greasy, juicy, slurry, throaty harp. Loved him for more decades than I care t'member.

19 David Blight

Cold Chisel don't necessarily play the blues but Blight is a blues harp player, a great one at that. Just watch some live performances. - BrianScott01

"Great" is quite a stretch. "Fair" would be much more accurate.

20 Howlin' Wolf Howlin' Wolf
21 Sonny Terry
22 Captain Beefheart Captain Beefheart Don Van Vliet was an American singer, songwriter, musician and artist best known by the stage name Captain Beefheart.

Long Neck Bottles is good. - Britgirl

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