Best Blues Harmonica Players

The Top Ten

Paul Butterfield

Paul was an innovative trendsetter who brought his powerful, hard driving style of harp playing blues to the younger generation white music world. He was also one of the first band leaders to have an integrated band, and one of the first to merge blues, rock, jazz and eastern music styles into a successful and influential musical repertoire in the fast paced world of ‘60’s Rock and Roll. All of this was possible because of Paul’s commanding style of amplified harp that was powerful and innovative enough to be the lead instrument of bands that often included horn sections and band members such as Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, and David Sanborn! Paul was the Man!

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's difficult 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.

Took Little Walter's vocabulary and made it is own. he played with a serious intensity that no one could match. He combined true blues feeling with originality and viruosity. He was an excellent songer too. He listened and understood blues.

Little Walter

Little Walter is the Godfather of blues harmonica! He stands alone as the one who transformed blues harmonica playing from a un-amplified, background, sideman instrument, to an amplified lead instrument that could solo with power alongside the other amplified instruments of the band. It was not only his sound, but his musicality, inventiveness, and song writing, that sets him apart from all others. In so many ways he was/is the premier harp player, and the one who has most influenced all blues harp players! Little Walter is ‘The Don’!

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.

Sonny Boy Williamson II

Lovely rounded notes, Sonny Boy produces a smooth harmonica sound, but with characteristic sudden attacks that catch the listener off-guard. His gimmicky “in mouth” playing could never distract from his wonderfully polished technique.

Full of himself, but knew what he was doing!

George "Harmonica" Smith

So very under appreciated and not as well know. I call his style " intricate simplicity"

Junior Wells
Jimmy Reed
Charlie Musselwhite

Top shelf-none better...I listened to his ''Stand Back'' album for 6 straight hours without picking up my harp--& when I started to play again, I was a different & far better player...even my bandmates mentioned it next night on the gig...if you want to learn, this cat is the best!...

Charlie Musselwhite is a fabulous blues harmonica player. One of the best, if not the best.
I've seen him live in several blues clubs, and he
always blew me away.

'God Bless Charlie"

Jimmy D.

The blues overtook him when he was a little child and drove the poor boy Wild!

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

Walter Horton

No one sounded like Walter Horton! Absolutely amazing!

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

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.

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

Will Wilde

Very credible Blues harp player and deserves his place here, but his thing is more Blues-Rock, Hard-Rock based. His passion for harmonica knows no bounds. He is SERIOUSLY overlooked. Check his band out (Will Wilde Band) sometime. You'll see what I mean. He has an amazing set of pipes on him too. An overall incredible musician.

He has to be heard to be believed He can play all types of Blues, but I particularly love his slow Blues. He's just incredible. Check him out on YouTube as soon as you've read this. Any Blues harmonica enthusiast will not be disappointed. Oh, and he's English. Just saying...

The Contenders

Sonny Boy Williamson I

The original. No one had heard the harmonica played like it before.

Jason Ricci

Yes, JR can shred (probably the best at this) but he can also do soulful, country-style blues with the best of them (check out his collaborations with JJ Appleton). His versatility, creativity and originality is unmatched. If you play the harp, what he can do is unworldly. Yes he DOES have demons. All part of his make up.

Jason is a master of the craft. I'm a pro sax player on the New Orleans circuit and have shared the stage with him several times. Nobody shreds the "Mississippi Saxophone" like Mooncat.

No one has the speed, preciseness and diversity coupled with the ability to play with such soul. The Jimmy Hendrix of the harp.

This guy is something else entirely

John Popper

He should be up at the top, this list is ridiculous having him all the way down here at 15, really?

Simply just incredible I can listen to his solo's all day long.

Move him up.

My favourite

Sonny Terry

King of the chuggers.

James Cotton

Cotton in his prime was right up there with his mentor Sonny Boy Williamson

Alan Wilson

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

The "Blind Owl" was so incredible. Take a listen.

Boogie Chillen No2 by Hooker at Heat

Sugar Blue
Rick Estrin

Powerful. I've seen him at least a dozen times over the last 27 years and he just seems to get better every time.

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

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

Norton Buffalo

He is so incredible in so many ways. He is versitile in his playing and a great entertainer.

Taj Mahal Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, who uses the stage name Taj Mahal, is an American blues musician, a self-taught singer-songwriter and film composer who plays the guitar, piano, banjo, and harmonica, among many other instruments.

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

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

Carey Bell

Not sure why,but Bell's playing always makes my ears perk up.

Robert Plant Robert Anthony Plant (born 20 August 1948) 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.

Paul Jones

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

25th? Seems a bit low for such an accomplished player. Surely, he's top ten?

John Mayall John Mayall is an English blues singer, guitarist, organist and songwriter, whose musical career spans over fifty years.
Charlie McCoy

61 Albums on music row toured France scores of times.

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