The Best of the Best Harmonica Players

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by: Kyle Vallone

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Here is my list of the Best of the Best Harmonica players. This list is subjective and for me personally it has changed over the years as my tastes have changed.

BLUES

  • Little Walter
  • The man who created the Chicago style of amplified harmonica, he could make his harp sound like a tenor sax; his tone is the sought-after style of sound for harmonica players.

  • Sonny Boy Williamson
  • Extremely influential player, and the first player to make the harmonica a lead instrument.

  • Sonny Boy Williamson II
  • Prolific songwriter, vocalist and harmonica player; the ultimate blues man, his true name and birth date remained a mystery for most of his life.

  • Sonny Terry
  • The most amazing acoustic harmonica player I have ever heard. Completely captures that deep-down South, backwoods sound. The most powerful rhythm and percussive player I have ever heard.

  • Big Walter Horton
  • The first power blues harmonica player.

  • Jimmy Reed
  • The master of less-is-more, with his pleading vocal and distinctive harmonica styles that made him one of the blues greats.

  • James Cotton
  • One of the best-known blues harmonica musicians in the world; he is recognized for the power and precision of his playing.

  • Junior Wells
  • A great vocalist, chromatic player and expressive diatonic player.

  • Charlie Musselwhite
  • Great second generation Chicago-style harmonica player; a real master.

  • John Mayall
  • A member of the great British blues invasion of the 1960s

  • Norton Buffalo
  • Great harmonica player from California who recently passed away. He was a master of many harmonica styles.

  • Paul Butterfield
  • Another late, great second-generation blues harmonica master from Chicago. He became famous in the 1960s.

  • Rod Piazza
  • A disciple of George “Harmonica” Smith. He fronts a great band called the Mighty Flyers who are constantly on tour. These folks are well worth seeing.

    COUNTRY

  • Charlie McCoy
  • The greatest country western harmonica player of all time. Incredible tone and precision in his playing.

  • DeFord Bailey
  • DeFord became the most successful artist to share the tradition of hillbilly music with a wider audience. He was a heavy influence on Sonny Terry.

  • Wayne Raney
  • One of the great, early, country harmonica players.

  • Mike Stevens
  • A bluegrass harmonica player with a unique style.

  • Lonnie Joe Howell
  • Great country player in the Texas tradition who also written has some great books for learning harmonica.

    FOLK

  • Bob Dylan
  • Incredible singer and songwriter and expressive harmonica player. He has inspired a lot of people to pick up the harmonica and learn to play (myself included).

  • Neil Young
  • Great songwriter and guitar player and harmonica player. His style is very expressive.

    ROCK AND POP

  • Magic Dick
  • One of my favorites, he is extremely innovative. Magic Dick pushed the pocket of harmonica playing in the early 1980s.

  • John Popper
  • Very popular and talented, he uses a lot of high, fast blow bends in his unique style.

  • Lee Oskar
  • Former lead harmonica player for the pioneer funk/jazz group, War, which won him international renown for over two and a half decades (1969-1993). Oskar also has a great brand of harmonica.

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    Comments (48)

    • Dale W

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      Country:

      We should add Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson’s harpist.

      He’s been with Willie for over 3 decades.

      Reply

      • Teleosus

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        I cannot believe that Stevie Wonder is not on this list. What possible reasons could you have to not list him as one of the greatest harmonica players of all time.

        Reply

        • JPZingher

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          Everything else Stevie did distracts from the harmonica.

          Reply

    • matt

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      so toots t and howard levy don’t even make the list?!?!?!!

      Reply

    • Michael

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      You can add Larry Adler who brought great recognition to the harmonica as a solo, virtuoso instrument and also brought classical and jazz into a new dimension — see his collaboration with producer George Martin on “The Glory of Gershwin”

      Reply

    • Joann

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      I’d like to add Mike Douchette to the list. He traveled with Tammy Wynette and George Jones in the 80′s. Many credits with major artists and still plays on many major Country and Gospel projects.

      Reply

    • Joseph Teshuwah

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      like to mention Phil Wiggins of Cephas and Wiggins for keeping the great Piedmont Blues tradition alive for the last close to 30 years. RIP John Cephas!

      Reply

    • danny boy coy

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      accurate list…like it! Although I’ve been on stage with Norton & Cray, Sugar Blue is my all out favorite. Also: seen Johnny Winter a ways back where James Montgomery just totally blew me away. Kim Wilson has also blown me away. But on vinyl, I have to say Sugar, Sonny Boy, Little Walter are my fave’s to just sit and listen to.

      Reply

    • Gabriel Cubero

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      stevie wonder

      Reply

    • James Lauderdale

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      Alice Cooper played not only on his albums, but on lots of other albums. Due to recording contracts, he is not listed on most of the albums. But he is well-respected in Rock and Roll circles as a player.

      Reply

    • Lil Boy Blues

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      How about Adam bussow or better yet Jason Ricci!!!

      Reply

    • Warren Butner

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      What about Steve Cash,Ozark Mountain Daredevils-check out Chicken Train & If you wanna get to heaven!

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Right on Warren! jp

        Reply

    • Toby St. John

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      You should definitely have Powell St. John on this list. DEFINITELY!

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Your right Toby…thanks. jp

        Reply

    • Don Meyer

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      Please! Does no one recognize the genius e bestand technical abilities of John Popper (Blues Traveler). I’m an older guy-59 and certainly liked Mayal, etc.. but my ear tells me that John is the best.

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        You got it Don. John Popper is one of my heroes, and he is on the list under Rock and Pop. jp

        Reply

    • Don Meyer

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      Oh come on! are you gonna tell me that Bob Dylan was good at anything except poetry? Lee with War was very good but I would not place him in the same technical pot as John Popper. When I saw Mr. popper with a pick-up blues band in Somerville, MA. he blew me away(literally).

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Yes, Popper rips. Each have there on noteworthy style. Thanks for your input. jp

        Reply

    • john

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      What bout Greg Fingers Taylor n Billy Gibson ??

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Indeed the list goes on beyond the page. Thanks for you input John. jp

        Reply

    • Mike

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      Jerry Portnoy!!!

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Right on Mike. jp

        Reply

      • JP Allen

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        This guy’s awesome. Thanks Cinnamon. jp

        Reply

    • Joe Soow

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      Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson from Canned Heat.

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Right on Joe. jp

        Reply

      • lovintheblues

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        Yes! Why is the Blind Owl consistently overlooked??? So unfair!

        Reply

    • jim crain sr.

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      Please don’t forget about L D Miller. And Bob Littell who plays with Tommy Emmanuel. Out of sight harp man. Thanks, jim and rosie Still excited about our retreat with you in Kauai 2012.

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Right on Jim…what a time we had!! jp

        Reply

    • freedumring7

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      The late Terry McMillen RIP… played with a tremendous amount of soul!

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Yes indeed. jp

        Reply

    • Jimmy J. from Tucson

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      Don’t forget Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks.

      Reply

    • insert chaudiere

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      I’m impressed, I have to say. Really hardly ever do I encounter a weblog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you may have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is excellent; the problem is one thing that not sufficient individuals are talking intelligently about. I’m very completely happy that I stumbled throughout this in my seek for one thing referring to this.

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        I’m happy to hear you found it impressive and entertaining. thanks for you input. jp

        Reply

    • jim crain sr.

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      Don’t forget about J P Allen to be included in that list as not only does he play out of sight, he teaches in the easiest and most fun way you can imagine. I know from personal experience as I have jammed with him in Kauai with me just being a beginner. Look up” Jump Down/Turn Around” on youtube and see what a neat guy he is to everyone. Thanks for your help pal, jim and rosie

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Hey Jim!! Thanks so much for the high compliment. Love you dude, jp

        Reply

    • Chuck

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      Anther vote to please, please add Mark Wenner the founder and leader of one of the best blues “bar” bands ever; The Nighthawks. He’s been pumpin’ out the jams since the 1970s. He definitely fits to the second generation Chicago electric school, although they recently won an award for a traditional acoustic effort.. go figure…
      Oh and another unmentioned deserving of greater recognition. Jimmy Fadden of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Porbably fits in the Country category. He has a great sound and is an excellent player. How many drummers you know who can play harp simultaneously.

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Thanks for your input Chuck….all phenomenal players. jp

        Reply

    • Mike

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      In all these forums I`ve never heard mention of Paul Jones, a better player than the likes of John Mayall, good though they are. To my mind, in non blues, there will never be a better harmonica player than Larry Adler, the complete virtuoso.

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Yes Paul Jones is an amazing player, thanks for you input Mike. jp

        Reply

    • Ron

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      Its John Popper, then everyone else

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Love John Popper. jp

        Reply

    • BentreedBob

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      How ’bout puttin’ Rick Estrin on your list?

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Great player! jp

        Reply

    • moe miller

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      i can’t believe how little known the most excellent blues harp player is. good rockin’ charles edwards is the best, behind rice miller,aka sonny boy ii. crisp and clean.

      Reply

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