The Best Blues, Country and Rock Harmonica Players

By Kyle Vallone

Written by Kyle Vallone on . Posted in Blog: Harmonica Articles, Learn About the Harmonica

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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.

Best Blues Harmonica Players

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.

Best Country Harmonica Players

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.

Best Rock and Pop Harmonica Players

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.

Comments (89)

  • 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

      • Pat

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        Teleosus knows what he’s talking about, listen to Fingertips, Part 2 and you out him numba one!

        Reply

      • Anthony Beal

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        Though Stevie is good, he doesn’t belong on this list. Now the player who I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned is Richard Salwitz a.k.a. Magic Dick. Listen to the song Whammer Jammer from the J. Geils Band. Probably one of the greatest harmonica performances ever.

        Reply

        • Joe

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          Stevie Wonder is one of the best chromatic harmonica players on the planet. Stevie absolutely belongs on this list. And if Whammer Jammer is one of the greatest harmonica performances ever then I should be on this list too because I can play it note for note. Magic Dick is one of my heroes and biggest influences but nonetheless this list is incomplete without Stevie.

          Reply

        • JP Allen

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          Yes what would the world be like without Stevie? wish he was on there. jp

          Reply

    • Medium sized Jeremy

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      just what i was thinking.

      Reply

    • Sharona

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      Jason Ricci is one of the best harp players in the WORLD. What about James Harman too?

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Yes, all great players, wish we could have fit them all. jp

        Reply

  • matt

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

    Reply

    • Paul Schwarzman

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      There are so many out there that haven’t been name, but it is everyone’s opinion…. Great stuff thanks

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Right on Paul, wish we could have covered every great player but the list would be endless. jp

        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

    • Brian

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      How on earth can u mention James Montgomery and Kim Willson in the same sentence? No comparrison whatsoever. Montgomery is average at best, all show and NO blow! Kim Wilson is the best on the planet. Wow!

      Reply

    • Mike Hardy

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      Pat Ramsey was always Johnny Winter’s top choice for harmonica as he did “Red Jot and Blue”.He was picked over 200 other harp players.Fronting his on band for 25 years, he gives credit to Charlie McCoy,while mentoring many including Jason Ricci.

      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

    • Brett Denton

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      Uh, I can’t believe you forgot KIM WILSON of the “FABULOUS THINDERBIRDS.”

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Yes there’s definitely a consensus about that. Wish he was up there too. jp

        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

      • frank hadley

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        i agree paul jones is one of the best around at present

        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

  • CarlJG

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    Have you people even heard Christelle Berthon? Come on!!

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Yes. She’s one of my favs! jp

      Reply

  • A Berke

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    Dennis Gruenling should be added to the list. Best modern day blues player along with Kim Wilson and Rod Piazza.

    Reply

  • normandy

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    Dude from WNY who went by the name Crowbar. Incredible player who “captured” the harp and never let it go.

    Reply

  • A Ross

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    Corky Siegel – another Chicago Southside blues master who took his amazing talent, interpretation, experience and love of playing to amazing new heights with Chamber Blues – check it out at corkymusic.com

    Reply

  • Garry Fraser

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    Im a Aussie , from Melbourne , i believe Ian Collard is our best , are you aware of him

    Reply

  • Tim Link

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    Peter Madcat Ruth…..he’s a sick player.

    Reply

  • bob

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    How about lightning Hopkins or Allen Blackie Shaq nur I believe was one of the three known virtuosos at the time

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Yes, all great players. jp

      Reply

  • Andrew R

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    I just saw and met Lee Oskar tonight. Amazing. I was also fortunate enough to meet my favorite John Popper last December at his home here in Washington. Amazing, and as we parted he handed me one of his harmonicas. Goose bumps. Cool Cat for sure. So Oscars harmonica sits next to poppers now. I have to learn to play myself now.

    Reply

    • admin

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      Do it, my man 🙂

      Reply

  • dom

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    paul delay, and Carlos del junco totally missing on this list

    Reply

  • Gene Martin

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    Check out Jim McLaughlin from Everett wa winner!!!
    2015 ebey island freedom fest

    Reply

  • tom

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    No Billy boy Arnold on the list? say what???????????????

    Reply

    • Warren Wade

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      Hell ya, great harmonica player, great blues man, and cool dude.
      My dad wrote a cool tune with this man called Wandering Eye…
      Oh ya, and recently, finally inducted into the blues hall of fame…

      Reply

      • JP Allen

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        Wow, who was your dad Warren? jp

        Reply

  • Art Jensen

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    Tommy Morgan is a great session player. Many fine contributions.

    Reply

  • Rob Lewenstein

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    You left out the greatest harp player to ever walk on this Planet!!!!
    Kim Wilson

    Reply

  • John from Austin

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    Hans Olsen. Check out his version of “Early in the morning”.

    Reply

  • Reg Hayes

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    Richard Alfred Newell, better known by his stage name, King Biscuit Boy. One of my all time favourite harp players. I got to meet him before his untimely death.

    Reply

  • Fred Bosley

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    Mr. Kim Wilson belongs on the Blues

    Reply

  • Guy Prestob

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    Jason Ricci belongs on that list he is one of the best modern blues,/rock players alive

    Reply

  • Patrick Fairchild

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    Rory Gallagher’s harp player Mark Felthham and prolific Netherlands harp man Frank Van Pardo from The Ruben Hoake Band get a vote from me.

    Reply

  • Warren Wade

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    Listed were absolutely great harmonica players…legends, but how were you able to leave the great 2nd generation Chicago blues legend who came up through the Muddy Waters scene…Harmonica great, and just a cool person God resting him well…Carey Bell…

    Reply

    • JP Allen

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      Yes, legendary player, just couldn’t fit em’ all. jp

      Reply

  • Bubba

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    Huey Lewis is pretty damn good as well

    Reply

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