Picking the best blues harmonica players of all time is a challenging task. If you are a harmonica lover, you will love to see your favorite one at the top of this list. But it would not be fair to rank harmonica players based on their popularity.
After all, not many can express their bottom emotion by producing blues music from a free reed wind instrument. But the best part of the article is that we have done our research and picked talented people playing the harmonica in the blues genre.
10 Best Blues Harmonica Players
While harmonica is relatively easy to learn, high-level blues playing takes time and skill. Becoming one of the best harmonica players in the blues genre and influencing a generation takes work.
Meanwhile, making a list of the top 100 harmonica players is easy. But picking a few harmonica blues artists out of hundreds or more is different. From history to modern blues harmonica players, only a few talented harmonica players have shown the most profound passion while playing blues music.
You May Also Like: 10 Best Guitarists of All Time 10 Famous Jazz Trumpet Players Today 10 Best Female Harmonica Players Top 10 Best Rock And Roll Harmonica Players 10 Best Living Harmonica Players
And this list features ten of the best blues musicians who have mastered multiple instruments to play in the blues genre.
Here is our list of the 10 best harmonica players in the Blues genre.
|10 Allen George Smith||April 22, 1924||Blues, electric blues||1950s – 1980s|
|9 Alan Wilson||July 4, 1943||Blues, Blues Rock, Electric blues, Boogie Rock||1960 – 1970|
|8 Stevie Wonder||May 13, 1950||Soul, R&B, Pop, Funk, Gospel, Jazz, Progressive Soul||1961 – present|
|7 Big Mama Thornton||December 11, 1926||Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Texas Blues||1947 – 1984|
|6 Jewtown Eddie||September 17, 1931||Blues||1960s – 2000s|
|5 Junior Wells||December 9, 1934||Rhythm and Blues, Blues||1950s – 1997|
|4 Charlie Musselwhite||January 31, 1944||Blues||1966 – present|
|3 Earring George Mayweather||September 27, 1927||Electric Blues, Chicago Blues||1950s – 1995|
|2 Sonny Boy Williamson I||March 30, 1914||Blues||1930s – 1948|
|1 Big Walter Horton||April 6, 1921||Blues, Chicago Blues||1930s – 1981|
10 Allen George Smith
Allen was an outstanding American electric blues harmonica player of his time. Only some harmonica players from West Helena, Arkansas, could become as good in the blues genre as Allen. Hearing his playing was like hearing his emotion through the instrument.
Smith learned harmonica from his mother when he was just four. By the time he was a teen, he had played for a country band with Early Woods and Curtis Gould. Traveling the south, Smith spent his early life playing on the street and was roughly near to his dream.
In 1951, Smith took his step ahead and started to play as a professional; 3 years later joined the Muddy Waters band to play as an irregular. During the 1950s, Smith got opportunities to perform with famous and talented musicians, which brought his career into the limelight.
Besides all the success in his professional career as a musician, Smith influenced the likes of William Clarke and Rod Piazza. He has spent most of his life on the Pacific Coast, Pacific States. But his last days were spent in Los Angeles, California, where he died at 59.
9 Alan Wilson
Known as The Blind Owl, Alan Wilson was a Blues Hall of Fame Legendary Blues Artist from Arlington, Massachusetts, United States. He founded and led the blues band Canned Heat to success. Alan, along with his band, gave two massive U.S. hits, “On the Road Again” and “Going Up the Country“.
From a young age, Alan had nearsightedness. He was often bullied in school and had an unstable parental guide. At first, Alan was confused about his aim for the future, till he brought his interest in music ever since his stepmother Barbara bought him a jazz record.
Though it took him some time, he eventually taught himself how to play instruments and focused on traditional New Orleans music, classical European, and Indian music. It was when he got attracted to Blues music after hearing a Muddy Waters record played by one of his friends.
Wilson began his musical career in 1962 with David Evans, a blues enthusiast. Playing in the Cambridge coffeehouse folk-blues circuit, Wilson got more connected to Harmonica and guitar. There was a time when he almost sang the same to James’ high pitch.
Gaming success as a musician, Wilson soon became one of the best Blues harmonica players from Arlington, Massachusetts, U.S. To this date, Wilson retains his position on the top 100 best harmonica players list for receiving the Blues Hall of Fame Legendary Blues Artist award.
Eventually, his journey ended on September 3, 1970, in Topanga, California, U.S.
8 Stevie Wonder
From Saginaw, Michigan, United States, Stevland Hardaway Morris is one of the best senior active Blues harmonica players. He influenced many famous musicians in rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, funk, and jazz.
Wonder began singing as a child in a choir at Whitestone Baptist Church after his mother had divorced his father. At an early age, Stevie continued practicing different instruments such as piano, harmonica, and drums. Later along with one of his friends John, Stevie began playing music on the streets as Stevie and John title.
In 1961 at the age of eleven, Stevie sang his composition “Lonely Boy”, for which Ronnie White took him to an audition at Motown. Stevie got the name Little Stevie Wonder from producer Clarence Paul. During the 1960s, Stevie had given multiple hits, including “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”.
From 1961 to 1969, Stevie had his singles career as a youth. Meanwhile, from 1970 to 1979, Stevie published classic albums and from 1980 to 1990 released commercial albums. Jumping from the 1990s into the 21st century, Stevie released several memorable hits and continues to work and collaborate with others.
7 Big Mama Thornton
Willie Mae Thornton, aka Big Mama Thornton, was one of the best singers and songwriters who inspired many famous and record-breaking harmonica players of the modern era. In 1952, One of her recordings became Number 1 on the Rhythm & Blues Records chart and was seen as the beginning of rock-and-roll. She was one of the best female harmonica players of her time.
Willie began practicing singing early along with her siblings in the Baptist church. Her observation and admiration for the rhythm-and-blues singers Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie pushed her to pursue a professional singing career.
Willie’s early career began after moving to Houston in 1948. Soon after 3 years, in 1951, Willie signed a contract with Peacock Records and performed at the Apollo Theater for one year. However, her 1950s career went through a lot that gave her long-term trauma to remember. But she didn’t stop continuing her professional journey and got a successful career at the beginning of 1970.
But her success began to fade due to her heavy drinking, which caused her multiple health problems and led to heart and liver disorders. Big Mama Thornton died on the 25th of July, 1984, at the age of 57.
6 Jewtown Eddie
Eddie was an American Blues musician primarily notable for his playing in Maxwell Street Market, Chicago. Although he wasn’t much appreciated for his talent on harmonica as a blues player. He was one of a few underrated musicians with the talent to express their inner emotions while playing blues music.
Eddie, at an early age, moved to Chicago in 1946 and worked in a steel mill. However, Eddie wasn’t practicing Blues that often, in the beginning, he later turned himself in to learn more about the Blues genre and harmonica.
From the 1960s and 1970s, Eddie became well-known as Jewtown Eddie for playing in the Maxwell Street Market for a long time. With his popularity and talent, he got a chance to perform as a sideman for Eddie Shaw, Jimmy Dawkins, and more.
In 1977, Eddie got the chance to release his first single, “Lowdown Dog”, and later released some more albums. Unfortunately for Eddie, he wasn’t well known outside of Chicago. It made a gap between his dream and him. However, In 1990, Eddie published his debut Vampire Woman on Rising Son Records, which became a hit and gave him the opportunity he needed.
Despite Eddie’s lack of popularity, he has the skills and talent that make him one of the best blues harmonica players in history. In 1994, a short documentary film Blues Highway was released featuring Eddie. Unfortunately, on January 27, 2005, Eddie met in a car accident and died at 70.
5 Junior Wells
Amos Wells Blakemore Jr., aka Junior Wells, was one of the most talented Musicians and songwriters of his time. He is best known for his signature song, “Messin’ with the Kid,” and his album Hoodoo Man Blues, released in 1965, was the best classic blues album of the 1960s.
At an early age, Wells began to learn playing from his cousin Junior Parker and Sonny Boy Williamson II. In 1948, Wells moved to Chicago, where he started to get along with local musicians. Later in 1952, Wells published his first recordings after replacing Little Walter in Muddy Waters’s band.
In 1965, Wells published his album Hoodoo Man Blues; later, in the 1970s, he went on to work with Rolling Stones and Buddy Guy on guitar. As well as having success in his music career, he made his acting debut by appearing in the film Blues Brothers 2000, released in 1998.
Unfortunately, In 1998, Wells died due to a heart attack and cancer. Wells actively published many albums and had a successful music career, starting in the 1950s and ending in 1997.
4 Charlie Musselwhite
Charles Douglas Musselwhite, aka “white bluesman,” is one of the extraordinary Great second-generation Chicago-style harmonica players and an absolute master of the Chicago Blues. Charlie has a remarkable feat in reviving the 1960s Chicago Blues. Unlike other blues harmonica players, he showed an authentic harmonica style, expressing his passion through instruments.
Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Charlie is a white bluesman with pure talent in harmonica, guitar, and vocals. At an early age, Charlie started to shift his interest in music.
After moving to Memphis, Tennessee, in his teenage period, Charlie dug ditches, laid concrete, and ran moonshine in a 1950 Lincoln automobile for money. In the early days, Charlie had met several blues singers and musicians such as Lew Soloff, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Big Walter Horton.
In 1965, Charlie was acquainted with Sam Charters, producer, and writer of Vanguard Records. He got the opportunity to get himself included in the Chicago/The Blues/Today! Which became a blockbuster blues trilogy album.
The album helped him to work with the Blues Harp Band. One year later, in 1966, Charlie published his first solo, “Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s SouthSide Band”. Having a successful career, Charlie went on to judge the 7th, 9th, and 10th annual Independent Music Awards.
Later in 2010, Charlie became the Blues Hall of Famer for his best performances in the Blues genre and winning the Blues Music Award in the category of Best Instrumentalist in 2014 and 2015.
3 Earring George Mayweather
George Mayweather Jr. hasn’t been appreciated much for his harmonica talent in electric and Chicago blues genres. Having only released one solo album in his entire career, George continued his journey from the 1950s to 1995 while playing on recordings by J. B. Hutto and Eddie Taylor.
After receiving a harmonica as a Christmas present, George was greatly inspired by Sonny Boy Williamson I’s blues playing. After being deeply inspired by popular blues harmonica players, George began to practice and learn how to play the harmonica and everything about the blues genre.
In September 1949, George became friends with Little Walter, an American blues musician. Two years later, George, along with Hutto and the percussionist Eddie “Porkchop” Hines, formed Hawks and started to perform on weekends at the Maxwell Street market as a trio.
In 1952, Little Walter left the Muddy Waters touring band and was offered to George. However, he declined the offer as it was not compelling or he was not interested in it. By 1954, George had recorded with Hutto in sessions for Chance Records. After teaming up with Eddie Taylor, George recorded several tracks which could have done better for them.
Having had ups and downs in his professional career as a harmonicist, George, in 1992, was able to release his first solo album, ‘Whup It! Whup It! was a decent attempt at recreating the ’50s Chicago harp sound. The album was also recognized by AllMusic music journalist Bill Dahl.
Unfortunately, three years after releasing his first solo, in 1995, George died due to liver cancer at age 67.
2 Sonny Boy Williamson I
John Lee Curtis “Sonny Boy” Williamson is considered a pioneer of the blues harp as a solo instrument. He was among the most recorded blues musicians of the 1930s and 1940s. John had released several hit albums and songs in his music and singing career.
Joining Yank Rachell and Sleepy John Estes in his teenage years and played with them in Tennessee and Arkansas. After settling in Chicago, Williamson recorded for Bluebird Records and released his first record Good Morning, School Girl, in 1937, which became a standard repertoire. Soon became popular with black audiences throughout the southern United States.
Having a successful music career, John worked on many albums and released several great blues music. He became famous and well-known in many parts of the U.S., such as Detroit and Chicago.
His well-known recording includes the following:
- “Sugar Mama Blues”
- “Shake the Boogie”
- “Better Cut That Out”
- “Sloppy Drunk”
- “Early in the Morning”
- “Stop Breaking Down”
John’s name soon became synonymous with blues harmonica. His had influenced many successful musicians of the next generation with his style of playing blues harmonica, such as:
- Billy Boy Arnold
- Junior Wells
- Sonny Terry
- Little Walter
- Snooky Pryor, etc.
In mid-1948, John Lee Curtis’s “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s life ended after his last recording session in Chicago in 1997.
1 Big Walter Horton
Walter Horton was a legendary American Blues harmonicist, also known as Big Walter (Horton). He is one of the best and premier harmonica players listed in the history of the Blues genre. Without any doubt he is one of the best blues harmonica players. Following Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II, Walter is known to be among the three great harmonica soloists of modern blues.
Walter started playing the harmonica at age 5 after receiving one as a gift from his father. Getting himself drop-out of school at the age of 7, Walter moved to Memphis, Tennessee, with his parents. According to Walter, his earliest recordings were done during the 1920s. By the 1930s, Walter had already performed along with numerous musicians and harmonica players.
After developing his musical skills by the 1940s, Horton got invited to join Muddy Waters’ blues and Jimmy Reed’s bands in 1952. However, his journey with Muddy Waters’s blues band lasted a year before Horton got fired from the band due to his alcohol issues.
However, Walter had no intention of stopping his career for a short time and went on to continue his music career as a harmonica player. His work in movies such as The Blues Brothers, released in 1980, demonstrates his achievements from the 1960s to the 1980s.
In 1981, at 60, Walter died due to heart failure. Even these days, Walter is known as one of the best blues harmonica players.
We may have missed including other best blues harmonica players on this list. However, we have made this list based on talent and skills over performing blues harmonica. If one of your favorites should have been on this list, share it with us.
People Also Read: