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The Harp: And Now, Finally, Muddy

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

And Now, Finally: Muddy


Muddy Waters, playing with his band for their usual dates at Smitty’s Corner blues club in the early 60s, noticed these white guys sneaking into the club to listen to him and the band. Everyone else in the club was black. The story, probably apocryphal, goes that in the smokey and dim light Muddy thought at first that here were some white representatives from the local IRS, “They’ve come to get me” for the taxes he owed -- [[[[[Gordon, Can’t Be Satisfied, p. 165]]]] so he hid in the office. But in any case, on subsequent nights the three white guys returned and would prevail on Muddy to allow them to sit in with him on occasion, maybe to sneak up there while the entire band was on a break, or when an instrumentalist or two would disappear off-stage for a cigarette or drink. After a while Muddy did invite some of these white guys up on-stage, and he realized that they could play, especially the guy with the harp. “We were pretty much accepted because we loved the blues,” says Bishop, looking back. “And Butterfield always had a little bit of a scary appearance about him. It sort of kept people from wanting to fuck with him."


And with Muddy's band behind him, when Butterfield plays the flattened 3rd, 5th, and 7th during the I chord, there is simply nothing like it. Muddy had had the best harp players around in his band, including Little Walter Jacobs, James Cotton, and Paul Oscher; Butterfield could play as well as any of them.


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