The list of harmonica players who have backed Muddy Waters is long and includes many of the greatest harp players in blues. Here are videos of most of them (not quite all). If you like blues and blues harp, whether you play one or not, you should know these players.
Little Walter is credited as the first musician to overdrive an amplifier to produce intentional distortion. He didn’t do this on guitar but with a microphone held tight against his harmonica, cupping the microphone to control the sound. He led his own band, played guitar as well as harmonica and recorded with Muddy before he was officially a band member.
All of Little Walter’s recorded tunes are with Little Walter on the 10-hole diatonic harp (harmonica). However, it is said that he also played chromatic harmonica.
doing his hit, Juke (no video).
Junior wells started playing with Muddy before he was old enough to drink or legally hang out in the bars where the band performed.
Junior Wells had a long association Buddy Guy and the two recorded together a number of times. One of the classic blues tunes written by Junior Wells is Little by Little.
Doing his composition and classic, Little by Little with Buddy Guy.
Big Walter Horton aka Shakey Horton
All blues harmonica players can play 10-hole harps but Big Walter is also known for his chromatic harp playing. Blues on a chromatic harmonica are typically played in third position. Thus, for a chromatic harp in the key of C, you would play in the key of D. This is in fact dorian mode or D minor.
Doing Big Walter Strut with Willie Dixon
George “Harmonica” Smith
George Smith is another chromatic harmonica player and is shown in this video playing the chromatic. One of the great contemporary harp players, Rod Piazza, played with George Harmonica Smith early in Rod’s career.
If you’ve read the biography of Muddy Waters (Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters) you know James Cotton wasn’t just a band member but a friend and chauffeur to Muddy. Cotton has had his own bands and was quite an acrobatic performer when he was young. I was fortunate enough to see him play live a few years ago. Although other harp players for Muddy seem to get more attention, I think James Cotton was one of the best.
Doing one of my favorites, Rocket 88
playing with Muddy on Hoochie Coochie Man (no video)
George MoJo Buford
Doing I’m King Bee with Muddy
Doing a Little Walter tune mostly solo
Paul Butterfield was never a band member in Muddy’s bands but he did play with Muddy. I remember how blown away I was when my brother Wayne and I first heard Paul Butterfield’s Born in Chicago.
Doing Born in Chicago
Carey Bell is another chromatic harmonica player I love listening to.
Doing Easy to Love
Jerry Portnoy has played with Muddy and Eric Clapton. He mentored Annie Raines early in her career. He’s still playing.
Doing Blow Wind Blow with Muddy