Harmonica Pioneers: Rhythm Willie

Harmonica jazz pioneer Rhythm willie (1905 or 1910 – 1954)

Based in Chicago, Willie Hood remained an enigma for a long period of time before a few harmonica and blues fans did the digging. This is the only picture we have of him. He recorded a couple of tunes in the 1940s mostly jazz oriented that he was playing on the diatonic. He uses the harmonica in it’s simplest form but in a very effective way that is strongly influenced by clarinet intonations as we can hear below. This version of St James infirmary is in G and played on a Bb diatonic harmonica most exclusively using the high register from hole 6 to 10. At times you could be lead to believe some notes are bent but they are just attacked differently.

Picture Courtesy of Blues & Rhythm Magazine

Buy the music of Rhythm Willie
Get a Bb harmonica to play along with this tune
Learn more about jazz harmonica



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