Saturday, November 11, 2006

Saturday Night Music Club: Snooky Pryor RIP

The bad news for blues fans this week is that harmonica genius Snooky Pryor will henceforth be jammin' in that great big roadhouse in the sky.

Personally I thought the Guardian obit was a bit sniffy:

'If not quite the equal of men like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Walter "Shakey" Horton or Junior Wells, he was none the less a player with a distinctive sound, and his contributions to the early development of the Chicago blues-band idiom are held in high regard.'

Of course Pryor 'wasn't quite the equal' of Little Walter. No harp merchant ever was or ever will be. But to say that Snooky wasn't quite as good as the best blues harmonica player in the history of the genre is equivalent to saying a recently deceased rock guitarist wasn't quite as good as Jimi Hendrix, or that a jazz sax player who has just popped his clogs wasn't quite as good as Charlie Parker. Indisputably true, but neither here nor there.

For my money, Pryor easily ranks in the same bracket as Horton and Wells, although this 30 second clip from YouTube doesn't quite prove the contention. Sadly, that's all there was.

James Edward Pryor was born and raised in Mississippi. In the Depression, he hoboed through the South, playing the blues on street corners for small change. He served in the US Army in the Pacific in World War Two, before being posted to a base just outside Chicago.

The gave him the opportunity to jam on the southside club circuit on the weekends. After being discharged in 1945, he settled in the windy city, playing regularly with Homesick James and Floyd Jones.

Although he did cut some sides as a leader - notably on Vee-Jay - most of his paycheques came from session work. By the seventies, he was more or less out of the music scene, working regularly as a carpenter and raising a family.

But he was lured back into the recording studio in 1986, after signing to Blind Pig. His 1991 album 'Back to the Country' - made jointly with Johnny Shines, another criminally under-rated blues talent - picked up an award from Living Blues magazine.

I was lucky enough to catch Snooky Pryor live on a trip to Chicago a few years back. It was a great gig. Ladies and gentlement, we have just lost another one of the original hard drivin' greats.

OK, I realise blues is a minority interest music. Most readers won't have heard of Pryor, or have an opinion one way or the other. But the comments box is open for comments on any music-related topic.


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