SLIM HARPO – ” Tip On In “

Posted: October 31, 2021 in MUSIC
Tip On In

The 1960s British blues boom’s favourite Louisiana bluesman James Isaac Moore (his song I’m A King Bee was an early Rolling Stones’ cover), Aka Slim Harpo remains the state’s seminal swamp bluesman. His lazily drawled, bluesy vocals, framed by fleet-of-note guitar, simple harmonica and grinding funky rhythm section, helped define a timeless form of modern blues that was rooted in Deep South tradition. Slim Harpo was a leading exponent of the swamp blues style, and “one of the most commercially successful blues artists of his day”. He played guitar and was a master of the blues harmonica, known in blues circles as a “harp”. 

Towards the end of his brief life, however, Slim was busy modifying his blues with elements drawn from the then-voguish soul and progressive rock genres. At the time of their first release, many blues purists were apt to dismiss these trends and recordings out of hand. With hindsight, though, the blues produced at the end of Slim’s career sound as strong as anything he recorded earlier (and they benefit from the weight added to the musical fidelity by their improved studio sound and stereo recording).These 25 sides include Slim’s classic and truthful version of Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, a threatening, slow-grinding Jody Man, a sly, boastful Dynamite (“I’m dynamite pretty baby/All you do is light my fuse”), a great version of (the much over-recorded) Rock Me Baby, the southern-fried recipe of Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu and the classic 2-part Tip On In. Guitarist Lynn Ourso, who played on Harpo’s later Baton Rouge Sessions recalled: “It was a dream working with Slim Harpo because he was my hero..

We lost one of the greats when Slim died”.

Slim Harpo is one of the very best rhythm & blues artists. This is such a cool groove…the way the guitar works with the bass and drums. It’s subtle and lazy but funky. I dig this stuff: “Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu”“Shake Your Hips”. Slim Harpo is an important figure in the scheme of things. Ask Alex Chilton…ask the Stones.

Never a full-time musician, Harpo owned a trucking business during the 1960s. According to writer Ryan Whirty, “Harpo and his band needed to tour constantly and play as much as possible; times were frequently lean financially, and the men had to scrape up whatever they could get.” But, by 1964, several of his songs had been released on albums and singles in the UK, and British rock bands began to include versions of his songs in their early repertoires. British Merseybeat/R&B group The Moody Blues reportedly took their name from an instrumental track of Slim’s called “Moody Blues”

Harpo was more adaptable than [Jimmy] Reed or most other bluesmen. His material not only made the national charts, but also proved to be quite adaptable for white artists on both sides of the Atlantic … A people-pleasing club entertainer, he certainly wasn’t above working rock & roll rhythms into his music, along with hard-stressed, country & western vocal inflections … By the time his first single became a Southern jukebox favourite, his songs were being adapted and played by white musicians left and right. Here was good-time Saturday-night blues that could be sung by elements of the Caucasian persuasion with a straight face.

He had his biggest commercial success in 1966, when the predominantly instrumental “Baby Scratch My Back” reached number one on the R&B chart and number 16 on the broader chart. Harpo described it as “an attempt at rock & roll for me” and was again produced by Miller. However, disagreements with Miller and a change in the record company’s ownership led to two follow-ups, “Tip On In” and “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu”, being recorded in Nashville with new producer Robert Holmes.

He recruited Lightnin’ Slim for his touring band in 1968,  and toured widely in the late 1960s, mainly reaching rock audiences. With his first scheduled tour of Europe and recording sessions already planned, “one of the cleanest living bluesmen of his era” died suddenly of a heart attack in Baton Rouge in January 1970 aged 46. He was buried in Mulatto Bend Cemetery in Port Allen, Louisiana

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