Jerry PortnoyBlues harp is perhaps the most expressive instrument in a classic Blues band line-up, and Jerry Portnoy must be one of a handful of men around today whose playing speaks with the voice straight out of 50s Chicago. With a fluency, range and emotional bite that is nothing short of thrilling, Jerry learned his trade with the men who invented electric Blues, toured the world with the biggest names in the business, and continues to pass on his knowledge to younger players today. With a tone that truly deserves the name ‘Mississippi Sax’ and a sensitive way with a slow, drag-out tune, Jerry’s playing opens a window to the ‘Golden Age’ of Chicago Blues.

Jerry Portnoy was born in Chicago in 1943, and literally grew up with The Blues all around him. His father had a store on Maxwell Street Market and young harp players like Little Walter and ‘Shakey’ Horton could be heard outside playing for tips in the biggest melting-pot for creative Blues the world has ever seen. In the mid-60s, Jerry toured with Johnny Young for a couple of years, then served similar apprenticeships with guitarist Johnny Littlejohn, in drummer Sam Lay’s band and in the houseband at Buddy Guy‘s Checkerboard Lounge. In 1974, Jerry’s playing was paid the ultimate compliment when Muddy Waters recruited him. He stayed with Muddy for six years, played on three great albums and toured widely with the most famous Bluesman in the world.

In 1980, Muddy’s band quit ‘en masse’ to form the Legendary Blues Band, so Jerry joined bassist Calvin Jones, pianist Pinetop Perkins and drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith in the new venture. Again he stayed for six years, releasing two acclaimed albums, ‘Life of Ease’ and ‘Red Hot and Blue’, and Jerry contributed some of his own compositions to their repertoire. During 1986, Jerry quit music for personal reasons, but he was persuaded the following year to join Ronnie Earl in a band called The Broadcasters. After two successful years Jerry decided to lead his own band The Streamliners, and their first album ‘Poison Kisses’ was a energetic run through some modern, up-tempo Chicago Blues, with several of Jerry’s own songs, and he also took lead vocals on some tracks.

Jerry on tour with Muddy in 1976;

Eric Clapton asked Jerry to join him for a 24-night season at the Albert Hall in London in 1991, and for the next few years Jerry ran The Streamliners alongside his work in Eric’s world-touring, stadium-filling All-Star Band. Eric’s return to his Blues roots after a turbulent personal journey was confirmed with his 1994 album ‘From the Cradle’, and Jerry’s harp contributed hugely to the authentic feel of one of the best selling Blues albums of all time. After The Streamliners re-released their earlier album, with three more tracks, as ‘Home Run Hitter’, Jerry continued to lead the group, but kept up a parallel project with a Muddy Waters Tribute band that was nominated for a Grammy in 1996. A few years later, Jerry released his Blues Masterclass collection of tutorial CDs which taught a whole new generation how to blow, and how to create the tones and pull the tricks that make the harp such a quintessential Blues instrument, and he now has an on-line presence that continues his mission.

Jerry gives a Masterful performance at a Spanish Festival;

Jerry Portnoy Discography
This guy literally wrote the book with his Masterclass CDs, but this is the ‘practical’ with his exquisite interpretions of a set of Blues and Jazz tunes with Duke Robillard on guitar.


Always a big draw on the Blues Festival circuit, Jerry continues to lead his band around the world in the new century, and his moody, dark-toned harp still makes the hair stand up on the back of the neck! Currently based in Boston, Jerry plays regularly with his acoustic trios and quartets.