Slim Harpo wrote some classic Blues songs that made him Excello Records’ best selling artist and his easy-rolling Swamp Blues was an inspiration for many British bands that brought the Blues to American youth in the 60s. Pounding out his insistent Southern rhythms on guitar and blowing harp in a neck-rack, Slim’s music crossed a lot of boundaries, like a down-home Jimmy Reed.
James Moore was born near Baton Rouge in 1924 and when he was orphaned, he dropped out of school to make a living playing music. After WWII, he was a popular club and bar performer, appearing as ‘Harmonica Slim’. He was spotted by Lightnin’ Slim, who took him to Excello Records and producer Jay Miller used him on some of Lightnin’s tracks. When James cut his first solo record, ‘I’m a King Bee’, he had to find a new name, because there was already a ‘Harmonica Slim’ playing out on the West Coast. James’s wife, who also helped out with his songwriting, swapped the name around and came up with Slim Harpo.
The sound of stripped-down Swamp-Blues at its finest;
‘I’m a King Bee’ was a big hit in 1957, with ‘I Got Love If You Want It’ on the B-side, and several ‘Bee’ themed follow-ups, like ‘Buzz Me Babe’, came afterwards. In 1961, ‘Rainin’ In My Heart’ was an even bigger hit, crossing into the Hot 100, and when The Rolling Stones covered ‘King Bee’ on their first album, Slim’s name began to really get around. In 1966 he had his biggest hit with ‘Baby Scratch My Back’, and when Slim opened for James Brown at Madison Sq. Gardens, it exposed him to a big new audience. He recruited Lightnin’ Slim into his touring band and played all over the States, releasing more dance-able tracks like ‘Tip On In’ and ‘Shake Your Hips’ which would again be covered by The Stones. The Yardbirds, The Kinks and Van Morrison‘s band ‘Them’ all covered Slim’s tracks, as did The Fabulous Thunderbirds and even rockabilly acts like Warren Smith and Hank Williams Jr. The fact that Muddy Waters also covered ‘King Bee’ is evidence of how broadly accessible Slim’s music was, with it’s good-time driving beat forcing people to move their feet and smile.