Slim Harpo - Biography
By J Poet
The swampy blues sound of Slim Harpo (born James Moore in Lobdell LA) was one of the most unique in the history of the blues. Harpo was one of the few blues artists to cross over to pop before the blues revival of the mid-60s, and songs like “I'm A King Bee,” “Shake Your Hips,” and “Baby, Scratch My Back” still sound dangerous today with their, sly, simmering sexuality and swampy groove. Harpo was on the verge of a mainstream breakthrough, being one of the few bluesmen comfortable with rock and psychedelic music, when he died in 1970, only 46 years old. Slim Harpo was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1985
Moore was playing guitar and harmonica by the time he was in high school. When his parents died, he dropped out to support his family, working day jobs and playing clubs at night as Harmonica Slim. He played harp in a neck rack and both electric and acoustic guitar, depending on the gig and the rowdiness of the crowd. By 1948 he was a full time musician, although he still worked occasional day jobs to support himself and his wife, Lovelle, who also co-wrote many of his best songs. In 1955 his brother in law Ligntnin’ Slim introduced him to Jay Miller of Excello Records. Moore’s recording debut was playing harp behind Slim, but Miller was impressed by Moore’s writing and signed him to a solo deal. He suggested the name Slim Harpo, since there was already a successful bluesman named Harmonica Slim in California.
Harpo’s first single, “I'm A King Bee” b/w “I Got Love If You Want It” was a double-sided R&B hit in 1957. Harpo’s sexual growl, tuneful harmonica playing and the driving swamp pop rhythm of the tune made it an instant classic. He made several more successful singles, and broke into the pop charts with 1961’s “Rainin’ in My Heart,” a Top 40 hit. Slim Harpo Sings Raining in My Heart (Excello 1961, 1998 Hip-O ) collected his early singles; the Hip-O reissue includes three bonus tracks. His country meets blues rock sound made him a favorite with white audiences and singers and dozens of artists – rock, blues, Zydeco and country – covered “Rainin’.”
The Rolling Stones gave Harpo a boost, both commercially and reputation wise, when they covered “I'm A King Bee” on their first US album in 1964. He started getting gigs in white venues and adding psychedelic touches to his music. Baby, Scratch My Back (1966 Excello) included the title hit, a #1 R&B tune which also became a #16 pop hit, as well as “Shake Your Hips,” soon covered by the Yardbirds. Harpo became a regular on the hippie ballroom circuit in the late 60s, and had hits with “Tip on In” and “Tee-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu” which are included on Tip on In (2001 Ace UK) a CD reissue of his last Excello album, with 13 bonus tracks. With the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks, Love Sculpture (Dave Edmunds’ first band), and Them all covering his tunes, Harpo booked a tour of the UK that probably would have made him a major presence on the scene. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack, just before leaving the country, on January 31, 1970. The Excello Singles Anthology (2003 Hip-O) collects 44 songs on two CDs for an in depth overlook of Harpo’s career.