Friday, June 2, 2017

A Song A Day: Slim Harpo, "Got Love if You Want It"

JUNE 2, 2017



RELEASED 1957 ON 7” 45

Born James Moore, Slim Harpo renamed himself  for his superb harmonica, or “blues harp,” work.

An orphan from Louisiana, he came to music relatively late and didn’t sound like anyone else. His distinctive vocal accent, catchy songs, and swampy, loping beat set him aside from the rougher, flashier bluesmen from Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis.

Harpo spent his entire career recording for the Excello label out of Nashville. For the first few years, he recorded near his Baton Rouge home, working with a regular crew of musicians and producer Jay Miller. 

Like many artists of his time, Harpo had his songwriting royalties garnished; Miller added his name to many of Harpo’s compositions (which were often collaborations between the singer and his wife Lovelle). That was just part of the deal back then, crooked as it was.

While American R&B and pop listeners were certainly familiar with him, the British blues-influenced groups of the early/mid 1960s loved Slim Harpo. His recordings were artful, distinctive, and left plenty of room for reimagining.

As a result, the Stones, Kinks, Pretty Things, Moody Blues, et al. covered his songs, giving unique interpretations but seldom approaching the quality of the originals. Even Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd cut Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” at their first recording session.  Sometimes, of course, some of the more nefarious British groups simply added new words to existing R&B songs and took the writing credits. (Calling The Who!)

The royalty payments that did come Slim’s way allowed him to play music on a full-time basis beginning in the mid-1960s. He also ran a trucking business.

Slim continued to grow artistically during the decade, enjoying his biggest single in 1966 with “Baby, Scratch My Back,” a rocking, raw, funky country blues with a rough backbeat an amusing vocal delivery. In the latter half of the 1960s he broke with Jay Miller and began cutting discs in Nashville with a new producer.

Known for the highly musical quality of his live performances—measured, tight, the opposite of in-your-face—Harpo’s star continued to ascend as he was able to devote more time to music. But in 1970, he died at just 46 of a heart attack in Louisiana.

“I Got Love if You Want It” is the b-side of Harpo’s first release, the smash “I’m a King Bee.” Surely this is among the great two-sided debut 45s of all time.

I give the edge to “Got Love” for its odd elements and the way they come together. Harpo’s delivery is laid-back almost to the point of petulance, and it's clear that neither party in the conversation is innocent or necessarily steeped in good intentions. On this 45, brothers Gable and Fats Perrodin provided guitar and bass, with Clarence Etienne on drums, and Slim on that harmonica. Someone is also shaking some pretty fine maracas.

Recorded and released in 1957, it sounds years ahead of its time.

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