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Baton Rouge Blues: BR Blues Musicians

Louisiana is known as the birthplace of jazz, but it's also a state with a strong blues tradition, and Baton Rouge, the state capital, has long been regarded as the incubator of Louisiana's blues culture.

BR Bluesmen Biographies

Henry Gray

Blues pianist and singer, Henry Gray, was born January 19, 1923, in Kenner, La. He moved with his family to rural Alsen, La, just north of Baton Rouge when he was one year old.  Henry began playing piano at the age of 10 and at the age of 16 he was offered a job playing music at a local juke joint. Although unhappy about their son playing in a bar, his parents agreed when they realized their son was going to make a pocketful of money every night.  Thus began Henry's professional career and he's been going strong ever since.

Gray has played with blues legends Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley and many more.

Ponderosa Stomp article

Henry Gray on myspace

Slim Harpo

James "Slim Harpo" Moore was born on January 11, 1922 in Lobdell in West Baton Rouge Parish. Moore was a self-taught harmonica player and was forced to quit school in the 10th grade after losing both parents. Supporting himself and his family with manual labor, he began to pick up musical gigs and by the early 1940s he was booking himself under the name "Harmonica Slim" - a name that was already taken by another performer. In the mid-1950s he and Lightnin' Slim teamed up for series of recordings at J.D. Miller's studio in Crowley. In 1956 Lightnin' slim replaced Moore with Lazy "I'm not Lazy, Lord knows I'm just tired" Lester, so in 1957 Moore returned to the studio on his own to record "I'm a King Bee."  The record was released on the Excello label under the name "Slim Harpo."

Slim Harpo's music has been extensively performed and recorded by other musicians and groups: The Rolling Stones, George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Anson Funderburgh, and the Rockets to name a few. Most famously, The Rolling Stones's Exile on Main St (1972) features a cover of Slim's "Shake your Hips".  Billboard Magazine's top 500 soul performers of all time lists Slim in its ranks.

Blues Harp Legends article

Baby Scratch My Back on YouTube

Tabby Thomas

Ernest J. "Tabby" Thomas was born in Baton Rouge January 5th, 1929. Thomas: “My nickname was T-Boo. I was the quarterback on my high school football team. I could fake so well, the cheerleaders wouldn’t know who had the ball. That’s how I got the name, Tabby the Cat.”

Thomas joined the Air Force and was discharged after three years. He moved to San Francisco where he heard about Fatso Berry’s talent show sponsored by KSAN Radio. He won first prize (beating out Etta James and Johnny Mathis) and got a recording contract with Hollywood Records. John Dolphin, a well-known African American record producer and owner of Hollywood Records, would record artists and sell the records in his store, Dolphin’s of Hollywood. Tabby recorded “Midnight is Calling” and “I’ll Make the Trip” on Dolphin’s Hollywood label.

Tabby returned to Baton Rouge in 1955, married, and eventually started his own label, Backbeat Records. In 1980, he released his first album, 25 Years with the Blues.  In 1979, he opened the legendary "Blues Box,"  the foremost blues venue in Louisiana and musical home to Baton Rouge blues legends Silas Hogan, Guitar Kelly, Henry Gray, Whisperin’ Smith, Raful and Kenny Neal.  Thomas' son, internationally renowned blues guitarist Chris Thomas King cut his teeth in the Blues Box.  In 2004, Thomas was forced to close the Blues Box due to ill health.

Offbeat Magazine article on Tabby

Sir Shambling's Deep Soul Heaven entry

Robert Pete Williams

Robert "Pete" Williams was born 14 March 1914 in Zachary to a family of sharecroppers.  At the age of 20, Williams fashioned a crude guitar by attaching five copper strings to a cigar box.  He later bought a cheap, mass-produced guitar and began to play for church gatherings, fish fries, suppers, and dances.  In 1954 he was involved in a brawl that left one man dead and was sentenced to life in Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola). There he was discovered and recorded by musicologist Harry Oster and his recordings for Oster ended up on Oster's Angola Prisoner's Blues (Folk-Lyric A3, later Arhoolie 2011) and Angola Prison Spirituals (Folk-Lyric A6) collections.

In December of 1958 Williams was released into "servitude parole," and it wasn't until 1964 that the terms of that parole were lifted and he was able to tour. He toured briefly, then settled in Maringouin, LA and didn't tour again until 1970.  His music has appeared in several films, notably, the Roots of American Music; Country and Urban Music (1971); Out of the Blues into the Blacks (1972) and Blues Under the Skin (1972).


Robert Pete Williams on myspace

More BR Blues Musicians