The Blues world lost a beloved figure on October 19, 2006, when
Snooky Pryor passed away at the age of 85. While many blues fans
recognized Pryor as a consummate musician and entertainer, few may
realize what a pioneer he actually was. He was one of the first
harmonica players to amplify his instrument.
His early recordings are seen by many as the beginnings of the postwar
Chicago Blues sound that is still so popular today. Though it is
currently out of print, the Paula Records release, Snooky Pryor,
captures Pryor’s earliest recordings into one collection, and a fine
collection it is, featuring not just Pryor, but many of Chicago’s great
early Blues pioneers at their best.
The earliest recordings here were done in 1947 and 1948 for the Planet
and Marvel labels and feature Pryor and brothers Floyd and Moody Jones,
two of Chicago’s unheralded greats. Both were excellent guitarists and
vocalists. Floyd Jones sings on the stunning opener “Stockyard Blues,”
accompanied by Pryor’s exquisite harmonica, and Pryor’s magnificent
instrumental, “Boogie,” is in many ways a precursor to Little Walter’s
later instrumental “Juke.” Johnny Young also appears on a couple of
tracks, playing mandolin and singing lead.
The rest of the tracks were recorded in the mid ’50s and early ’60s on
the J.O.B. label, and feature Moody Jones on vocals and guitar, along
with Sunnyland Slim on piano. There are several memorable tracks among
this set, including two takes of “Rough Treatment,” “Fine Boogie,” “Real
Fine Boogie,” and “Why Should I Worry.” The closing track, “Boogie
Twist,” features two unknown, but excellent guitarists (whose identities
may have been revealed since the CD’s release).
Pryor’s harmonica neatly fills the gap between Sonny Boy (John Lee)
Williamson and Little Walter, taking some of the best qualities of both
musicians’ sound and making them his own. While he was never the most
technically proficient harmonica blower, he more than made up for it
with energy and passion, and was always a crowd pleaser.
Frustrated with the music business, Pryor took a hiatus from performing
through most of the ’60s. He reemerged sporadically in the ’70s to
perform and made a handful of recordings, but came roaring back with a
vengeance in the late ’80s with a couple of strong efforts for the Blind
Pig label. He also recorded a couple of discs for the Antone’s label
before finishing up on Electro-Fi with a couple of great solo releases
backed by Mel Brown and his Homewreckers.
Snooky Pryor was a powerhouse until the end and will be greatly missed.