Follow us:


A blog for Seattle music lovers of all stripes, from hip-hop and indie rock to jazz and world music.

January 2, 2015 at 5:02 AM

Mark Hummel takes a flyer with Bluebird Records | Concert preview

If you love Chicago blues, you are no stranger to B.B. King’s “Sweet Little Angel” and Muddy Waters’ “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”

But did you know that these songs, popularized as electric blues in the ’50s, go back to the acoustic ’30s?

Harmonica professor Mark Hummel does, and he’s prepared some soulful lesson plans on the subject for his annual Blues Harmonica Blowout, which hits Jazz Alley next week.

This year’s show is a tribute to Bluebird Records, a budget subsidiary of RCA/Victor that issued hundreds of recordings in the ’30s by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Boy Williamson and Roosevelt Sykes.

“A lot of the songs you hear from the ’50s are remakes of songs these guys wrote,” explained Hummel in a phone interview. “That’s why I wanted to shine a little light on it. I’ve definitely got a musicologist side to me.”

A Grammy nominee for his 2013 album “Remembering Little Walter” and in the running for a 2015 Blues Music Award, Hummel, 59, has spent more than three decades playing and researching the blues.

Bluebird, he said, was run by “a white guy” named Lester Melrose who grew his roster by asking players such as Broonzy to scout talent, the same way Chess Records employed Willie Dixon.

Hummel himself discovered the blues growing up as a rock guitarist in Monterey Park, just east of downtown Los Angeles.

“I kept seeing Willie Dixon’s name, or McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters) or Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) on songs I really liked,” said Hummel. “I wondered, ‘Who are these guys?’”

When he stumbled on Little Walter, it was so long rock guitar, hello blues harmonica.

Walter developed the influential technique of cupping his harmonica with a microphone in his hands, then cranking up the volume.

“He sounded to me like an electronic saxophone,” said Hummel. “I was fascinated.”

On Hummel’s latest album, “The Hustle is Really On,” you can hear the influence of Little Walter, but even more impressive is how Hummel mixes up tempos and time feels — from jump blues and shuffles to honky-tonk swing and cry-your-eyes-out ballads. Unlike some blues players, who drive crowds away with monotony, Hummel keeps things lively.

“You’ve got to vary the beat,” he said.

Hummel will get first-class beat assistance. Billy Boy Arnold, who at one point took a couple of harmonica lessons from the original Sonny Boy Williamson, is on the bill, as is guitarist Little Charlie Baty, who plays with a fleet, jazzlike feel and along with harmonicat Rick Estrin (also on the bill) started Little Charlie and the Nightcats.

The rest of the group is Steve Guyger (harmonica/vocals), Rich Yescalis (harmonica/vocals), Bob Welsh (guitar/piano), RW Grigsby (bass), and June Core (drums).

Mark Hummel’s Blues Harmonica Blowout

7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 8-10; 7:30 p.m. only on Sunday, Jan. 11. Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, 2033 Sixth Ave., Seattle; $32.50 (206-441-9729 or

Comments | More in Blues | Topics: Billy Boy Arnold, Blues Harmonica Blowout, Charlie Baty


No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►