Introduction to Slim Harpo
Slim Harpo was an American blues singer-songwriter, guitarist and harmonica player who got his name from his proficiency of the last-mentioned instrument, which was also dubbed as “harp” among blues musicians and fans. Born in Lobdell, Louisiana, Moore began to play at Baton Rouge bars under the monicker Harmonica Slim while working as a building and construction worker. Now adapting the name as Slim Harpo, he started to record for the label Excello Records. He scored hit singles such as “Rainin’ In My Heart” (which would become inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall Of Fame) and a #1 R&B hit “Baby Scratch My Back.” Slim Harpo’s work would later influence many rock and blues artists such as the Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Pink Floyd, Gil Scott-Heron, and more, who would do cover versions of Harpo’s hit songs. He died in early 1970 after suffering a heart attack. He was only 46 years old.
From Harmonica Slim to Slim Harpo
Blues singer and musician Slim Harpo was only a stage name; the name of his birth certificate was James Moore, who was born in Lobdell, Louisiana on January 11, 1924. He began supporting himself after his parents died by working as a longshoreman and construction worker in nearby New Orleans. Moore also had started to perform in local bars around Baton Rouge. One of his earliest idols was bluesman Jimmy Reed, by whom Moore was inspired to engage in music (and was often compared to, although Moore’s style was more laid-back than Reed’s)
By then he had called himself through his stage name Harmonica Slim, as he was also an accomplished harmonica player (often from the neck rack) aside from playing guitar. He also accompanied his brother-in-law Lightnin’ Slim (born Otis V. Hicks) in his live gigs;
In 1957 Harmonica Slim changed his name into Slim Harpo (at his wife Lovelle’s suggestion) after finding out another artist with the same stage name. This name change came in the right time as he signed his first recording contract with Nashville, Tennessee-based Excello label.
First national hit with “Rainin’ in My Heart”
His first single on Excello was “I’m a King Bee,” which was a regional hit but didn’t get anywhere else beyond its immediate locale. It would take several more singles and about four years for Slim Harpo before he achieved his first national hit with “Rainin’ in My Heart.” Written by Slim Harpo (credited to his real name James Moore) and Jerry West, “Rainin’ in My Heart” reached the Top 40 pop chart at #34, and #17 on the R&B singles chart. This demonstrated Slim Harpo’s across-the-board appeal, as the single would later be adapted by country, rock and roll and Cajun musicians.
Slim Harpo’s style and influence to rock music
His musical capabilities are also the things that made him different from Jimmy Reed, as Slim’s style was more adaptable than his hero’s. His material was later covered by white musicians, such as the Gil Scott-Heron Rolling Stones, the Pretty Things, the Kinks, Them, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues (whose name was reportedly based on a Slim Harpo song) and the Yardbirds.
Biggest hit with “Baby Scratch My Back”
Because of the financial straits during those times, Slim Harpo didn’t take music as a full-time profession. Because of this he began to build and run his own trucking business.
However, things turned for the better in 1966 when Slim Harpo achieved his biggest hit with his self-penned single “Baby Scratch My Back.” It went all the way to #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart, and #16 on the pop chart. Slim Harpo said himself that the single was, for him at least, an attempt at rock and roll. The success of the song also brought him to places he had never been before, such as New York City and Los Angeles where he made apperances.
Later career, and sudden demise
Slim Harpo was obviously excited about the success of “Baby Scratch My Back” and because of this he teamed up with Lightnin’ Slim (who was living then in Detroit, Michigan) to form an act together. The duo toured together and performed blues to appreciative audiences, and many of them were rock fans.
His other singles that charted were “Shake Your Hips,” “I’m Your Bread Maker Baby,” “Tip on in (Part 1),” and “Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu” which was to be his last charting single.
Despite never having any drug or alcohol abuse (and never having been gravely ill in his life other than suffering a cold), Slim Harpo died suddenly of a heart attack in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on January 31, 1970, twenty days after he turned 46.