Blues Calendar Blues: Lester DavenportThe blues calendar, as I probably noted way back in January, is based around pictures taken by famed photographer James Fraher. There’s no mention in the calendar as to how these particular musicians were chosen or where the text comes from. Each new month seems to bring an artist with whom I was previously unfamiliar. I don’t know the intent of the publishers, whether it was to introduce the audience to these musicians, or if this was the area where Fraher plied his trade.
My point here – and I do have one – is that each month the musicians seem to get more obscure. Take this month’s featured artist, Lester “Mad Dog” Davenport. While he released two albums during the course of his career, his main claim to fame was as harp player in Bo Diddley’s band and with the Kinsey Report. I don’t mean to take anything away from Mr. Davenport – that’s two more bands than I’ve played in. This is more a comment on the strange choices made by the calendar publishers. When they dedicate half of the artist bio to a history of his chosen instrument, you know the musician is a little off the beaten path.
From the calendar:
It seems so simple, but continuous experimentation has made the harmonica a marvelously various genus since its invention in the early 19th century. There are chromatic harmonicas, diatonic harmonicas, and orchestral harmonicas. There are harmonicas made of wood, plastic harmonicas, and metal harmonicas. While most harmonicas produce different notes when blown and “drawn” (sucked), some harmonicas can only be blown. Others, such as the Chenggong harmonica patented by Cheng Xuexue in 2000, which has a sliding mouthpiece and can produce 24 distinct chords, make the same sound when blown and drawn.Davenport’s debut album, When The Blues Hit You, used the resources of Sunnyland Slim and John Primer among others, and was greeted as a solid but uninspired collection of traditional Chicago blues, although he redressed the balance with the long overdue I Smell A Rat in 2003.
A traditionalist with great admiration for Little Walter, Lester Davenport (b. 1932) played the harmonica in Bo Diddley’s band from 1955 to 1961. After playing drums, harmonica, and bass in a number of Chicago groups for two decades, Davenport joined the Kinsey Report in the late 1980s (and reunited with this bluesy rock band in 1998). Finally, in 1991, he recorded his first solo album, updating the classic blues of the 1950s with a distinctive Chicago sound.
Now, about that “Mad Dog” nickname: It seems that during his younger days Davenport liked to prowl the stage while playing a few notes on every instrument on the bandstand. The shtick earned him the name; his tenacious playing did the rest.
Today’s music comes from When The Blues Hit You. You’ll probably recognize the title track as a version of “You Gotta Move,” a song written by bluesmen Mississippi Fred McDowell and Blind Gary Davis and made famous by the Rolling Stones.
Mad Dog on the Loose.mp3
When the Blues Hit You.mp3