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PRE-WAR BLUES HARP GREATS

WILLIAM McCOY

For the last article in this series I have decided to look at the excellent though undeservedly obscure harp player, William McCoy. One of the few Texan harp players to have recorded in the twenties, McCoy's complete recordings can be found (along with other good stuff ) on the highly recommended CD Texas: Black Country Dance Music1.

I have chosen to transcribe the first twelve bars of McCoy's "Central Tracks Blues". This is played in 5th position, ie. key of C# on an A harp. (McCoy seems to have bought just the one harp to this session - all the songs he recorded on 7th and 8th of December 1928 were played on an A harp in either 1st, 2nd or 5th position.) In fact this is the only example of pre-war 5th position I have so far discovered. The usual advice to hear the original recording is particularly important in this case. To notate McCoy's rhythms accurately would make this transcription unreadable and there is no convenient way to notate those hand wah-wahs. (McCoy seemed very fond of the "talking harp" sound - check out his version of "Mama Blues"). For those of you interested in such matters, the guitar accompaniment on this track is probably supplied by Sam Harris, playing in the key of A, capoed up four frets to meet McCoy's harp. (Texan guitarists seemed to favour the keys of A and E).


Notes:

1. Texas: Black Country Dance Music (Document DOCD-5162). Click here for more details from Amazon.com or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk

In the book "Blues Come to Texas", Mack McCormick refers to two newspaper articles from 1937, about Willie McCoy, a harp player from Denton, Texas. His age is given as 27, which means that if this is same William McCoy (and other details in the articles strongly suggest that it is), then he was just a teenager when he recorded for Columbia in 1927 and 1928.

In the same book, there is a quote from Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II) talking about the harp player he admired the most, Willie McCoy:

He was a harp player I met in Houston in 1954. He played this "Mama Blues", he could really talk on that harp. I'd say he was about fifty years old then.

Unfortunately, there are no details about the interview from which this quote is taken.


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