'Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge,' by Martin Hawkins
The Louisiana singer and harp player Slim Harpo was a rara avis among black deep-South bluesmen in 1966: a crossover star whose lyrically coy, rhythmically slinky Number One R&B single "Baby Scratch My Back" also crashed the Top 20 on Billboard's pop chart in the late winter of that year. But Harpo – born James Moore in a western parish of Baton Rouge – was no one-hit wonder. Starting with "I'm a King Bee" in 1957, he cut a series of bayou-blues classics that not only made him a regional star but reverberated in electric-R&B Britain where Harpo's unique blend of swampy-R&B crawl, sleepy vocal magnetism and crafty, minimalist melodies were a foundation text for the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, Van Morrison's Them and the early Moody Blues (who named themselves after a Harpo instrumental). Moore died only four years after "Baby Scratch My Back," at 46, of a heart attack, leaving few interviews and a scattered press-clips trail. Yet this biography by the British blues scholar Martin Hawkins is a passionate, encyclopedic triumph, bringing the enigmatic Harpo to life and tracing his remarkable mainstream ascension – from the rich central-Louisiana blues scene to gigs at the Fillmore East – with deep local research and detailed portraits of the singer's peers, sidemen and record-business associates. Everything you need to know about Harpo is here. It is also everything there is to know. D.F.