A roots-music scholar, a radio personality and two local musicians are the 2017 Slim Harpo Music Awards recipients. The ceremony and jam session are set for Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Time Out Lounge.
The Slim Harpo Music Awards are named in honor of James Moore, aka Slim Harpo. In the 1950s and '60s, the West Baton Rouge Parish native wrote and recorded blues classics “I’m A King Bee,” “Rainin’ In My Heart” and “Baby Scratch My Back.” He died in 1970 at 46, shortly before what was to be his first European tour. Artists and bands such as Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones have performed and recorded Harpo's tunes.
John Broven, this year’s Slim Harpo Legends award winner, wrote two classic books about Louisiana music, “Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans” and “South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous.” The Sussex, England, native covered Slim Harpo extensively in “South to Louisiana.”
Pat McBride, the recipient of the Ambassador award, is the longtime host of WBRH-FM/KBRH-AM’s “Louisiana Gumbo” Saturday radio show. He’s also a 10-year board member of the Slim Harpo Awards.
Kenny Acosta and “Sundanze” Howie Dunston, both veteran singer-guitarists and recording artists, are Pioneer award winners.
In the early '60s, Broven discovered recordings Harpo made for the Nashville, Tennessee-based Excello Records. So did many other young people in the U.K., including members of the Rolling Stones and other blues-inspired British bands.
“All of a sudden, the focus was on Slim Harpo,” Broven said. “The Stones recorded ‘I’m A King Bee.’ Then other groups recorded his material. Everybody was knocked out by these new sounds; although, in the case of ‘I’m A King Bee,’ that record went back to 1957.”
In 1963, Broven wrote a story about Harpo’s producer J.D. Miller and Excello Records for the debut issue of Blues Unlimited, the first international blues magazine.
In April 1970, Broven arrived in Baton Rouge to do research for his writing. Tragically, Harpo had died three months earlier.
“Obviously, he would have been a prime interview target,” Broven said.
Like everyone who’s written about Harpo since then, Broven relied largely on second-hand accounts about the singer, songwriter, harmonica player and guitarist. Interviews with John Fred Gourrier (John Fred and the Playboys) and Miller helped Broven assemble the Harpo material for “South to Louisiana.”
Like Broven, the rest of this year’s recipients are Harpo fans.
“You can’t be a music fan from around here without being a Slim Harpo fan,” Acosta said. “He wrote awesome songs. I love playing them. They all have that Louisiana beat that you don’t get anywhere else. He was the real deal, and he inspired so many people.”
Receiving the Pioneer award, Acosta said, “it’s like getting up on Christmas morning, opening a package and getting something way better than you thought you were getting. I’m totally honored by it.”
To this day, Ambassador McBride still plays Harpo's recordings on his radio show.
“All of that came out of Baton Rouge, which is amazing,” McBride said. “It went so far, and it’s still going.”
Dunston, a New York native who was based in Denver for 25 years, moved to Baton Rouge in 2002. He knew Slim Harpo’s songs but wasn’t so familiar with the artist. Being named a Slim Harpo Pioneer surprised him.
“Because I’m not from Louisiana, but I'm stoked,” Dunston said. “To be even mentioned among the previous Slim Harpo award winners is an honor for me.”
SLIM HARPO BLUES AWARDS
WHEN: 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 16
WHERE: Time Out Lounge, 4619 Bennington Ave., Baton Rouge
COST: $20 advance, $25 door