With the passing of Rudy Richard on Sept. 22, the Baton Rouge blues music community lost one of its local stars. He was 77.
Richard, a guitarist, singer and accordion player, was a member of blues star Slim Harpo’s band from 1957 until Harpo’s death in 1970.
Richard performed often in the Baton Rouge area until recent years when his health kept him from the stage. He’s best known nationally and internationally for his years as a member of Harpo’s band, the King Bees.
Harpo’s major hits, beginning in 1957 with “I’m a King Bee” and continuing with the ’60s hits “Rainin’ in My Heart” and “Baby Scratch My Back,” made the singer-harmonica player an in-demand live act.
“We started getting a bunch of jobs,” Richard recalled in a 1993 Advocate interview. “So I started staying with Slim for a good while. His wife was just like a mother to me.”
Harpo, a West Baton Rouge Parish native whose real name was James Moore, recruited Richard out of an Opelousas cotton field in 1957.
“Daddy had a big farm, and I was picking cotton,” Richard recalled. “Slim showed up in a Buick. Who was this guy in this Buick? It was some kind of metallic purple with an ivory top. He had a hat on I’ll never forget. Walked up to us and spoke to my daddy about needing a guitar player. My daddy looked at me, and I looked at him. Man, I was raring to play!”
One of Richard’s uncles encouraged the guitarist’s father to let him go with Harpo. Richard was forever grateful that his uncle intervened.
Harpo and the King Bees toured throughout Louisiana and the South. They also played such major venues as New York’s Apollo Theater and Fillmore East and the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles.
“That man was a hard worker,” Richard said of his boss man. “It was something about his style of playing that just would tickle everybody. And he blowed so hard. Like your amplifier speaker, it would vibrate. That man had that much wind to blow.”
Richard, like James Johnson, the late Tabby Thomas and other older blues musicians, became mentors to succeeding blues musicians such as Kenny Neal, Larry Garner and Jonathon “Boogie” Long.
“All those old, soulful cats,” Long said in 2011. “I was around those spirits, playing on stage with them, feeling the energy.”
Despite his illness, Richard performed at Kenny Neal’s Family & Friends Heritage Blues Fest in Port Allen in 2012 and at the 2011 Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans in a duo with singer, guitarist and harmonica player Lazy Lester.
Richard and Lazy Lester’s Ponderosa Stomp selections included a performance of Lonesome Sundown’s mournful “My Home Is A Prison” and, with arpeggio accompaniment from Richard, an especially country-sounding rendition of Harpo’s south Louisiana theme song, “Rainin’ In My Heart.”
Visiting for Richard will be from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept 26, at St. Paul Catholic Church, 3912 Gus Young Ave., Baton Rouge. The service is at 11 a.m. Interment will be in Greenoaks Memorial Park.