Veteran bluesman still has what it takes

ERROL NAZARETH

, Last Updated: 12:55 AM ET

Telling Chicago harmonica legend Snooky Pryor how to blow harp is as classless as clipping your fingernails on the TTC.

But people do it anyway.

"A lot of these young punks come up and try and tell me about music and how to play and what to play, and they don't know s--- they own self!" the 78-year-old Pryor says from his home in southern Illinois.

Pryor and Texas axman Mel Brown perform together at Harbourfront's Concert Stage Sunday as part of the The Great Canadian Blues & BBQ Festival being held there today through Sunday. The duo cut Can't Stop Blowin' last year.

"Young folks think they know everything," he laughs. "That's why I take these young folks on the bandstand and wrap 'em up! When they start to talk smart, I tell them, 'Don't ever meet me on the bandstand or you'll get an ass-kicking!' "

Laughing, I ask Pryor if he's ever administered a public ass-kicking.

"Hell, yeah!" he exclaims. "I ain't too old to do it."

His voice softens as he makes a confession.

"I tried to retire four years ago, but peoples won't let me."

At this point you just want to go, 'Aaaah!' and hug him.

But what will you do with all that spare time, I ask?

"Well, I like to fish," the Mississippi-born Pryor says. "I stays on the fish bank pretty regular. I like to fish with reel and rod, I like to fly fish, fish with a bow and arrow.

"Me and my son went fishing Saturday and I guess we caught about 20 bass."

Pryor's been hooking ears with his spirited harp-playing and big, bluesy voice ever since Sonny Boy Williamson II's playing grabbed him 69 years back. He's collaborated with blues giants Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Jimmy Rogers, and maintains a hectic touring and recording schedule.

Even more impressive is that Pryor's widely credited for creating the electric harmonica sound.

Pryor enjoys explaining how this sound was born.

"I used to play bugle when I was in the army and I would blow calls through a big PA system," Pryor says. "I wondered what a harmonica would sound like through there and when I did it ... oh, what a change!" he says.

"I got discharged from the army and got back to Chicago Nov. 16, 1945, and I went to 504 South State St. and got me a PA system with two speakers," he continues. "Then I went to Maxwell St. and I started playing on the street.

"Oh, they couldn't understand this noise," he recalls. "But I made a lot of money."


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