Casino Entertainment

Mark Hummel pays tribute to harmonica legends at Harrah’s

Mark Hummel has changed gears for his Blues Harmonica Blowout tour, focusing on Bluebird Records. Its harmonica stars included Tampa Red, Big Joe Williams and “Sonny Boy” Williamson.
Mark Hummel has changed gears for his Blues Harmonica Blowout tour, focusing on Bluebird Records. Its harmonica stars included Tampa Red, Big Joe Williams and “Sonny Boy” Williamson. Mark Hummel

Mark Hummel’s audience would understand if it were treated to a tribute to Little Walter for this year’s Blues Harmonica Blowout.

After all, Hummel’s 2014 album “Remembering Little Walter” not only won the best blues CD and traditional blues CD at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, it was nominated for a Grammy. He has used the legendary Walter as the basis of his annual Blowout tour, which he launched in 1991.

But this year, Hummel has changed gears. The Blowout will focus on Bluebird Records, the 1930s RCA offshoot label dedicated to jazz and blues.

Bluebird featured a few big names for its time, including Glenn Miller, Rudy Vallee and Ozzie Nelson, but it was mostly a label dedicated to names lesser known yet amazingly influential to the players who followed, such as Tampa Red, Big Joe Williams and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson.

“Most of these recordings are long gone,” says Hummel, “but a lot of the songs are available on iTunes. A real standout is Jazz Gillum, who could do things on a harmonica nobody else could. I’ve been trying to master one of his techniques for years. He has a song we do called ‘Reefer-Headed Woman,’ which very few people know featured the first electric guitar solo ever played.”

Many of the Bluebird artists are legendary, but so are many of the players Hummel will have with him Saturday night at Harrah’s the Blowout: Elvin Bishop, Rick Estrin and Little Charlie Baty, who formed Sacramento’s Little Charlie and the Nightcats in the mid-1970s.

“Most of these players are in a league of their own,” Hummel said. “I’ve been working with Charlie for the past five years, and he does most of his gigs with me now.”

Also part of the Blowout will be Billy Boy Arnold, a Chicago native who took lessons from Williamson. Arnold also played with Ellis McDaniel – better known as Bo Diddley. Arnold claims to have given him that name when McDaniel had a tune called “Hey Noxema.” Arnold had heard of someone called Bo Diddley and thought it worked in the song better. He has recorded two tribute albums to Bluebird Records artists Williamson and Big Bill Broonzy.

And in a rare appearance outside Philadelphia add Steve Guyger , who will also bring along Rich Yescalis, a former colleague from the Jimmy Rogers Band, to double on harp and guitar.

Hummel has written a book called “Big Road Blues: 12 Bars on I-80” and has a new CD called “The Hustle Is Really On.”

As for his favorites from the Bluebird catalog: “It’s impossible to pick. We do so many. There’s Robert Nighthawk’s ‘Sweet Pepper Mama’ and Sonny Boy’s ‘Cut That Out’ and music by Tampa Red and Memphis Slim. Their catalog was awesome and such a joy to play.” (7:30 p.m.; $44; Ticketmaster)

  Comments