Snooky Pryor

The man called Snooky, born James Edward Pryor, picked up the harmonica at age 14, despite the objections of his preacher dad. Later, in the Army, he started blowing bugle calls on the harp through the PA system. The incredible power of the amplification system inspired him to pick up his own rig once he got out of the service. Despite his primitive amp, soon enough he was the loudest mother on Chicago’s Maxwell Street.

Snooky Pryor waxed some seriously groundbreaking 78s in the post-war period. His very first recording, a track called “Snooky and Moody’s Boogie” is particularly significant in blues history. You might recognize that lick. Some say Little Walter lifted it for his record-shattering instrumental breakthrough “Juke.” Little Walter is often credited with being the first to amplify his harmonica. Seeing as Walter probably stole that lick from Snooky, we can believe Mr. Pryor when he says his Army PA system was the first super-loud harmonica experimentation. But no matter who did it first, Snooky’s still a master. Crucial in the development of harmonica styling. I’ll prove it to ya. From 1948, “Telephone Blues.”


Snooky Pryor

(September 15, 1921 – October 18, 2006)

James Edward “Snooky” Pryor was born in Lambert, Mississippi on September 15, 1921. Influenced by both Sonny Boy Williamsons I and II, he was a forerunner in the development of the amplified harmonica sound. A tall and genial fellow, he honed his unique style blowing bugle calls on the harp over the PA system, while serving in the US Army. Upon discharge, he took his skills over to Chicago’s Maxwell street.

In 1948, Snooky recorded some of the first post-war blues records, waxing now classics like Telephone Blues and Snooky and Moody’s Boogie. He claims that Little Walter ripped off the latter’s lick for his seminal harp instrumental Juke.

Pryor quit playing music for a while, turning to carpentry and woodworking instead, before being persuaded to make a comeback in the 1980s.

“If you make up your mind to survive,” he once said, “you know, you can make it.”

Pryor passed away in October 2006.