Sugar Blue, Grammy Award-winning harmonica virtuoso, is not your typical bluesman. Born Jimmie Whiting in Harlem, New York, he was inﬂuenced by artists as diverse as Lester Young, Bob Dylan and Stevie Wonder.
Blue began his career playing on the streets, and later recorded with Brownie McGhee, Roosevelt Sykes, Bob Dylan, and Victoria Spivey. He relocated to France on the advice of pioneer blues pianist and expatriate Memphis Slim. It was there that Blue hooked up with the Rolling Stones, who invited him to play on their Some Girls, Emotional Rescue, and Tattoo You albums. Offered an indeﬁnite session spot with the band, he turned it down, opting instead to return to the States and put together his own band. Before leaving Europe, he recorded two albums, Crossroads and From Paris to Chicago.
In Chicago, Blue worked with and learned from harmonica legends Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell, James Cotton, and Junior Wells. He played in the Chicago Blues All-Stars with mentor Willie Dixon, and in 1985, received a Grammy Award for his solo performance of “Another Man Done Gone,” recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival for Willie Dixon’s album Blues Explosion.
He sat in with Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Jerry Lee Lewis for the Cinemax special Fats Domino and Friends. He also appeared both onscreen and in the musical score of Alan Parker’s acclaimed 1987 thriller Angel Heart, starring Robert De Niro.
Blue is perhaps best known for his signature riff on the Rolling Stones’ hit “Miss You,” off their Some Girls album. He performed his own version of the song on his 1993 Alligator Records album Blue Blazes. With his following album, In Your Eyes, Blue emerged as a singular, profound songwriter as well as a harmonica wizard. As to how the name Sugar Blue came to be, he explains: “I needed a nickname and all the good ones were taken — Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon, Sonny Boy…One night a friend and I were leaving a Doc Watson concert when somebody threw out of the window a box full of old 78s. I picked one up and it said ‘Sugar Blues’ by Sidney Bechet. That’s it! I thought it was perfect…So here I am.”
Sugar Blue incorporates what he has learned into his visionary and singular style, which is technically dazzling, yet wholly soulful. He bends, shakes, and spills ﬂurries of notes with simultaneous precision and abandon. And he sings too! His distinctive throat tends to be overlooked — a rich voice with a whisper of huskiness.
After his 2007 Code Blue release, Blue comes back in 2010 with his newest recording effort: of the Threshold album, Blue says, “I believe that the greatest threshold of all is love because it is the fount from which all human life springs. Life echoes the sounds of our interactions: joy, sadness, heartache, passion, loneliness, intimacy, celebration or solemn occasion. We have tried to give voice to these feelings in this musical offering.”