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William Clarke

William Clarke - Blues Harmonica (1951 - 1996)

Between his huge frame and the immense sounds he coaxed out of his harmonica, West Coast blues harmonica virtuoso William Clarke was a giant of the blues. A full-time blues musician since quitting his job as a machinist in 1987, Clarke regularly toured the U.S. and Europe before his untimely death in 1996. His mix of Chicago blues traditions with West Coast swing placed him at the forefront of contemporary blues harmonica players.

Clarke's harmonica playing, particularly his chromatic work, was simply astonishing. According to the Chicago Sun Times, Clarke was “the most dynamic harp player on the circuit.” The Washington Post declared, “Few can match the imposing harp and vocal power of William Clarke.”

Clarke was born March 29, 1951 into a blue-collar family in Inglewood, California. While most of his friends were surfing and listening to Beach Boys records, Clarke fell in love with the blues through the early Rolling Stones albums. By age 17 he began following his dream of becoming a bluesman. He befriended blues legends like T-Bone Walker, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Big Joe Turner, Pee Wee Crayton, Lowell Fulson, Big Mama Thornton, Shakey Jake Harris, and the man who was to become his mentor, ex-Muddy Waters harmonica legend George “Harmonica” Smith. The two performed and recorded together from 1977 until Smith's death in 1983.

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