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Sugar Blue 

Friday, March 14, at Wilbert's.


It usually takes artists several records before anyone pays attention. Sugar Blue needed only one song. Granted, it's not even his, but it is his harmonica lick that propels the Rolling Stones' 1978 hit "Miss You." While that cut served as a fitting introduction to the Harlem-bred Blue — who was born James Whiting — it's just a small taste of one of the most exciting harp players on the planet. Blue's blowing in "Miss You" shows off his fat, down-home tone. But dive anywhere into his solo catalog, and his real-deal blues shape-shifts into fluid, agile acrobatics that match most jazzmen's horn throw-downs. Blue's best trick is keeping all his fire and facility connected to the music's roots. He turned down the Stones' offer for full-time studio membership to make his bones in the Windy City, eventually landing a gig with Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars. He's also dropped riffs for Bob Dylan, Frank Zappa, and Art Blakey. He continues his bluesy high-wire act on 2007's Code Blue.

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