James Edward “Snooky” Pryor (September 15, 1919 or 1921 – October 18, 2006) was an American Chicago blues harmonica player. He claimed to have pioneered the now-common method of playing amplified harmonica by cupping a small microphone in his hands along with the harmonica, although on his earliest records, in the late 1940s, he did not use this method.

Country Blues Style Harmonica

Pryor was born in Lambert, Mississippi, United States. He developed a country blues style influenced by Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Lee Williamson) and Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Ford “Rice” Miller). In the mid-1930s, in and around Vance, Mississippi, Pryor played in impromptu gatherings of three or four harmonica players, including Jimmy Rogers, who then lived nearby and had yet to take up playing the guitar. Pryor moved to Chicago around 1940.

While serving in the U.S. Army he would blow bugle calls through a PA system, which led him to experiment with playing the harmonica that way. Upon discharge from the Army in 1945, he obtained his own amplifier and began playing harmonica at the outdoor Maxwell Street Market, becoming a regular on the Chicago blues scene.

Pryor recorded some of the first post-war Chicago blues in 1948, including “Telephone Blues” and “Snooky & Moody’s Boogie”, with the guitarist Moody Jones, and “Stockyard Blues” and “Keep What You Got”, with the singer and guitarist Floyd Jones. “Snooky & Moody’s Boogie” is of considerable historical significance: Pryor claimed that the harmonica virtuoso Little Walter directly copied the signature riff of Pryor’s song in the opening eight bars of his blues harmonica instrumental “Juke,” an R&B hit in 1952.

Regularly Toured in the South

During the 1950s, Pryor regularly toured in the South. In 1967, Pryor moved to Ullin, Illinois. He quit music and worked as a carpenter in the late 1960s but was persuaded to make a comeback. Blues fans later revived interest in his music, and he resumed recording occasionally until his death in nearby Cape Girardeau, Missouri, at the age of 85.

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Compiled by SHARON Q