Philadelphia doesn’t normally come to mind when you mention blues. However the City of Brotherly Love does boast what some consider a legendary blues harmonica player: Steve Guyger.
For over thirty years Steve Guyger has been honing his skills on the harmonica and delighting blues audiences whether that be with his own band, The Excellos, or touring with celebrated bluesman Jimmy Rogers. Evidence of his prowess on the harmonica can be heard on Past Life Blues (1999, Severn Records,) what Living Blues magazine describes as “sturdily rooted in the postwar Windy City tradition and laced with swooping muscular harmonica excursions that never overstay their welcome.” The critics agree, Guyger has learned well from those who came before him and is carrying on the tradition in a powerful and impressive way.
Growing up in Philly, Steve wasn’t exposed to blues music until his late teens. He spent much of his youth listening to the sounds of Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and the pop music of the 60’s. It wasn’t until he met up with John Gunning, a harmonica player who “had all the blues records,” that Steve would hear players like Little Walter, Muddy Waters and James Cotton. He was hooked and life would never be the same.
After several years of studying, including a stint where he took classical lessons on the chromatic harp, Steve met up with Richie Yescalis, a guitar player who would become a good friend, collaborator and long-time sideman with Guyger. “Richie had been hanging out in Chicago where he met up with Big Walter Horton,” recalls Steve. Richie passed along Big Walterís explanation of the technique called tongue blocking and Steve immediately understood how his heroes managed to get “that sound” he’d been striving for. “Another turning point in my playing came when I met Paul Oscher. Paul’s guitar player, Frankie Padini, played great harp and started teaching me. Frankie really helped me learn and understand the Chicago style of playing.”
In 1980, after years of dreaming and hoping, Steve got the call from his long time hero Jimmy Rogers. “I was playing with Ola Dixon at the time and we both joined Jimmy’s touring band. Jimmy and I hit it off right away and he became like a father to me. He was great to be around and very intelligent and caring.” Guyger played on and off with Rogers until his death in 1998.
Throughout the years Steve Guyger has been on shows or sat in with some of the greats in blues: Son Seals, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Big Mama Thorton and the list goes on. His love for the blues is evident in his studio recordings including Past Life Blues and Radio Blues (Severn Records) and especially in his live performances. Hear for yourself why William Clarke called Steve “one of the best harp players I’ve ever seen.”
Radio Blues (Severn CD-0044 © 2008)
Past Life Blues (Severn CD-0002 © 1999; reissued w/bonus tracks 2003)
Live at the Dinosaur (Horseplay Records)
Last Train To Dover (Bluesleaf Records)
Roy Gaines – New Frontier Lover (Severn CD-0009)
Steve Freund – I’ll Be Your Mule (Delmark Records)
Paul Oscher & Steve Guyger – Living Legends (Bluesleaf Records)
Paul Oscher & Steve Guyger – Knockin’ On the Devil’s Door (Vice Roots Records)
Paul Oscher – Blues at the 5 Burro Café (Mo-Jo Productions)
Tino – Two Sides Of a Heart (Remedy Records – out of print)