Paul Oscher

Paul Oscher
Down in the Delta

Blues Fidelity 1001

By Art Tipaldi
July 2006

In 1967, Paul Oscher became the first white player to integrate the Muddy Waters Band. From that chair, Oscher was in close contact with masters like Waters and Otis Spann. In that vein, Oscher is not only a master harmonica player, but he also evokes memories of Muddy when he plays slide guitar, and Spann when he plays piano.

Oscher’s newest release, Down in the Delta, caught the ears of Blues Music Award voters and was named the 2006 Acoustic Album of the Year. Except for the occasional drums and bass, Oscher handles all the instruments. He opens the record with Fabulous Thunderbird bass player Ronnie James joining him on the Charles Brown classic, “Driftin’ Blues.”

From there, Oscher winds his way through some of the finest traditional blues he can find. Songs like “St. Louis Blues” and “Sugar Mama” feature Oscher on guitar and rack harmonica. Others, like Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues,” find Oscher boogying on his piano, Delta-barrelhouse style. He calls on pianist Dave Maxwell—and former Muddy sidemen Calvin Jones on bass and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums— for Leroy Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise” and Chuck Willis’ “You’re Still My Baby.”

On the Carr number, Oscher puts his guitar down and uses the melodica, which lends the song a unique shading. It’s no wonder that after decades of playing classic, traditional blues, Oscher’s originals demonstrate a nostalgic touch and feel. He plays “Deborah’s Baby” as if it was a long lost ballad that survived on rural porches.

Two other Oscher originals, “I’m Goin’ Away Baby” and “So Lonesome,” feel like songs that Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter might have tested in a circa-1950 Chess studio.

Oscher’s harmonica and timing in “So Lonesome” perfectly recreate Little Walter’s vintage innovative harp style from his early Chess days. With only his guitar voicing to heaven on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” Oscher reminds us that early blues from the Delta relied heavily on traditional gospel.

He closes out the record with James again on bass, and West Coast drummer Richard Innes, as he lets his rack harmonica and slide guitar tell the story on the Ray Charles’ standard “Georgia.”

Oscher’s stirring finger work, James’ sturdy acoustic bass lines and Innes’ impeccable sense of time beautifully paint a musical masterpiece. During an Oscher harmonica solo, they even throw in 12 bars of “Since I Lost My Baby,” before heading back to “Georgia.”

During the past few years, there has been a resurgence in Oscher’s musical career. He actively tours, and is always looking to record and play whenever he can. He has also been elected to the Blues Foundation’s board of directors.

Don’t miss the chance to hear Oscher’s old-school blues.

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