Big Leon Brooks

Big Leon Brooks’ deep voice and heavy harmonica tone harkened back to Chicago blues of the 1950s—his style having been preserved by a long hiatus from music. He was influenced very little by the funkier, guitar-driven blues of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Leon was quick to point out that there were better harmonica players years ago. “We had quite a few harmonica players back then that were pretty damn good…. they had more weight, more tone. You got to really blow from within; you’ve got to have that feeling for music, blues music. This is something you don’t find many harp players with today.” “The Big Man,” as he was aptly called around his home (he often wore shirts with “Big” embroidered on the pocket instead of his name), began playing harp when he was six years old. Growing up in Sunflower, Mississippi, he had a chance to learn from the masters. Leon recalled meeting Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller), Elmore James, Boyd Gilmore and Charlie Booker. “I was raised up around those guys,” he remembered, “but I really learned a lot from the radio, too.” Moving to Chicago in the early 1940s, Leon began playing with “kids in the neighborhood, on the street and down in Jewtown” (the Maxwell Street outdoor market). There he met his future mentor, Little Walter Jacobs. “I started out in Rice Miller’s style, but Little Walter was really my idol on harmonica, and I followed him around a lot. He was my coach.” Still a teenager, Leon began slipping i...

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