JOE FILISKO: For a man bearing such a burden, you’d think Joe Filisko would have broader shoulders…

 

We caught up with the harpmaster at his one UK appearance, in Brighton, en route to the Northampton Blues Week.

For a man bearing such a burden, you’d think Joe Filisko would have broader shoulders. I mean, considering the fact that he’s hoisted the entire tradition of blues harmonica up on them things, you’d think he’d be wide as a Buick.

But in fact, he’s as unassuming in his build as he is in his manner: “It continues to amaze me,” he says, “that people are willing to pay to watch me do this!” Perched on a high stool with nothing but a harp, a mic and a couple of stories, he delivers a one-man ethnography of the blues tradition. Having devoted himself to studying and mastering the styles of bluesmen long deceased, his set is a semi-acoustic recital of bygone masters and near-forgotten gems: From John Lee Williamson and Sonny Terry to DeFord Bailey fox chases and the chord-heavy Cajun waltzes of Isom Fontenot, he breathes life into every lick and inflection. And here’s the thing –with each whoop and warble, Filisko isn’t merely copying these geezers; he’s channelling them.

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