|"Jerry Portnoy is the most expressive blues harp player around today." -Savannah Morning News|
|"Mr. Portnoy crests like an alto saxophone." -New York Times|
|"Widely recognized as the greatest blues harpist of his generation." -Toronto Star|
|"The finest blues harmonica player in the business." -Knoxville Journal|
|"The number one blues harp anywhere."|
|-Rocking Chair Magazine|
|"A subtle and superb harpist."|
|-Lexington, Kentucky Leader|
|"The smoothest, sweetest player I ever heard."|
|-Kingston Ontario Whig-Standard|
|"Exciting, soulful riffs that make your hair stand on end."|
|"Portnoy is amazing both as a soloist as well as an accompanist."|
|"Sounded like a whole brass section of an orchestra."|
"No complaints about playing the blues"
By David Sinclair
The London Times
February 19, 1993
Eric Clapton is the most revered English guitarist in the history of rock. But although it is his name on the £22 tickets, Clapton will not be alone when he takes the stage tomorrow for the first of 12 shows at the Albert Hall. For nearly three weeks beforehand, in a secret location just outside London, a crack team of backing musicians has been rehearsing with Clapton, perfecting the arrangements and polishing the performances of the songs he will play.
This year's shows are given over exclusively to the blues and this is reflected in Clapton's choice of a lean but stellar five-piece band, incorporating guitarist Andy Fairweather Low (formerly of Amen Corner, and a Clapton stalwart), bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn (of the original Blues Brothers and Booker T and the MGs), drummer Richie Hayward (of Little Feat) and keyboard player Chris Stainton (from Joe Cocker's band).
But no serious blues group is complete without its harmonica player. and setting the seal on this year's line-up is Jerry Portnoy, a veteran of Muddy Waters's band and a musician steeped in the authentic Chicago blues.
Portnoy was born in Chicago in 1943 and brought up in the vicinity of the Maxwell Street market, where his father owned a rug store. There, among the haggling customers and traders, many of the original blues players who had drifted to Chicago from the south would set up and play for whatever loose change was dropped at their feet.
Even so, it was only at the age of 25, and after failed attempts to master several other instruments, that Portnoy discovered his aptitude for playing the harmonica. Just five years after first picking up the instrument, he was off touring with Muddy Waters.
"For a harmonica player that was the top job in the world. He was a great band leader, the Duke Ellington of the blues in the sense that he turned out a lot of stars and a lot of band leaders and people who went on to make their own mark."
A supremely agile player, Portnoy has as his trademark an ability to balance passages that are light and filigreed against moments when he pushes down hard on the reed to produce a fiercely heavy tone. According to Portnoy, the popular and faintly disparaging view of the "humble" harmonica ignores the versatility of the instrument.
"All musicians want to speak through their instrument which is what makes the harmonica such a valuable tool for playing the blues. Its tonal capabilities are unique, so that you can make it sing, speak, talk, moan, cry, bark, growl, beg for mercy or just about anything else."
Portnoy moved to Boston in 1977, but continued working with Waters' band until 1980. It was during this period that Waters toured as support to Eric Clapton, and Portnoy first met his present employer.
As he says, "there are easier ways to make a decent living than by playing blues," but he is not surprised to find a superstar such as Clapton, at the peak of his career, going back to the basics.
"The blues is his source. He returns to the blues for regeneration. It is the primal wellspring of American music. Obviously his musical ability stretches beyond the boundaries of blues, but it is still his deepest source of inspiration."