February 12, 2021

The Urban Dictionary defines PHAT as – “Pretty Hot and Thick”

How did Chicago Blues Music Begin? The Birth of the Blues

PHAT is also a great description of the places where Chicago Blues was born. The hot, sweaty, smoke-filled, boozy Juke Joints of the 1930’s/40’s.

The time and place that inspired Little Walter to pick up a microphone transforming the humble harmonica into a blaring ‘Mississippi saxophone’.

Juke Joint - Birth place of the blues

Walter deliberately used distortion as an effect to create that dirty, phat, Chicago Blues sound. Distortion and overdrive alter the sound of amplified instruments by increasing their gain producing a fuzzy, growling, gritty tone. The Holy Grail for Blues Harp players.

‘Snooky’ Pryor, an American Chicago blues harp player, also claimed to have pioneered the method of amplifying harmonica by cupping a mic, but he didn’t use this technique on his earliest records (1940’s).

What is the Chicago Blues sound?

Nat Riddles nails the old style Chicago sound here with his pounding rhythm and tonal skills through old school tech with a nod to Little Walter. 



When Blues met Pop

In the 1960’s, bands like The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin copied this ‘blues harp’ style using amplification to create a new harmonica sound (and to avoid being drowned out by the guitars!)

BUT...they couldn’t match the big, brash, sensuous, swampy sound of Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Terry and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Although, we can’t deny this era created some musical legends, the blues harp sound just wasn’t the same.

Take a look at this video to see what you think:

Compare this to Little Walter and you’ll hear the difference:

Paul Butterfield playing the blues harp

21st Century Blues

Today, the Chicago Blues sound pioneered by Little Walter Jacobs, Junior Wells Big Walter Horton and James Cotton, lives on in players like Jason Ricci, Rachelle Plas, Steve’West’Weston and Keith Parker, with Adam Gussow being one of the first to regularly integrate overblows into his sound.


Rachelle Plas modern harmonica player

Learn about Harmonica playing at HarmonicaUK.

Creating the Chicago Blues Sound with Modern Tech: The Kinubi Audio PSV.

The Kinubi PSV is a harmonica effects pedal which brings you an innovative way to simply create your own Chicago Sound. The “Scorch™” offers a high bass, low treble sound with an overdriven Chicago feel built in. Modelled over 7 valves, it instantly gives your playing that warm, phat feel. You can then use the Reverb, Tone, Delay and Compression options to personalise your sound. Over to you!

Kinubi Audio PSV Harmonica Effects Pedal

Prototype PSV.

Take a listen to the below sound clips to see how the Kinubi Audio PSV creates the Chicago Blues Phat sound:

Clean Audio Clip


PHAT Chicago Blues Sound

Check us out on social media for more Chicago Blues sounds and Harmonica playing:



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