Although born and raised as Hugh Holmes of Boston, Mass., the emanations from his harmonica and vocals make it clear that Professor Harp has the blues of Texas and the whole wide Delta coursing through his veins.
The Professor was a rock ‘n’ roll drummer until ’69, when the Boston blues revival and a sterling performance he caught of blues harmonica great George Allen ‘Harmonica’ Smith, combined to lure him away from drums and into a full court press on the blues harp. “Undaunted!” he brags, by the vicissitudes of his life as blues man, front man, every kind of man, Professor Harp puts forth his commanding presence and exceptional talent, night after night.
Primarily playing a sparse, yet full-sounding brand of no-nonsense, no-frills Texas style blues, Professor Harp specializes in what he calls, ‘roots music’. “It’s whatever makes me feel good and moves me, so to speak.” Indeed it has evolved while continuing to move audiences for decades.
Under the influence of many diverse blues greats, Professor Harp has developed a robust playing style. He often utilizes the Leslie rotating-speaker sound system to give his harp a Hammond organ timbre, while he alternately and simultaneously employs the standard or traditional ‘electrified’ blues harp. The Professor tops this off by singing the blues with an infectious fervor, supported at his strictest insistence by only top-flight musicians on guitar, bass, and drums.
Professor Harp performed with various bands throughout the Northeast including legends Solomon Burke and Luther ‘Guitar Jr.’ Johnson and played live on NBC’s Today Show. Among the legions of hot performances at rocking blues clubs, the memories that often stand out for The Professor are the nights his harp helped to swell the room, in a spontaneous jam with his old mentor, the inimitable bluesman Muddy Waters.
It was the spring of ’75 when a friend first introduced Hugh to Muddy Waters. Following his friend backstage at Boston’s Paul’s Mall, he found Muddy immersed in a game of Casino with bassist Calvin Jones. Muddy was unresponsive when it was suggested that Hughie Holmes should sit in on a few numbers. Holmes and his friend backed off.
Yet, halfway through his show Muddy stopped and asked where that harp player was. The Professor was ready. Overcoming the sudden burning in his ears, Harp climbed on stage and miraculously grabbed exactly the right harmonica from his disorganized bag of harps. As usual he took the time to grease it up with Vaseline, and still jumped in without slowing down the show for a moment. From that day on Harp had a standing invitation to join in whenever Muddy took the stage.
Harp says every show with Muddy was a learning experience and he cites Muddy as his greatest teacher. Muddy, in turn, called Hugh the professional of the Harp. Solomon Burke called him Professor Harmonica Holmes. After two greats anointed him with sobriquets, Hugh Holmes decided it was time to split the difference and became Professor Harp.