Keith Dunn is a Boston, USA, harmonica player, singer, songwriter and recording session producer now living in Rotterdam, Holland. Working with Jimmy Rogers (member of original Muddy Waters Band) and then Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf guitarist) were formative influences on his unique playing style.
It is melodic, percussive harmonica that is rooted in blues tradition, but improvisational and open-minded. As Keith Dunn explains, “I play harmonica the way Hubert Sumlin plays guitar and Jimmy Rogers sings. I like to create beautiful sounds and paint a surrealistic picture with harmonica.”
There was always music in the Dunn house including R&B station W-I-L-D and Arnie “Woo-Woo” Ginsberg. Listening to the two, you could hear every style. Keith’s musical diversity started then. T-Bone Walker performed at the baseball field where Keith played. At age 9, it was his first live blues. Keith bought his first Hohner harmonica when he was 12. He worked on the acoustic harmonica styles of both Sonny Boy Williamson I and II.
Soon afterwards, standing outside the Highland Tap, too young to get in, he listened to Luther “Snake” Johnson play. It was the first time that Keith heard a live Chicago-style blues band. “After hearing Luther, I was hooked on what was, at that time, the ‘new’ Chicago Blues sound. It was a mixture of Muddy Waters, classic R&B like Ivory Joe Hunter and funk like the music of James Brown or the Meters. It was a tough, funky sound.”
Keith began to play at parties and on the streets of Boston with his friend and harmonica guru, Stanley Steele a legend of the Boston Blues scene. “In our early teens, Stanley, started playing amplified and sounding like James Cotton. TONE! I loved that sound, so I saved money from an after school job and bought a 2 x 12 Silvertone Amp. I decided to leave Cotton to Stanley for the moment. I bought the ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’ album and worked on that Junior Wells sound.”
Stanley Steele arranged Keith’s debut with Roomful of Blues a few weeks before Keith’s 17th birthday. It was his first time in a real club playing and singing with a professional band. In addition to school work, Keith continued working on a variety of music and played these styles while in different bands around Boston including, blues, soul, jazz, swing, big-band, rock& roll and rockabilly.
He continued this practice when he lived in Rhode Island, Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin, Texas and San Francisco. Just to mention a few artists that Keith saw, worked with, or got to know then; Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, James Cotton, Big Walter Horton, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner, Etta James, Charles Mingus, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Hound Dog Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Roy Eldridge, J.B. Hutto, Willie Dixon, B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite, Jr. Wells, of course Hubert Sumlin and Jimmy Rogers. But when asked, maybe Keith is most happy about cooking for Muhammad Ali.
“The idea to play alone with only voice and harmonica happened when I tried to buy an album of solo harmonica but could not find one. I asked several well-known record collectors who also didn’t have one. A few artists had made single recordings, but no one had made an album of solo blues harmonica recordings before, ” Keith explains. He then wrote the songs and recorded “Alone With The Blues”, the first album of it’s kind. Keith Dunn has added the solo “Alone With The Blues” project to the rest of the styles that he regularly performs and won song-writing awards for his “Alone With The Blues” album (Deetone Records-DCD-5501).
Teaming up with blues pianist Chris Rannenberg, Keith and Chris produced several acclaimed albums including, Los Reyes Del Ko’s “Hot Tin Roof” and “The Walter Davis Project” which was voted “Traditional Album Of The Year” by Living Blues Magazine. It features Keith and Chris as well as Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Henry Townsend and Jimmy McCracklin.
In addition to his production work, Keith Dunn continues to perform around the world with his usual variety of projects and blues-oriented styles. Using his immense musical experience, Keith performs with the same joy, enthusiasm and deep commitment that he had from the very beginning. He is keeping the promise that he made to Muddy Waters. Keith Dunn is keeping the blues alive!