Artist Profile: Terry “Harmonica” Bean

July 12, 2012 | In Artists

Not surprisingly given his nickname, Terry “Harmonica” Bean plays harmonica, but he also plays guitar. His deft work on harmonica and guitar together makes him an exciting solo artist, though he also fronts a full band at times. Either way, he is an engaging performer with an ebullient personality who never fails to please an audience.

Bean is a lifelong resident of Pontotoc MS, where his father Eddie Bean taught him how to play blues — and to pick cotton, which Terry and his thirteen siblings did to help his sharecropper father stay afloat financially.

In high school, Bean became a star baseball player, pitching both for his school and later on minor league teams, though the possibility of making the majors was eventually dimmed by injuries from two auto crashes. After that, he refocused on music, becoming a mainstay of the blues scene in Greenville MS. Bean played both as a one-man band — guitar, harmonica, and foot percussion — and a band leader. He got himself regularly booked at blues festivals, learned to manage his career and get overseas tours, and released several self-produced albums. Bean appears in the film “M For Mississippi” where he mentions his day job at a furniture factory; like most blues artists, he doesn’t make enough to live on just from music.

Bean is also in the sequel to “M For Mississippi,” the 2012 film “We Juke Up In Here.” In the film, Bean notes the decline of the juke joint scene, and says that Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale, the club featured in the film, is one of the few that survive.

In 2011, Bean toured in Italy. As is the case with many American blues artists, he is well-known in his home area and overseas, but not so much in other parts of the United States. His music is perhaps what could be called “modern old-fashioned,” very traditional but not a museum exhibit. He is an innovator within the scope of tradition.

When he plays Z. Z. Hill’s soul-blues hit “I’m A Bluesman,” even those familiar with Hill’s hit version may not at first recognize it. It’s Bean’s own creation, an indication as well that, historically and still to this day, as soon as blues reached the urban areas from the rural places of its birth, it was reflected back by the rural players. Terry “Harmonica” Bean is a blues player for all times and places.

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