Paul Oscher

Bluesman Paul Oscher started his career practically at the top: in 1967, when the harmonica player was 17 years old, he joined Muddy Waters ‘ band. It would be decades until Oscher began his solo career in earnest, but he made up for lost time, becoming a first-rate performer who also mastered vocals, guitar, and keyboards. Oscher’s style is steeped in classic Chicago blues, showing off the strong influence of the artists he knew and toured with, and his songs lock into a steady groove that gives his performances an evocative late-night vibe. His solo debut, 1996’s Knockin’ on the Devil’s Door, showed how much he learned during his years out of the spotlight, and 2004’s Alone With the Blues and 2018’s Cool Cat were strong exercises in old-school blues.

Paul Oscher was born in Brooklyn, New York on April 5, 1950. His father encouraged him to play the accordion as a youngster, but it was after his uncle gave him a harmonica when he was 12 that he began taking music seriously. Oscher worked part-time delivering groceries and was waiting for an order when a customer saw him trying to play “Red River Valley” on his new harmonica. That customer turned out to be an experienced blues musician and gave the kid some tips on how to play the harp. Oscher began practicing day and night, and by the time he was 15, he was good enough to start playing professionally with guitarist Little Jimmy Mae. Mae introduced Oscher to Muddy Waters backstage at a show at the Apollo Theater, and when Muddy heard him play at a party after the concert, he got Paul’s phone number and told him to keep in touch. In 1967, Waters played a show in New York and his harmonica player couldn’t make the gig. Oscher was invited to sit in, and after hearing him play “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Blow Wind Blow,” Waters offered him a spot in his band. The first white player to join the band, Oscher relocated to Chicago and lived in a basement room at Waters ‘ house; Otis Spann also had a room there and showed his bandmate how to play piano. Oscher also taught himself to play guitar using Waters as his guide.

Oscher recorded and toured with Muddy Waters until 1971, when he left the band and moved back to New York. He gigged around the Big Apple under the name Brooklyn Slim, and joined Louisiana Red ‘s band for a tour of Europe in 1976. He also formed a band that played out regularly and backed up legends like Big Joe Turner , Doc Pomus , and Big Walter Horton . Oscher maintained a low profile throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, but in 1996 he returned to action with his first solo album, 1996’s Knockin’ on the Devil’s Door, followed later the same year by The Deep Blues of Paul Oscher. In 1998, he made a guest appearance on Shadow of the Blues by Little Charlie and the Nightcats , and he backed Big Bill Morganfield — Waters ‘ son — on his 1999 release Rising Son.

In 2000, Oscher brought out an album in collaboration with Steve Guyger , Living Legends, and in 2003 was part of the All-Star cast that backed up former Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin on the album About Them Shoes. Alone with the Blues was released in 2004, and that same year he appeared on The New Danger by Mos Def , performing on and co-writing “Bedstuy Parade & Funeral March.” Oscher’s album Down in the Delta came out in 2005, and the following year he appeared on Keb’ Mo’ ‘s Suitcase. Oscher dropped out of music for a while, with only the 2010 Bet on the Blues release to tide fans over. After relocating to Austin, Texas, where he reconnected with old friend James Cotton , Oscher began performing again, and in time was back to a steady schedule of gigging, with 2018’s Cool Cat confirming his comeback. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi