While practically every other blues harmonica player of his generation fell under the spell of Little Walter, Gene “Birdlegg” Pittman is, and always was, different. Birdlegg was influenced by two of the greatest early postwar and country blues harmonica players, Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) and Sonny Terry.
He started his career in the Bay Area blues scene in 1970, sitting in at every jam session he could find and honing his chops at such notorious local blues joints as the Eli Mile High Club, the Shalimar Club and the Fifth Amendment. A natural performer with boundless energy and enthusiasm, Birdlegg quickly befriended and began performing with some of the best bluesmen in the area like Sonny Rhodes, Massala Talbert, Haskell “Cool Papa” Sadler and Mississippi Johnny Waters.
He began appearing regularly in area clubs and at festivals throughout the Bay Area, and his popularity eventually led to several tours in Europe. As self-confident and assured as ever, his band became one of the hottest around the area for many years as he realized his dream of making a living playing music. As he liked to tell people:
I don’t do floors, windows or shoes—I play the Oakland blues!
The claim “hardest working man in show business” has become somewhat overwrought, but if anyone in the blues business today is truly qualified to live up to the high standards set by the master of funk James Brown himself, it certainly is Birdlegg. From the moment he hits the stage to the very last song of the night which characteristically ends with Birdlegg soaked to the bone with sweat and five pounds lighter than when he started, the energy level doesn’t let up for a second. Backed by a crack band of seasoned Austin band members and local musicians Clas Olofsson & Fredrik Landh.
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