Sugar Harp’s “Back Alley, Storytelling” Blues

When Charles Burroughs was 8 years old, his great-grandfather would simultaneously blow harp and strum a handmade guitar formed from an orange crate and broomsticks. Charles would say, “Grandaddy, I need to do that.”

If you witness what Charles describes as his “down in the gutter, back alley, storytelling blues” today, you’ll know he inherited his great-grandfather’s creativity and musical talent. In the decades since he first picked up the harmonica, he has more than earned his moniker, Sugar Harp.

“If you look at the old blues artists, them guys couldn’t even read. They played by ear; they didn’t know anything about no seventh chords, about no wheel of fifths. All they had to do was pick up a guitar and sing about how they feel.” Sugar Harp

But recently, Sugar Harp found himself sugarless and harpless. On November 26, 2019, driving his van — packed with all of his treasured belongings, including his harmonicas — through his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, Sugar Harp noticed a driver in another vehicle motioning to him frantically. Sugar’s van was becoming engulfed in flames. Moments later, Sugar acted on instinct, jumping out of the moving vehicle, and rolling on the ground to extinguish the fire that had spread and caught onto his jacket. Sugar was completely distraught, and soon thereafter, when the pandemic hit, he worried he might be done playing the harmonica for good.


But a year and a half later, with the help of a few friends, Sugar had a new ride, a set of harmonicas, and an optimistic attitude. He joined Music Maker in Birmingham in May of 2021 to record a few songs. Upon first introductions, Sugar seemed like a wise, reserved, wordly professor. But despite his quiet demeanor, once you get Sugar started talking or singing, his passion and joy for the music is clear. Sugar has a way with words in his songs: His original lyrics are a little raunchy, full of innuendo but always clever. He guides listeners to draw their own conclusions, never saying anything X-rated outright, keeping his shows technically family-friendly but keeping the audience cracking up.

Sugar Harp was born Charles Burroughs on August 29, 1947.
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