Word has just come in from Kevin Johnson of Delmark Records that Chicago blues harmonica great Lester "Mad Dog" Davenport passed away on Tuesday, March 17, 2009, after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was a respected figure in Chicago blues, best known for his stunning harp work on Bo Diddley's 1955 recordings of "Pretty Thing" and "Bring It To Jerome".
Lester Davenport was born in Tchula, Mississippi on January 16, 1932, and moved to Chicago at age 14. Lester soon found work as a blues harmonica player working with Arthur "Big Boy" Spires and Homesick James before landing a gig with Bo Diddley that led to the famous recording session and a gig at the Apollo Theater.
In addition to harmonica, Lester also played bass, drums, and guitar, which ensured him lots of work in the active Chicago blues scene.
During the 1970s, he worked with W.W. Williams, Kansas City Red, Illinois Slim, Steve Cushing, Tchula childhood friend Jimmy Dawkins, and many others.
In the 1980s he toured extensively with Big Daddy Kinsey & The Kinsey Report. Lester Davenport's career yielded 2 beautiful CDs: When The Blues Hit You on Earwig Music (1993) and I Smell A Rat on Delmark (2002). He also had a couple songs released on an anthology called It's Great To Be Rich on the Red Lightnin' label, and a song on Chicago Blues Harmonica, an anthology on the Wolf Record label.
Lester's recording credits as a sideman are extensive: Bo Diddley for Chess records, Big Smokey Smothers for Red Lightnin', Willie Johnson, Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, Johnny B. Moore for Wolf Records, Big Smokey Smothers, Big John Trice for Red Lightnin', Aron Burton on Earwig, and Bonnie Lee and Willie Kent for Delmark.
Aside from all of these great credentials, Lester was just a wonderful man who was eager to welcome new friends and share his harmonica secrets to aspiring players. He had a warm smile and the ability to add humor to any situation. His harmonica playing will be remembered for its glorious, sweet tone and perfect phrasing. Though he never achieved great fame, he will always be remembered as one of the greats.
Funeral services will be this Saturday, March 28, 2009, 10am to 12pm, at A.R. Leak Funeral Home, 5000 W. Madison, Chicago, IL 60644.