Charlie Sayles
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Charlie Sayles

Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C., United States | INDIE

Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C., United States | INDIE
Band Blues Americana


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Charlie Sayles @ Old Town Bowie Grill

Bowie, Maryland, USA

Bowie, Maryland, USA

Charlie Sayles @ Peedee Blues Bash

Florence, South Carolina, USA

Florence, South Carolina, USA

Charlie Sayles @ Eastport Democratic Club

Annapolis, Maryland, USA

Annapolis, Maryland, USA

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"Sayles' harmonica style sounds contemporary without losing the traditional thread like too many other young harpists on today's scene, and his compositions are original enough to leave a lasting impression." - Living Blues Magazine

"Sayles is a superb and talented harmonica player with stunningly individual songs of his own creation performed in a fine vocal style." - Blues Unlimited Magazine (UK)

"A unique bluesman, he plays harp like no one else around: Tough and fierce..." - Juke Blues Magazine

Charlie Sayles' first album came out in 1976, this is his second. Somewhere round about 1986, I got to hear that first album, and it was apparent that in Sayles we are not dealing with yet another of the clones that the US blues labels have been churning out so assiduously for the past few years. He is, indeed, a unique talent, both as harp player and as songwriter.

The thing that most impresses about this CD every time I play it is its truth. Sayles has lived it, and has the blessed ability to communicate it.

His sound is different, too, his playing more intense, emotional, the distortion seeming to occur more as a result of the raw power of his music trying to get out of the loudspeakers than any electronic effects. Many of the tracks feature a second harmonica, played by Larry Wise, and this idea works very well to my ears. Wise tend to hold down a riff during a number, which adds a bit of spice to the guitar, bass and drums line up.

The album is entirely compose of self-written material, and has an overall air of menace that makes it compulsive listening. I was lyrical, I fear- but I wouldn't be without this words. If you can't afford it right now, remember- Christmas is coming! -SJ - Charlie Sayles- "Night Ain't Right" JSPCD241

A documentary video, "Blues House Party" was produced and sold by the D.C. Blues Society for many years, into the '90's, and may still be in print. Larry Wise contributes a performance on this (ca. 76?). Larry did some of the festival work in the late seventies for Ralph Rinsler, former "Greenbriar Boys" Cambridge bluegrass singer of the sixties, by the seventies the originator and head of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festivals.

About this time (74?) Ralph had been in New York City on a visit when he came across an incredibly talented black harmonica player playing unaccompanied through a portable amp on the street in Greenwich Village. A crowd of literally about a hundred or so people was gathered around--Charlie Sayles was a phenomenon. (Around this time a visiting camera crew from the BBC happened to come across one such performance, and filmed Charlie and crowd for the BBC series "Omnibus," where Charlie first received international recognition.) Sayles was fresh out of Vietnam in those days, and a bit of a loner in the time he lived in N.Y.C., but was raking it in as a street performer, averaging $500 weeks (in small denominations).

British blues scholar Dave Sax hired a guitarist and a drummer and recorded Charlie's first album there in New York, now a rare collector's item, on his own "Dusty Roads" label (500 copies pressed)--"THE RAW HARMONICA BLUES OF CHARLIE SAYLES" (74). Anyway, Rinsler was knocked out by Charlie's playing, asked him if he would come to Washington and play the Folklife Festival, and Charlie ended up having Rinsler become his manager, opening many doors for him.

Charlie moved to DC, lived in Rinsler's basement on Capitol Hill, and was introduced to Rinsler's inner circle of friends, and was soon playing with the likes of Bill Monroe (who literally asked Charlie is he would tour with the band, but Charlie declined. Also Pete Seegar, who was eventually to invite Charlie and Kerry Sayles to play Carnegie Hall for the 50th Anniverary, 1992.) Reviews started appearing in blues magazines about Charlie, mostly as a result of his Dusty Roads album, comparing him to DeFord Bailey, Sonny Boy Williamson (II) and Joe Hill Louis in harmonica style.

But Charlie at this point was not used to being backed by a band, being self-taught (Including Tony Glover's harp instruction book, which pointed Charlie in the direction of which harp masters he should pick up on--Little Walter, Sonny Boys I & II, Big Walter Horton,etc.) Charlie made his debut in Washington at the Folklife Festival of 1975, where Bruce Ewan first saw him, playing through a small "pig nose" amp at a harmonica work shop also attended by the great Walter Horton, (who visibly showed his disdain for this upstart Sayles) Rinsler wanted to put Charlie in front of a band, so he contracted the Incredible Snakes to make a practice tape of them backing Charlie, so that he could study it, (I think I have a copy of that tape--got it from Charlie) and eventually master fronting a band, with his own songs. (Rusty can give you background on that). - Liner notes for Bruce Ewan/Big Gilson Live at the Blue Note. Written by Mark Wenner, Harmonica play


The Raw Harmonica Blues of Charlie Sayles
Dusty Road Records, New York, 1976

Night Ain't Right
JSP CD 241, London, 1990
(distributed by Rounder Records)

I Got Something to Say
JSP CD 261, London, 1996
(distributed by Rounder Records)

Union Mission Blues
Self-titled Release
Washington, 1999

Hip Guy: Gest of the JSP Sessions
JSP CD 2141, London, 2000



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WC Handy award nominee Charlie Sayles has toured the world delivering a personal piece of legendary blues, unstoppable grooves, and American history to each audience he greets. Signed to JSP Records for many years after being discovered on the streets of New York City by a BBC documentary, his music landed him in the "Blues Who's Who" and has been recognized as an integral part of American Folk and Heritage by the Smithsonian.

US/International Booking and Inquiries:
Mojo Music Group- Jennifer Langer

NEWS: Independent release to be issued in Winter 2009.

Notable shows include:
White House Presidential Concert
Carnegie Hall Centennial Celebration (produced by Pete Seeger)
Newport Folk Festival (RI)
Smithsonian Folklife Festival (ten years straight)
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
National Folk Festival and more...

Charlie has toured independently throughout England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Ireland, Wales, Italy, Asia, Israel, France, and beyond.

Did you know...

* Charlie Sayles' first CD Night Ain't Right on England's JSP lavel was nominated for the 1990 WC Handy Best Blues Import award.
* In 1975, the BBC-TV series “Omnibus” filmed a documentary about Charlie. It was when the documentary aired in Europe that JSP Records first saw Charlie and immediately sought to find and sign him.
* Charlie has performed for two Presidents of the United States: The White House Presidential Concert in 1980 and again at the Official Military Inaugural Ball in 2009.
* The Smithsonian published a harmonica instruction booklet written by Charlie. He is currently working on a second publication, supplemented by instructional tapes, scheduled for completion in 2009.
* The National Endowment for the Arts sponsored a three-year program in which Charlie taught D.C. prisoners the blues harp.
* Charlie toured with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe, inspiring him to write "Bill Monroe" on his album Hip Guy.


Charlie Sayles performs a unique and diverse repetoire of American roots music, tailoring sets to the audience and venue. With an amazing ability to read his audience, he's equally at home on stages at indie college radio festivals or causing the smallest juke joints to shake with dancing. Charlie's originals are startling unique stories of real trouble and real ife. At the core of the music are his soulful and fiery blues harmonica and vocals and the solid dance groove of a veteran blues band.

Although life hasn't been easy for Sayles, he seems to have come through the traumas okay. They started in his childhood, when he was shifted from his broken home to a long procession of foster homes. He ended up joining the Army in the late 1960s and was promptly shipped to South Vietnam. His tour of duty ended in 1971, and he came back to Massachusetts for a time. Sayles picked up the blues harp while he was in Vietnam and made a slow adjustment back to civilized society upon his return from three years in the infantry. He discovered the music of Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) after he returned home and learned all he could from those recordings. Sayles began to make trips to New York City, Atlanta, St. Louis and other cities, playing on the streets for tips from passersby in 1974 and for several years thereafter. He worked when he needed money as a day laborer. He hasn't had a real day job since then, patiently plying his craft in clubs, on street corners and more recently, at blues festivals.

What shows in Sayles' playing are the long periods of time he spent honing his craft on the streets and in subway stations. His approach as a solo artist was to get as full and bandlike a sound as he could with his harp. It appears to have paid off, because Sayles is unlike other harp players; his playing is full of extended phrasing and super-quick changes in register. Sayles uses the harmonica as a melodic device while coaxing sharp, almost percussive sounds from it as well.

Sayles began to develop his songwriting voice in the mid-'70s as well, and his debut for the JSP label is far from a straightahead blues album. On his second JSP release, Sayles artfully blends funky, gritty urban blues sounds with original, down-to-earth lyrics, successfully avoiding a lot of blues cliches.

Perhaps his first big break was being "discovered" by Ralph Rinzler, an organizer for the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife. Rinzler paired Sayles up with Pete Seeger, and after a variety of festival appearances, Sayles ended up moving to Washington, D.C. By the early '80s, while living in Washington, Sayles had begun to form his first bands.

Sayles' first record, Raw Harmonica Blues, was issued in 1976, long before blues became fashionable, on the Dusty Road label. Sayles didn't record again for 15 years, when he got pi