Blues harp virtuoso Neal Pattman was born January 10, 1926, in Madison County, GA. One of 14 children, at age seven he lost his right arm in a farming accident. His father taught him to play harmonica soon after, with Pattman going on to draw considerable inspiration from local-boy-made-good Sonny Terry, even borrowing Terry's trademark whooping and shouting. As a teen, Pattman earned money playing music on the street corners of nearby Athens, eventually working a kitchen job on the University of Georgia campus. Although his impassioned playing and soulful vocals made him something of a local legend via his myriad appearances at area nightclubs, churches, and festivals, Pattman remained unknown to the blues world at large until 1989, when he performed at New York City's Lincoln Center and immediately thereafter was flooded with invitations to tour internationally.
In 1991, he met Timothy Duffy, head of the North Carolina-based Music Maker Relief Foundation -- Duffy teamed Pattman with some of the other acts supported by the organization, most notably singer/guitarist Cootie Stark, with whom he mounted the 48-city Blues Revival Tour in support of Taj Mahal. A 1995 date at London's 100 Club alongside British guitarist Dave Peabody was the subject of Pattman's long-awaited debut LP, Live in London. Three years later, Duffy's Music Maker label released the follow-up, Prison Blues. Pattman died of cancer on May 4, 2005, a few months after contributing to Kenny Wayne Shepherd's 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads. ~ Jason Ankeny