Harmonica player and singer Russ Green’s journey into the blues is different than those of most musicians. Russ was born in Chicago and grew up on the city’s west side. Although throughout his life he had listened to all types of music, his desire to play wasn’t realized until his adult years.
After being discharged from the U.S. Army, Russ attended Southern Illinois University at Carbondale where he studied film. It was at this time that his desire to play music began to grow. Like lots of fans of Jimi Hendrix, Russ wanted to be able to re-create the sounds of the man whom he had admired for many years. But being a film student and having all of his money going to these films, he couldn’t afford to buy a guitar. Undaunted by this realization, Russ remembered the purchase of a harmonica from a west side shop a few years earlier. The ability to re-create the sounds of Hendrix was becoming realized, not with a guitar, but with a harmonica!
Before leaving Southern Illinois, he was told that when he got back to Chicago he should check out Sugar Blue. Being unaware of who he was at the time, his response was “sugar what?”. He was described as one of the best harmonica players in Chicago. So on his first Friday night back in Chicago Russ went out and found a Chicago Reader to see who was playing where in the city. And there it was, Sugar Blue at Blues Etc., one of Chicago’s premiere blues clubs on the North side. While standing out in front of Blues Etc., the band started playing a song that Russ could recognize but it’s name escaped him at the moment. As he entered the club he heard the harmonica start to play. It sounded as though whomever was playing it was torturing this instrument it and pushing it to it’s very limits. But as he made his way in to the club he could see the band on stage playing, but there was no harmonica player and as is imaginable, it was a bit confusing. Continuing to make his way further in the club, he caught sight of the dance floor. There he could see two women dancing with a man who had his hands cupped around his mouth, playing the harmonica. This was Sugar Blue! Mind blown by what he was hearing and seeing, Russ sat down at a high-top table not from from the bandstand. As he sat he saw a card on the table that said “tonight at Blues Etc. Sugar Blue the Charlie Parker of the harmonica and the Jimi Hendrix of the blues harp". That’s it! That is what he wanted to be and it’s right in front of him. And that song the band was playing when he first arrived, it was Miss You by The Rolling Stones, a song that Sugar Blue played on during his time with the band. He spent the next three months in Chicago going out to see Sugar Blue wherever he was playing but was too intimidated to speak to him. Russ then moved to Seattle, a city that captured his heart while he was in the Army.
While in Seattle he spent every waking moment concentrating on playing the harmonica. There was always a harmonica shoved in his mouth, whether he was sitting on his couch or walking down the street. He spent seven nights a week in Blues clubs jamming or sitting in. On a Christmas visit back home to Chicago, friends invited him to go to Rosa’s Blues Lounge where Sugar Blue was playing. This provided Russ the opportunity to meet the man whose music had captured his attention, the man who was already being called the “Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica”. After this meeting, Russ began thinking about returning to Chicago to take advantage of this newly formed friendship. It took a year and half, but he returned to Chicago to continue his journey into the world of Blues.
His return to Chicago was not only an opportunity to learn from Sugar Blue, but brought about the realization of a life long dream for Russ, working in film production. He started in television commercials and moved into television shows and feature films. Starting as a Production Assistant, he worked his way to Assistant Director and became a member of the Director’s Guild of America. Television shows include E.R. and Prison Break. The feature films include Soul Food, The Break-Up, Hardball, Save the Last Dance, Road to Perdition, Tears of the Sun and many more. With actors Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig, Vince Vaughn, Vanessa Williams, Jude Law, Bruce Willis and many others. Russ even joined fellow harmonica player Bruce Willis on stage with his band while working on Tears of the Sun in Hawaii.
Musically Russ’ career has continued to grow since returning to Chicago. Not only has he been tremendously influenced by Sugar Blue, but also from Chicago’s other living legendary harmonica player, Billy Branch. He playfully describes his relationship with his two mentors as like two little devils standing on each shoulder whispering in his ear of how he should play. He has also played, recorded and toured with John Primer and Lurrie Bell. His producing credits include a CD for Big Llou Johnson of B.B King’s Bluesville on Sirius/XM satellite radio. That CD won a Blues Music Award for Best New Artist. He is also one of the harmonica players featured on a CD that has received rave reviews and has been played on radio stations around the world, the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project. This recording has been credited with proving that the harmonica is still alive and vibrant in Chicago. Russ has played in a number of Blues festivals including the Chicago Blues Festival, the Burnley Mechanics Blues festival in England, the Gloucester Blues Festival, and the San Francisco Blues Festival, and many more. At this point the journey for Russ Green is rolling on!