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Mississippi Heat is an American, Chicago-based blues band, led by harmonica player Pierre Lacocque. Formed in 1991, they have toured in the United States, Canada, and Europe, with occasional stints in South America, and North Africa.
Mississippi Heat has recorded 11 albums: three on their own label (1992-1998), three on European label CrossCut Records (1998-2005) and five with Chicago label Delmark Records since 2005. They also released a live DVD in 2005.
Birth of Mississippi Heat:
Mississippi Heat grew out of a 1991 gig at Chicago's Cafe Lura, where guitarist and singer Jon McDonald invited Lacocque to join him onstage. Jon had hired drummer and vocalist Robert Covington (with Sunnyland Slim at the time) and bassist Bob Stroger (also with Sunnyland Slim and with Jimmy Rogers).
That night went so well the quartet decided to form Mississippi Heat. Pierre's brother Michel, who was also in attendance, volunteered to become their manager.
Jon McDonald left the band soon after, and was later replaced by Billy Flynn and James Wheeler. Robert "Golden Voice" Covington (a.k.a. Robert Lee Travis) became lead vocalist, and was replaced on drums by the late Bob Carter, and later, by Allen Kirk.
In 1992, the band released its first album, Straight From The Heart, featuring Robert Covington on drums and vocals, Bob Stroger on bass, Billy Flynn and James Wheeler on guitars, and Pierre Lacocque on the harmonica.
Straight From The Heart includes the song "Heartbroken," a track recorded without rehearsals, and in only one take. The song was written by Lacocque for his late mentor and friend Sonny Wimberly, a blues bassist who had recorded with Little Walter, Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley. Wimberly died in 1991, months before he and Lacocque had planned to record together.
Straight From The Heart is Mississippi Heat's only album with Covington on vocals. Covington became increasingly busy working with Sunnyland Slim, and had steady work under his own name at the famed Chicago club Kingston Mines (James Wheeler occasionally performed with him there too, as well as with the Frank Pellegrino Blues Band).
In 1993, Covington was replaced by Deitra Farr on lead vocals and with Allen Kirk on drums.
Deitra Farr was on 1994's Learned The Hard Way and 1995's Thunder In My Heart (Farr returned as a guest on three songs on 2012's Delta Bound).
Katherine Davis, Zora Young and Mary Lane also performed briefly with Mississippi Heat.
Since Billy Flynn and James Wheeler -- who both appeared on Mississippi Heat's first three albums -- the band's recordings have featured guitarists Chris Winters, Steve Doyle, Billy Satterfield, and Michael Dotson (2012-present).
Current singer Inetta Visor is the band's fourth vocalist (2001-present). Lacocque is the band's only original member.
Over the years Mississippi Heat has recorded and traveled with two permanent guest artists: Carl Weathersby (1997-present) and Lurrie Bell (2005-present).
Mississippi Heat has also recorded with guest stars Sam Lay and Calvin Jones (Straight from The Heart, 1993); Billy Boy Arnold (Handyman, 1998/1999; and Footprints on the Ceiling, 2002); John Primer (Let's Live It Up, 2010); Chubby Carrier (Delta Bound, 2012), and Sax Gordon (Warning Shot, 2014). Others such as keyboard player Chris Cameron and Ruben Alvarez appear on many of their CDs as well.
The vintage blues-heavy 16-track record Warning Shot, released in 2014, features vocalist Inetta Visor, Pierre Lacocque on harmonica, Michael Dotson on guitar and vocals, Brian Quinn on bass, Kenny Smith and/or Andrew "Blaze" Thomas on drums and vocals, Giles Corey on guitar and Neal O'Hara on keyboards. It also includes guest artists Sax Gordon on tenor and baritone saxophones, Ruben Alvarez on Latin percussion (third album with Mississippi Heat), Carl Weathersby on guitar (seventh album with Mississippi Heat) and three background vocalists who have worked with Aretha Franklin: Mae Koen, Diane Madison & Nanette Frank.
Mississippi Heat describes its musical style as having roots in the Chicago's golden era sounds of the 1950s. Lacocque cites Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Big Walter Horton, Little Walter, The Sonny Boy Williamsons, and Junior Wells as influences.
Lacocque said in a 2014 interview that although some white harmonica players, such as Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite have influenced him, "it is the musical history and heritage of African-Americans that have really had an impact on my playing."
Lacocque has also stressed that he is also drawn to new ideas. "We are very attracted to the traditional Chicago blues and the Chicago blues sound, for sure. But we want to bring something fresh and exciting to the culture as well," Lacocque told Blues Blast Magazine in 2013.
According to a 2014 interview with the blog Friday Blues Fix, some of his favorite recordings are Chess Records' collections of music by artists Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
He told WBEZ in 2011 that he listens to lots of Latin music because of his wife, who is from Cuba.
The band's motto is "Traditional Blues with a Unique Sound."
Pierre Lacocque was born to Christian parents in Israel and grew up France and Germany before he settled with his family at age 5 in Brussels, Belgium, where his father was a professor of the Old Testament.
Although Lacocque's family played mostly classical music at home, his musical tastes grew while listening to pop songs and friends' records. Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Otis Redding were Lacocque's favorite artists growing up.
At age two-and-a-half Lacocque's father gave him a toy harmonica. He would later recall that the beautiful sounds that came from it made him cry. He discovered the blues at age 16 in the summer of 1969, after he moved to the U.S. with his family.
Lacocque heard Big Walter Horton play on the University of Chicago campus, near the Chicago Theological Seminary, where his father had joined the faculty. Then a student at the University of Chicago Lab Schools, he bought a harmonica just days later from Hyde Park's original Harper Court mall and began practicing.
"Not only did I hear mesmerizing amplified harmonica sounds for the first time in my life but the music made me feel that a family was calling out to me," Lacocque said in a 2014 interview. "I felt drawn towards it like a powerful magnet. I couldn't resist."
Several months after he began practicing, Lacocque met and performed onstage with Junior Wells at Theresa's Lounge, located at 4801 S. Indiana Ave. before it closed in 1983.
The next year, Lacocque left for Montreal, Canada to attend McGill University, where he studied psychology and received a bachelor's degree in 1974 and a master's degree in 1976.
While in school Lacocque played for the Albert Failey Blues Band and the rock-inspired Oven, which won the 1976 Montreal Battle of the Bands. But the promoter who promised a record deal went missing and Lacocque returned to Chicago.
For several years after graduating Lacocque focused on his work as a psychologist. He received a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1980. In 1988 at age 36, he decided to take up the harmonica again.
Lacocque began at first by playing with Chicago blues bands such as Tre and the Blue Nights and the Blue Mirror Band, before forming Mississippi Heat in 1991.
Pierre Lacocque, harmonica, bandleader,
Inetta Visor, lead vocals,
Michael Dotson, guitar/vocals,
Brian Quinn, bass,
Kenny Smith, drummer/vocals,
Terrence Williams, drums (when Smith is unavailable),
Giles Corey, guitarist/vocals (special guest),
Neal O'Hara, keyboard (special guest),
Robert Covington - vocals, drums (1991-93),
Billy Flynn - guitar (1991-97),
James Wheeler - guitar (1991-96),
Bob Stroger - bass (1991-97),
Deitra Farr - vocals (1993-1996),
Allen Kirk - drums (1993-1996),
Mary Lane - vocals (1997),
Zora Young - vocals (1997),
Barrelhouse Chuck - piano (1997-99),
Max Valldeneu (2005-06),
Chris Hambone Cameron (guest on several CDs),
Carl Weathersby (guest on several CDs),
Lurrie Bell (guest on two CDs and DVD),
Calvin "Fuzz" Jones - bass (1993),
Joseph Veloz - bass (2011-2012),
Steve Howard - bass (1998-2003, 2007-12),
Spurling Banks - bass (2003-07)