Sunpie & the Louisiana Sunspots
In New Orleans, the world's most musical city, Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes stands out as the best blues harmonicist in town. His innovative and energetic style draws equally from such late greats as Sonny Boy Williamson, and modernists such as Lee Oskar and Carey Bell. Sunpie has further distinguished himself as a zydeco accordionists and a powerful singer, as the leader of a hot, popular band known as the "Louisiana Sunspots." In addition, the multi-talented Sunpie has a budding career in film, appearing in several major Hollywood productions and numerous national commercials. And despite this whirlwind of activity, Sunpie maintains his job as a naturalist and tour guide at Jean Lafitte National Park, imparting his vast knowledge of Louisiana's swamps and wetlands.
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Sunpie grew up with the blues in Benton, Arkansas, where his father played "blues harp" at clubs and picnics, and more importantly, for the pure enjoyment of his family. "When my dad got home from work," Sunpie recalls, "We'd bring him his harps and get him to play for us. There were lots of great blues musicians in the area, too, famous guys like Sonny Boy Williamson. I remember when I was really young, Sonny Boy came to play at a family barbecue. But our bull broke out of the corral and knocked over the barbecue pit, and that broke up the party!"
Although it was Sunpie's father who taught young "Sunpie" (a family nick-name) to play harmonica, he insisted that his son get a good education. After attending Henderson State University on a football scholarship (and playing gigs on the side), Sunpie played professional football as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. "But even then I was going out and playing in clubs," he recalls; "I preferred the world of music; there's good money in football, but it's a dog-eat-dog world. If you're playing music, though, most people need a day job. I decided to take my background in marine biology and go to work for the park service."
Donning a ranger's uniform by day and hitting the bandstand by night, Sunpie began playing with a number of New Orleans artist, including the "New Orleans Blues Department Band," r&b singer Barbara George, and the late blues guitarist Boogie Bill Webb. He then formed his own band -- "Sunpie and the Creole zydeco farmers" - with a handpicked team of zydeco greats from Lafayette, Louisiana. In December 1991, Sunpie teamed up with veteran drummer Harold Ray Brown, best known for his work with War, and formed an eclectic and funky new group called "Sunpie and the Louisiana Sunspots." The band has performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, the Juneteenth Festival in Houston, the Eleventh International Clarinette Festival in Martinique, and numerous nightclubs throughout the Gulf South. Recording production is also in progress and this phase of Sunpie's career will draw significantly on Harold Brown's extensive studio experience.
In addition to his successful musical career, Sunpie has spent considerable time before the camera appearing in such films as "The Gates of Silence<" Point of No Return," and Cloak and Diaper" as well as in national commercial spots for A.T.&T., Nabisco, McDonalds' Sprite and Southern Comfort. In spite of these successes, Sunpie remains committed, first and foremost to the roots music of African-American culture. "I feel strongly," he says, "that people should know about their heritage, and find out where they came from. That's why I helped Willie Dixon do a blues harmonica workshop in the New Orleans public school. If you really understand your own culture, you'll be able to explain it to your children."
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