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Auburn Hare — yes, that’s his real name — was born Dec. 20, 1930, in Northeast Arkansas’s Cherry Valley and lived to influence a generation of raw rock guitar players.
The guitarist, nicknamed “Pat,” moved to West Memphis as a teen in 1947 after working as a one-man band. Soon, Hare was performing with Howlin’ Wolf, who had a show on the city’s famed KWEM radio.
Hare had a stinging guitar style, one that was muscular and distorted well before the era of rock guitar gods. Little Rock-born critic Robert Palmer, author of “Deep Blues” and “Rock and Roll: An Unruly History,” championed Hare. In “Rock and Roll,” the companion volume to his PBS TV series, Palmer called Hare an “originator” of the power chord. With “tongue only slightly in cheek,” Palmer wrote that Hare and Helena-raised harmonica player James Cotton’s “Cotton Crop Blues,” recorded at Memphis’ Sun Records studio, was “the first heavy metal record.” At the same May 1954 Sun session, Hare recorded the menacing “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby” with his guitar as slicing as his violent vocal, which is prematurely addressed to a judge and jury.
The Cross County native toured with Junior Parker and recorded with Parker, Roscoe Gordon, Big Walter Horton and others. But Hare’s best-known musical association was with the man who came to personify the electrified Delta blues sound Hare was pioneering — Muddy Waters.
Hare played with the legendary Waters band from 1957 to 1960, when it was perhaps at its most influential, cutting songs like “She’s 19 Years Old.” The band included Hare’s partner Cotton on harmonica and Otis Spann on piano. All had cut their teeth on the club and house-party circuit of the Arkansas and Mississippi deltas.
This version of the band headlined the groundbreaking July 4, 1960, Newport Jazz Festival. A riot had occurred the night before at the event, when thousands stormed the already full park. The local city council decided to cancel the next two days of concerts — and to disband the festival altogether. Only Sunday’s concert, with headliner Muddy Waters, would continue.
But instead of being a somber afternoon program, the band brought the house down, even playing “Got My Mojo Working” twice by demand. The subsequent “Mojo” single and “Muddy Waters at Newport” album were likewise sensations — especially to a generation of English blues rockers such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Keith Richards. Hare, the man behind the gritty guitar, was identified at “Pat Harris” on the album, however. (The Newport festival continued on, too.)
He moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul in the early 1960s to work with Mojo Buford, another alum of the Muddy Waters band. But soon Hare was charged and convicted of killing his girlfriend as well as an intervening policeman who some said was romantically involved with the woman. The incident eerily echoed Hare’s taunt of “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby.”
Hare was sent to Stillwater Prison near Minneapolis in 1962 with a 99-year sentence and, although he was sometimes released to play shows, he did not complete his sentence, dying in prison on Sept. 26, 1980, at the age of 49.
• “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby,” Pat Hare
• “Cotton Crop Blues,” James Cotton
• “Walking Through the Park,” Muddy Waters