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Look ma, no hands!

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 6:58 am
by TC90
Wanting to experiment with blues harp while playing guitar. I've played a little harp along with guitar, only with the harp matching the song key, Dylanesque. My question, is it possible to play decent blues harp in a holder and no hands? My guess is no, since the blues harp players I know of and listen to (little walter, kim wilson, charlie musselwhite, slim harpo) have that cupped harp, wah wah thing goin' on. Thoughts?

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 7:49 am
by steel1953
TC90, check out John you say, it's not going to sound like all the guys you mentioned. But you DEFINITELY can be bluesy.....John's living proof of that. Heck, we have a guy not far from here that's great at playing guitar and using a holder.

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 2:47 pm
by bosco

Walter Tore is the resident expert at playing racked harp, I'm sure he'll chime in on this topic.

From my personal experience you have pretty much answered your own question and Steel has echoed those sentiments-

it's not going to sound like all the guys you mentioned. But you DEFINITELY can be bluesy.....

You're really talking about an apple and an orange. With a rack you will get a cleaner acoustic tone and will have to depend on bends and timing for your bluesy tone. The amped blues harp is a totally different monster and you cannot duplicate the compression and overdrive by playing acoustically with a rack and vocal mic.


PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:13 pm
by jeffl
Bosco,you have responded well,IMO,and listening to summa Walter's clips will encourage a harper to play with emphasis and expression, and to see what can be accomplished while rackin'. He plays with alotta force considering he ain't grippin' the sandwich.

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 3:55 pm
by watertore
thanks for the compliment Bubba and Bosco! I actually started playing harp and guitar together without a rack. I would wedge the harp under some books, on a bookcase, stick my butt way out, so the guitar wouldn't hit the bookcase, and let er rip. It was very frustrating to say the least. Then I taped the harp to the bookcase. That worked a little better, but all that was out there at the time was scotch tape, or electrical tape, and neither held tight, or for long. Then, I saw a bob dylan album cover, and the jackpot lights went on in my head.

Anyway, playing on the rack does have its limitations. The brain can only do certain things with the harp when playing it solo, but overall, you can get pretty good on a rack. For me, the limitations with it on the rack, far outwiegh playing it solo in a band context. When you play solo harp in a band context, you are 100% dependent on the rhythm section behind you. I have done years of being backed by a bassist and drummer, and several years with bassist, drummer, and guitarist. The freedom I have as a 1 man band, or solo harp player(just me and my harp), is my cup of tea. I can change chords, and times, whenever I want. Playing with others, this rarely works, and I am locked into standard scenarios.

Another thing I can share about playing harp in the rack is, it is like learning a new instrument, or learning to record. Both start out sounding real easy, but once you start to get into it, you realize that there are years, and years, of learning ahead, before you start to sound decent. I have tried most of the commercially available racks, but have always stuck with the old dylan/jimmy reed/slim harpo one. They cost about $5 in the early 70's, and now are about $7. It is about the only deal in music that hasn't gone exponentially up in price over the years :D At the link below, you can hear lots of songs in the 1 man band context, solo harp(just me and the harp-no other instruments), and with a real bass and drummer. Give it a try, have fun, and remember, rome wasn't built in a day. Walter

here is my definition freedom :)


PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 4:50 pm
by jeffl
TC: I gotta take this a step farther and say that you can definitely play blues harp racked,while playin' piano or guitar, and you can do it in a way that your listeners and you will love. It's very important that you develop your own style in doin' this and listen to the music in your head,not the music that others have played. Walter accomplishes what he does by focussing mentally and emotionally on what he's doin'...he's followin' a road that's mapped out deep in his soul. His point about years of learnin' also means it involves years of enjoyment; bein' able to accompany yourself with a harp while you're playin' another instrument adds a huge dimension to your versatility and independence as a musician. I used to play harp racked while playin' piano all the time, and performed that way in a 3 piece blues band around my college years. I got away from it after I stopped performing, primarily 'cuz I got away from keyboards as well. But,as Bosco said,yer not gonna get that overdriven Chicago sound without cuppin' it, so ya' gotta learn to live with whatcha got.

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 6:40 pm
by steel1953
Walter is SO right about the freedom of playing by yourself....I can change songs, keys played in and not miss a beat.
Jeffl, it's interesting you played piano and harp. Check out Patrick player and he does the same, though not all the time. He has a solo act also.

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 6:45 pm
by jeffl
Thanks '53. I had been goin' down to see Lazy Bill Lucas when he was playin' piano at an Italian restaurant in Minneapolis, and on about the 3rd nite, I walked in and he's playin' a racked harp,outa the blue. That was in 1970, and it opened my eyes 'cuz I'd only seen the folk and blues guitarists do it.

PostPosted: Sat Jan 13, 2007 9:53 pm
by TC90
WOW! what great responses, and fast too. :D

I love Slim Harpo, so maybe I'll start with Scratch My Back. I love that guitar riff.

Walter, I'm glad to hear about the blues rack, and how it works well for you. I already have a dylan type rack, so I'll stick with it.

Went to a used record store and found Jimmy Reed at Carnegie Hall, and the best of Jimmy Reed, with a forty five thrown in, Big John on one side and Goin to Mississippi on the other. I can't wait to spin those up, as I believe he played guitar and harp at the same time?

Off topic, but I noticed in the store that the jimmy reed album has the labels reversed, side one label on side two, and vise versa. Anyone have any info on this? I'm hopin' it's really rare and worth a couple hundred bucks. :D

Thanks again and Keep on Bluesin'! 8)

PostPosted: Tue Jan 16, 2007 12:03 am
by dcblues
Dr. Ross often played amplified harp on a rack and he got a nice amplified sound. Check out some of his stuff.

There's a local player called Robert Lighthouse who was heavily influenced by Dr. Ross. He has some kind of homemade mic (I think it's an element in some kind of holder) that he plugs into an amp. He has a nice electric one man band harp sound. You can hear him on his website:

PostPosted: Tue Jan 16, 2007 3:40 am
by TC90
Thanks dc. I'll check it out. It may be a while before I put a mic anywhere near my harp, for the sake of humankind. :D

Thanks also Waltertore, Bosco, Steel1953, and Jeffl.

Keep on Bluesin'! 8)

PostPosted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 8:26 am
by steel1953
Man DC, thanks for that link to Robert Lighthouse....he sounds great! I would love to be able to catch him live..........

PostPosted: Wed Jan 17, 2007 9:13 am
by Bournio
Is it odd I've started racked harp too... what works really nicely is Jethro Tull's My Sunday Feeling, that song works really nicely with a harp, if I record it I'll let ya all know

PostPosted: Thu Jan 18, 2007 6:24 am
by mukluk
Here's another mic'ing option for guitar/harp. ... ProdID=521

PostPosted: Thu Jan 18, 2007 6:29 am
by TC90
Yeah, I second that thanks dc. Robert Lighthouse is a thing of beauty to watch and listen to. I have honestly never heard the harp and guitar play off of each other at times, and accent each other at times like that. Really cool stuff! 8) I haven't checked out Dr. Ross yet, but it sounds like I'm in for a treat.

Anyone else get mixed emotions when they watch or hear music being performed that well? I tend to get a bit discouraged at first, because I love the blues so much and would thoroughly enjoy hearing myself play if I was half that good, but then it makes you realize that maybe it takes a certain amount of natural ability also, or a lifetime of devotion. I dunno, all I do know is that if ya close your eyes and really listen, it sure brings forth bunches of emotion!

Keep on Bluesin'!