Seasoned Players

The lowdown on the Mississippi Sax. Just for Google, this section is about harmonicas.

Seasoned Players

Postby Toe » Tue Feb 02, 2010 1:44 am

Any of you veterans remember the first tune(s) you learned to play on the harp? Not talking bout Old Mcdonald or Mary Had A Little Lamb.....you remember......that first time you blew your heart out and afterward you sat in silence in disbelief. That moment that all the bits and pieces were transformed into an expression of your soul. We tend to never forget those tunes. I haven't made it there yet with the harp, but with every other instrument I've played that moment, that tune, left an everlasting impression on me. I'm anticipating the day when I pick that "tin sandwich" up and the sound that comes out leaves me silent.
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Re: Seasoned Players

Postby Toe » Wed Feb 03, 2010 3:36 pm

Wow! No response? Surely some of you know what I'm talking bout'. We have a whole generation of new players that would love to hear what you "cut your teeth" on. For a lot of us, there is no longer a blues scene in our area. The "old blues" guys that used to be on the local scene have passed without anyone willing to carry on their torch. You guys, and gals, are as close to a mentor as some of us will ever get. Believe it or not, just hearing stories from someone's early beginning is a great inspiration to a new player.
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Re: Seasoned Players

Postby jeffl » Wed Feb 03, 2010 4:31 pm

I didn't see your post until now, and I remember the feeling that you're talking about, but I can't identify a specific tune. I started fooling with harp when I was about 12 yrs. old, in 1963 - - largely due to the fact that my dad played straight "mouth organ" as one of the 5 instruments he enjoyed. The turning point for me was when I was about 16 and went to a coffeehouse in Minneapolis and ran into Tony "Little Son" Glover, with Dave "Shaker" Ray and "Spider John" Koerner. I buttonholed Glover and he gave me a few tips and turned me on to his instructional book and to Sonny Boy Williamson and Sonny Terry.. two of his main influences. I started concentrating on cross harp and immediately began jamming blues with one of my buddies who played piano and a gut-string Mexican git. We started out by tearing into a Rev.Gary Davis songbook and makin' the tunes ours without first listening to his recordings. We both read music, but it was interesting how different our takes on his tunes were from the Rev.'s delivery. We copped a few traditional blues tunes, but we ended up writing alot of original "young white urban" blues tunes. I remember telling myself to follow the lyric formula of the delta boys... repeat the first phrase of the verse twice, and cap it with the response. People didn't get it at first, but I think we improved our delivery and got the message across ultimately.
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Re: Seasoned Players

Postby songdog » Fri Feb 05, 2010 3:13 pm

After playing and practicing for about a year and half I picked up Little Walter's Juke with relative ease. It was at that point that I felt like the sky was the limit and maybe the harp was my calling.... this after a 30+ year love/hate relationship with the guitar :) . Shortly after that, and while visiting Phoenix, I got to play Juke with Bob Corritore's house band at the Rhythm Room. So while Juke wasn't the first tune I learned, it's the one that stands out most from the early years.
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Re: Seasoned Players

Postby spanoghe » Fri Feb 05, 2010 4:32 pm

Interesting question, Toe!
Hard to remember, because when I started playing as a kid in the 50s/60s there was no instructional stuff - you just had to keep playing the record over again and try to work out what on earth was going on. It was even several years before someone explained second position to me - till then I'd been playing simple New Orleans jazz tunes in first position (wish I'd heard Noah Lewis then!) I think the first time I felt what you describe was when I met up with a guitarist in my mid-teens, and we played Sonny Terry/Brownie McGee's "Walk On". The world was at our feet! Then came other Sonny Terry stuff, Hammie Nixon, Jimmy Reed, the two Sonny Boys ... and off I went.

For me, the best guys to learn from are Sonny Boy II and Little Walter, because they're all about beautiful tone, and timing, and big holes in the music. Most harp players (and guitarists) play too many damn notes, and there's no space for feeling. I'm still learning from players who knock me out today - only nowadays they tend to be half my age! :D
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Re: Seasoned Players

Postby dcblues » Sat Feb 06, 2010 5:35 pm

I first learned from one of John Gindick's books. It took a while, but it worked. I remember when I was probably 15 years old, trying to learn how to bend a note. Wouldn't work. Then one day I was practicing and the bend just came. Took years later to learn how to properly use the bends (and I'm still learning), but that was a spark that lit a fire.

When I was in my late teens/early 20s, I used to sit in with my cousin's blues band (he's a guitarist.) They had one of the best harp players in the region in their band. He used to take me aside and lecture me (with a mug of beer and a cigarette, you could still smoke in bars back then!) about playing, and I sort of became his protege. He told me to listen to Little Walter, Sonny Boy and Big Walter. I wasn't much into Big Walter then, but, boy did that change!

One night he told me about tongue blocking. Before then I thought tongue blocking was only good for octaves in blues, and generally only good for playing polkas. He set me right by explaining the tongue slap. I can still remember that night, going to an empty booth in the bar and trying it, and it worked! Changed my whole perception of playing and helped me understand what some of the masters played.

I learned first position blues not from Jimmy Reed, but from Big Walter. The first time I heard "Hard Hearted Woman" I tried to play along with it with a D harp. I realized that Walter was using an A harp and was amazed that first position could sound so great. That song and his version of Trouble in Mind is where I get probably 90% of my first position licks.

I think I learned third position and playing third position chromatic from harp-l. Once I understood it, chromatic didn't seem so impossible to learn. That happened some time in the mid 90s.

I think my most recent milestone was going back to the original version of Big Walter's "Easy." I've been playing it with my band for years, but we do it a little bit different. I usually play the first four verses like the record, play an extended solo, and end it with the last verse. I wanted to play along with the record to see if I was doing it right. About half way through (and I don't want to imply that I'm anywhere near Big Walter), I couldn't tell who was playing. I knew the song so well it sounded like the record!

Sometimes when I play now I play something with no effort that sounds like a pro. I step back amazed by how I sound and realize that decades of working on it have paid off.

Keep working on it and you'll get there! I wish I had the internet when I was 15 (and not just for harp stuff! :0)
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Re: Seasoned Players

Postby Toe » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:53 am

Wow! I really appreciate you guys. Just hope that younger generation out there is listening. A lot of the young people want a quick how to without really listening to the soul of the music. My wife picks at me about listening to all the old blues guys and asks why it's so intriquing to me. My answer is always simple. For most of them, their music is about a journey not a paycheck. I believe all the statements made here help support that theory.
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