Showing posts with label Blues Harmonica. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Blues Harmonica. Show all posts

Thursday, December 3, 2020


 Rumor has it that I've been playing blues harmonica for near fifty five years , give our take a half-decade, and that in the time it takes to destroy several generations of Hohner Marine Bands with slippery attempts to master the diatonic scale and achieve something near what my first harmonica hero, Paul Butterfield, was doing, I've learned a few things. All the slobbering carnage I've inflicted on those innocent brass reeds eventually got me to the point to where I could do what I wanted to do like the late Mr.Butterfield, bend a note on the enigmatic "tin sandwich"  and come closer to the moaning, soulful blues heaven an aspiring white boy might dream of. 

Butterfield was channeling all the masters he'd listened to as a younger man, the black geniuses of Little Walter, both of the Sonny Boys, James Cotton, and had, through instinct, natural aptitude and a desire to achieve the emotional power and mojo his admitted masters revealed in their playing ( although it is interesting to wonder if youngman Butterfield knew at the time what "mojo" was) imitated his sources as best he could and in doing so, imperfectly mimicking what he'd heard, developed his own style,his own way of bring a characteristic inflection to his improvisations that were unmistakable. Butterfield achieved his mojo and gave the world a harmonica sound that is his alone, instantly identifiable. So in my time I mimicked Butterfield, trying to hammer those licks into a semblance of blues expression, along with other blues masters and , to be honest, a good number of blues guitarists in the guise of Hendrix, BB, Albert and Freddy King respectively and Johnny Winter, with more than a touch of Mike Bloomfield. From that one note that I managed that day in the 60s to this day in the early twenty first century, I have a sound of my own, my own way of torturing the diatonic scale to express the deep seated joys and anguish that challenges mere words and language itself to bring to the open. It's the glory of bending those notes!

Bent notes on the blues harmonica are like fingerprints ; after a certain point, instruction is pointless to anyone actually committed to getting good and unique on the instrument. With all the available instruction these days via the retching sewer pipe known as the internet, I rather appreciate the fact that I've learned without a single formal lesson. Harmonica players are sounding much too much like one another, competent in technique and execution, but lacking in personality or style otherwise.Teachers I know in real life, even a couple of good harmonica instructors, do not work in the fact that they teach in their daily conversations. As for technical instruction regarding the diatonic harmonica, over reliance on it turns too many players into others who sound precisely like the man/woman before him and the next harmonica after him. The cult of technique crowds out style, personality, originality. It turns established styles into a fossilized canon, a museum of dead things once great, now irrelevant to personal expressiveness. Instruction has its place, of course, but the student leaves the class room soon enough to invent something of their own to bring into the listening world; lectures and authority on the matter of a player's growth can no longer be tolerated.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Blues shuffle for a Happy Holiday

I stopped writing letters decades ago, a long time complain from ex girlfriends and college buds who think it a rude practice, or lack of practice (as the case maybe), but whatever the case in terms of  personal feelings,  it is safe bet, you betcha, that I likewise no longer send Holiday greeting cards. Being single might have something , or a lot, to do with my lack of communication, via card or actual letter, via our postal system; if I were cursed with the delusion that I would someday have a posthumous edition of my collected correspondence appear between hard covers and critics would be dissecting the personal peeves, bitches and irritations of an obscure poet and make believe grouch, I might have kept up with my missives. But no,  I just let the words pour forth, as they do on the Internet, in this blog or elsewhere online; those who care to tune in and gauge how sour my tone or exaggerated my hyperbole have become are welcome to drop in, strike up a chat, or surf elsewhere. Anyway, here is a greeting card of a sort, a nice blues harmonica solo Improvised the other day to a trusty blues backing track in A. Damn, there is some slick playing. I hope you all have the bet of Holidays and find something to enjoy here. My best to you all, always.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday, May 26, 2007

BLUES HARMONICA GENIUS!! Sugar Blue Blows Them Away!!@!

Code Blue
Sugar Blue (Beeble Records)

I've been playing blues harmonica for almost forty years, and the long and short of the that statement is that I'm not easily impressed with blues harpists who come along late in the day. Sugar Blue, though, is someone I take my hat off to; best known to the general rock and roll audience as the harmonica player on the Rolling Stones' Some Girls album (that's his sweet, Paul Butterfield-like solo on the signature "Miss You" track), I've seen him a couple of times when he and his band happened through Southern California on tour, and after both concerts I didn't touch my harps for a week, after which I picked them up again and commenced to practice more than I had in years. The man is restores the legitimacy of technique and speed to the blues harmonica, traits that had been sullied by John Popper, a muddy, imprecise musician whose harmonica improvisations resemble so much audio mud.Sour-note central. Sugar is fast and crystal clear and very clean in his attack; he's been criticized, in fact, for being "too clean". As it goes, there isn't a blues harp player alive who has better execution than Sugar Blue. The added plus with Sugar's playing, rare among those players who play fast and long that his solos make melodic sense. Jason Ricci and Howard Levy are others who combine superlative technique with innovation. The man can build a solo. It's not that I'm into speed and technique for their own sake, but I do admire Sugar Blue's ability to have these aspects serve real musical ideas. The new album Code Blue, is a whirlwind of the blues harp applied to a broad array of approaches, including traditional blues motifs, Rolling Stones' style guitar rock, Mahavishnu/Dixie Dregs fusion. His solos are sleek, cutting, rapid in the musical ideas coming from the band leader. Bear in mind that a little of Blue's singing goes a long way--he is like that guy in the chorus who steps out for a solo, singing at the top of his range, slipping off key too often. That, combined with some lyrics that tend to be preachy and the lead-footedly philosophical, can make the vocalizing a bit agonizing. It does give one an embarrassing flashback, as the more Sugar stretches his vocal chords in what he assumes is maestro's knack for rhythm and blues melisma reminds me of those times , in the seventies in bands that were rally drinking associations when I was in front of the microphone, screaming and grunting and bellowing in the mistaken and drunken illusion that I sounded like a hybrid of Jack Bruce, Otis Redding and Gene Pitney. Sure enough, when tapes were played back from the frat parties and keggers we played in around the dock pilings of San Diego's beach areas, I was shamefaced and humbled. At best I sounded as if I had a sock crammed down my gullet, my mouth sealed with duct tape, trying to scream because a crazed Lobo fan threatened me with a reconditioned Trojan while I struggled against an ugly metal chair I was tied to. It was not pretty, not hardly. The best of it all was that no one was killed during my performances, and that I had fun. Or so I was told but witnesses who were not as deep in the back as I had been.Still, for Sugar Blue's part, the harmonica work is about the best one can come across, and the band is simply crack jack, nimble, sharp as a drawer full of razors.