Recently a dear friend, also a prison chaplain, contacted me about learning to play harp. In my answering q’s and trying to encourage him (as is another mutual friend who also works with him and blows harp) I thought it might be cool to share the following…
So indulge the old guy (me) a little. Started playing the old Hohner Marine Band (not my fave…) wooden-combed harps when I was around 8 yrs. old. Mom got one from somewhere. Hard to bend notes. But When the Saints Go Marching In, When the Caissons Go Rolling Along and Dixie (a little harder re. a note or two) and the very tough for me, Moon River came singing (or screeching) out eventually.
The joy of a little instrument one could put in one’s pocket, take anywhere incognito, even out into the woods and freak out the critters all seemed pretty cool to me. Acoustic. Didn’t -have- to have an amp. COULD mic it via a little tube amp cranked… or even a trashed boombox by connecting a 1/4 inch input to the record head of said box, plug in a mic w. 1/4 inch plug and blast your speakers (or via headphones, brains) out! Yep.
Played harp and sang in a couple blues bands as well as in jams while a teen.
Until using one here and there w. REZ Band later, the one or two I had just sat in the drawer.
My friend Tim (aka Spike) played (plays?) one some years later too. Loved walking into our laundry room or up the 10 story stairwell hearing him blowing away. Nice.
So from time to time I began to bring it out and even play it live. Then my serious return to blues came around ’84 when demoing Spontaneous Combustion project. Enjoyed that. Then working w. Darrell Mansfield and eventually and more recently Joe Filisko moved me to work on my chops a bit, write and record more harmonica.
Truth is, when I do live solo sets blowing harp is one of the most enjoyable moments for me.
Have gone through Shure Green Bullet mics, Astatic, Shaker, using your basic go-to mic, the Shure SM58, all sorts of no-name mics via small amps (including my Zeppelin Design Labs Percolator https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCLnMGK99io and Trimmed & Burnin’ Spanky, both 2-4 watt tube amps, cranked and mic’ed via a p.a.) as well as just played right into vocal mics for an acoustic harp sound. Start at 3:16 plz, for an acoustic harp tune from a benefit I was pleased to do for friends in Colorado: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLy0m50TRXA
I’ve used every harp I could try… usually land on Joe Filisko Harps, also Hohner Blues Harps and sometimes Lee Oskar brands.
For fun, for blues, country, bluegrass, rock, folk, just noodling around harmonicas often fit the bill. Frankly I’m more an EIEIO player, lots of peeps can play me under the table any way you look at it, chops, tone, knowledge of where the notes/chords are, etc.. For me I suppose it’s more about feel and fit than anything else. Tone is important of course! Practice as in all things, is massive and I admit I don’t rehearse harmonica enough.
Then I sometimes laugh about St. Peter handing out… what… harmonicas (harps) at the pearly gates?! Ha. Well…
So there are LOOOOTTTTTTSSSSS of cool old black and white vid clips of amazing electrified (mic via amp) and acoustic (harp right via vocal mic into p.a.) players up on YouTube. Too many to name. Delta blues, country blues, electric blues players galore to listen to are there.
Among plenty of sites and players you can look at online for playing, charts playing along with guitarists and instructional info. -nobody I know does it better than Joe Filisko. He is at:
http://www.filisko.com/ and also more and more in YouTube. The man is amazing and would rather teach and encourage harmonica playing than eat. So blessed to call Joe a friend and getting to do the occasional show together!
Another cool site w. cross harp playing chart (drawing in more than blowing, playing along with guitarists/keyboard players means they play in one key and you in another on harp) is:
Give it a go 🙂 You never know what you might learn and end up doing w. harmonica, one of the coolest instruments I have ever heard or had the joy of playing.
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn