Many of you might have found your way here through my old harmonicasongs.net website. Since I am no longer selling harmonicas, I have decided to post everything over here. I will be updating more often and am working on some new blues harp programs that will be available as digital downloads. This is for 2 reasons. The first is that by going digital, I will be able to get new products to you much quicker and the second is it will cost a whole lot less for all of us in the end.
While I’m disappointed that I’m not able to sell harmonicas and accessories anymore, I’m excited to get started on this new venture!
Here is a link to a cool website that has info on the late harmonica great Don Brooks. Mickey Raphael states that listening to and meeting Don was his influence to really get going playing the harmonica.
There is a fantastic show on HDNet TV that is a tribute to Ray Charles that features Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis, Nora Jones and Mickey Raphael.
Mickey has loads of solo time and makes the most of his space. He is playing Lee Oskar harps in various keys to fit the songs. The songs featured are some of Ray Charles’ best work and as such cover a gamut of styles with R&B as the thread tying it all together. Tune in for a lesson in how the harmonica sounds in the hands of a master.
I have written and erased this post a few times already. Everytime I start typing it comes out as a negative piece about how employers are draining the life out of the common worker by doing more with less people and blaming it on the economy. This has been on my mind since I read a newspaper article today about how companies are showing record profits and showing huge cash balances. Maybe it is true and maybe not. I happen to believe there is some truth to it.
Which leads me to what I wanted to write about and that is don’t let the “Man” suck the life out of you enjoying the good things in life. I have spent much of the last few months concentrating on my job so intensly there hasn’t been much time left over for playing music. I have a huge list of songs I want to learn and musicians I would like to play them with. There are a very small group of musicians I admire greatly because not only did they not let the “Man” keep them down, they overcame and are forging ahead releasing new music projects and looking towards the future. A couple that come to mind are my good friend Mark Taylor http://www.marktaylormusic.net/fr_home.cfm , a jazz horn player who tried many times over the past year to gain the funding needed for his new CD project. After several tries he accomplished his goal and is close to finishing his album. The other is a blues lap steel guitar player from my local area Sterling Koch who set his mind to it and managed to get Double Trouble to play on his CD project and put out a smokin’ hot blues album.
These guys didn’t let the “Man” get them down and I’m not going to either. Let’s forge ahead and not let our lives be defined by where we work.
Years ago when the only harmonica worth while for playing
blues was the venerable Hohner Marine Band. It sounded great
but leaked air around the wood comb which made them play inconsistantly.
There were some musicians that would soak their harps
in a glass of water and there are even some stories
of soaking them in whiskey! I’m sure most of us have
heard of this at one time or another.
These musicians would soak their harps to get better tone.
While this is true, what was actually happening is that the
moisture from the liquid would cause the wood comb to swell
up sealing any gaps along the reed plates thus
producing less air leakage and a fuller tone and greater volume
from their harp. The water did just fine and as far as the
whiskey goes, it probably did more harm than good by gumming up the
reeds and inducing corrosion on the reedplates.
Today we don’t need to do this and I don’t advise soaking
your harp, wood or otherwise in any liquid. I know there
are some that even soak their plastic comb harps! This really
won’t do anything except make them corrode and wear out quicker.
Modern harmonicas including the Marine Band are much better constructed
and the new Marine Band Deluxe and Crossover harps have sealed
combs so the wood expansion is no longer an issue.
Keep your harps clean and tap them on your leg or hand
when finished playing to get the moisture out and you’ll
have your harmonica for a long time.
Here is a paragraph that pretty much sums up how fantastic a musical instrument the harmonica is. From the classic John Steinbeck novel The Grapes Of Wrath…
“A harmonica is easy to carry. Take it out of your hip pocket. Knock it against your palm to shake out the dirt and pocket fuzz and bits of tobacco. Now it’s ready. You can do anything with a harmonica: thin reedy single tone or chords, or melody with rhythm chords. You can mold the music with curved hands, making it wail and cry like bagpipes, making it full and round like an organ, making it as sharp and bitter as the reed pipes of the hills. And you play and put it back into your pocket. It’s always with you.”
The question I get asked the most is how to figure out what blues harp or harmonica to use when playing with a band. I have made a chart that takes all the guessing out of this. Don’t be the guy on the bandstand frantically testing out harmonicas trying to figure which is the correct harp to use. Simply follow my handy chart and print it out if you like and put it in your harp case so you always have a reference. Click the button “Cross harp Chart” at the top of this page or simply follow this link to the easiest to follow chart to help you figure out what harmonica to use when playing with a band or other musician such as a guitar player.
Once again, one of my blues loving friends was able to get to a great blues show and wrote an article about it. My good friend Stevie Vegas who is a fantastic drummer wrote the following about the recent Fleetwood, PA Blues Fest. Wish I was there!
“This year I once again had the privilege to catch the annual Fleetwood Blues Festival held in Fleetwood, PA. The festival brings together some of the top local blues acts for an afternoon of great music for a great cause. In return, the proceeds from the festival are used to upgrade the local park.
There were a total of eight smokin’ hot blues bands that performed at this year’s festival. Even though the afternoon rain tried to dampen the event, the temperature of the music prevailed and the bands outplayed the storm.
If you love harp players, the band to see this time around was the James Supra Blues Band (James Supra on harp and vocals; Ray Grimmer on bass; Al Wanamaker on drums; Dana Gaynor on guitars). James had his harps, growlin’, screamin’, and cryin’ their way through a set list of great blues classics. The band also did a fantastic job at arranging some of the old blues standards in ways that made the songs sound as if they were just recorded yesterday. It was great hearing some of the harp lines played in unison with the poetic guitar work of Dana Gaynor. The “comping” work between the guitar lines and the harp replies were also second to none.
James really played his harp with passion and fire. That personal commitment to the music brought the crowd to their feet at the end of the band’s performance. You had to think twice as to whether that thunder and lightning was coming from the heavens or from the stage!
Do yourself a favor and indulge yourself in some intense harp playing with the James Supra Blues Band.”