Special Star

Farewell Elwood

It is with pride and sadness that we announce the graduation of Elwood The Apprentice, our own ‘Special Star’, from the ranks of the Harp Surgery crew. Having contributed a vibrant and ground-breaking series of posts to our site, Elwood will be returning to his African homeland where he will focus on issues of economics, conservation and development. As we bid Elwood a fond farewell, we would like to share with you a joyful piece of music he once introduced to the Surgery. While it doesn’t feature the harmonica, it does spotlight our woodwind cousin, the Penny Whistle.

Regular visitors will already know of our penchant for good-time sounds. Harp Surgery pages have featured Rory McLeod’s Farewell Welfare, Paolo Nutini’s Pencil Full Of Lead, and of course Elwood’s own post about Hey Negrita. As Thomas Carlyle put it, if you look deep enough you will see music; the heart of nature being everywhere music. Now roll back the rug and prepare to dance yourself silly to the lekker sound of South African Kwela(more…)

Jason Ricci Needs Help

My, what a good time for an album review

Writing about Jason Ricci has been on my agenda more or less since I started blogging on the Harp Surgery. It’s odd, really, that he doesn’t get much airtime here, considering he’s one of the most phenomenal players alive AND his unsolicited praise adorns our sidebar. In fact, the first gig review Wilf ever did for this website was Jason Ricci but that was years ago. It’s high-time we checked in on him again.

So today I’m finally going to review Jason’s album, Done with the Devil. What finally got me off the couch (figuratively anyway) was the news that he’s had a bad run of luck recently. We saw reports in June, and a great deal of speculation, that there had been some reshuffles in, or departures from, his (very very good) band, New Blood – and that all engagements were on hold ‘til August. On top of that his website is down, he’s in hospital with a punctured lung and no health insurance, and a series of financial calamities seem to have come calling at just the wrong time.

And because Jason Ricci is to 21st century harmonica what sliced bread was to sandwiches, I’ll make a suggestion of what you can do to help. (more…)

Learn How (Not) To Play Harmonica

Hey Negrita’s harmonica player teaches our Apprentice a lesson about tasteful playing

Some time back I got my hands on this acoustic single, “Burn The Whole Place Down” by the British country blues band Hey Negrita, which features my friend Will “Captain Bliss” Greener on harmonica. I’ve mentioned Captain Bliss once or twice here, as his approach to harmonica has taught me a great deal – without really showing me too many riffs and licks, if you catch my meaning.

Perhaps you already see why I thought it was worth consideration. First of all, it’s just a damned catchy song. But I believe there also are (at least) two lessons to be learned in their approach to this performance, and in Will’s contribution to it.

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Our First-Ever Blues Harp Albums (Part 1)

Which record got you hooked on blues harmonica? This week the Harp Surgery team goes back to Original Spin…

Elwood’s choice:

I’ll never forget the day I decided to take up blues harmonica. I was 18 years old, doing a crappy internship in a run-down part of the most boring town in England, and I decided to go shopping for music in my lunch hour. I can’t remember where I found the CD, but I do remember it just jumped right out of the shelf at me: Blue Skies, by some soulful-looking fellow named Muddy Waters.

The first track was ‘Mannish Boy’. I don’t recall the first listening per se, and yet I know exactly how it must have felt, because this bellowing, ball-tightening number still sends giant surges of electricity down the ole tendons. With Muddy on vocals, Willie Big Eyes Smith on drums, Bob Margolin on guitar and Johnny Winter on slide, the track’s signature riff has James Cotton on harp. I’d never heard of James Cotton, but that electric riff came shredding through my earphones like demonic buzz-saws being shot outta Satan’s crossbow.

I was hooked. (more…)

Son of Dave – Part 2 : “I’m not really a very clever harp player”

Son of Dave interviewLast month we interviewed the Son of Dave. Here’s the second half of our chat with the beat-boxing harmonica man: this time, he rants about drum-machines, America, nun-raping pop songs, and why he wears sunglasses indoors.

…So I asked some of our readers if they had any questions for you. Here’s one from Adam Gussow.
SoD: He has a question for me?

Why, he has three questions.
SoD: Get the fuck out of here! Well, hi Adam.

Here’s his first question: do you tongue-block or lip-purse, and does that sort of technical question interest you or bore you?
SoD: Tongue block, now stop boring me. (more…)

Son of Dave – Part 1: Same Old Sound, Maybe New Sunglasses

Son of Dave
An interview with blues harmonica man Benjamin Darvil

Son of Dave found his coolness through the only legitimate means available to us skinny white guys: Wearing your granddad’s clothes and a creepy grin, and making bizarre, gut-busting music that goes oomph-a-doomph in the night. The one-man beat-boxing, harmonica-playing phenomenon has a new album coming out on March 22: Shake a Bone. The Harp Surgery’s Apprentice found him in the Blues Kitchen, North London, lurking behind a pair of sunglasses and a huge plate of Tex-Mex. Here’s what he had to say… (more…)

Interview with Christelle Berthon

Elwood the Apprentice in conversation with the undisputed harmonica queen of YouTube.

By turns bold as hell and surprisingly self-doubting, Christelle Berthon is one of the most closely watched harmonica players on the web (over 2 million pairs of eyeballs, according to her YouTube stats). She’s a different kind of harmonica hero: instead of gin-soaked juke joints where the smoke hangs low off the ceiling, she found fame playing to jam tracks in front of a web cam at home.

She took time out of her gruelling practice regime to tell us about her decision to dedicate herself to harmonica, and share some insights to her style and influences. And as we soon found out, chasing the dream ain’t easy.

Harmonica Links: The Best And The Worst

Talk about the blind leading the blind! Elwood the Apprentice has a rant about amateur hour out there on the Internet

It’s not in the Harp Surgery’s nature to be negative. The reason for that is the Good Doctor: he’s a relentlessly positive guy who’s always looking for the best in people. It’s kind of rubbing off on me. We try to dole out the best advice possible to users, but when it comes to reviewing the goods and services in the rest of the harmonica world, we often go by the “Elwood’s Mom” Policy: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If someone isn’t worth our time, we’re more likely to hold our tongue and look the other way than strip ’em naked and throw them into the flood lights, if you catch my meaning. (more…)

Harmonica Podcast: The Kids Are Alright

Harmonica Podcast 1Download the podcast (19.7MB)

As the world stumbles into a new decade, we at the Harp Surgery find ourselves contemplating the future. But we’re not thinking about jetpacks or three-course meals that you can take as a pill. No, we’re thinking about the future of the harmonica. Okay, jetpacks would also be pretty cool, but for his debut podcast, Elwood the Apprentice mumbles his way through five young players who are poised to become rising stars of the harmonica.

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London Harmonicas

Elwood blows some amateur harpLast Wednesday Elwood the Apprentice attended a year-end performance with London Harmonicas, the informal collective that meets every other Tuesday at The Torriano Pub (7.15pm for beginners, 8pm for intermediates). What he saw was a glorious vision for the socialist future of harmonica. What he heard was a little less glorious…

I’ve attended the London Harmonicas gatherings for the past two months and have really enjoyed it. There’s an excellent mix of players – a few who are navigating their first bends, a few who play real sweet and low, and most of us somewhere in between. There’s no official teacher and no elected leader, but a couple of the advanced players have stepped forward to lead us, Moses-like, to the promised land.

It’s egalitarian, it’s informal, and a fantastic place for any budding player like me to soak up some wisdom from a few seasoned players… and maybe even help a few fellow players out. A few weeks ago, for instance, I taught a guy how to bend his notes. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. (more…)