Country Harping With The Rolling Stones – Sweet Virginia [..with tab]

Wadin’ through the waste stormy winter

Fifty years on, old big lips and the gang are back on stage delivering their special brand of rock’n’roll. And we still like it!

Coincidentally, we got a call from our good friend Gordon Russell, asking if Harp Surgery had a student who could add the harp line to a song one of his own protégés would be performing locally. ‘What’s the song?’ the Harp Surgery’s Good Doctor asked. ‘Sweet Virginia in A, by the Stones’, replied the ex-Doctor Feelgood axemeister.

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‘No sweat me old mucker, we’ve got just the person.’ Cue Harp Surgery’s junior player of the year 2011 and 2012, Josh Cooper, age 10. Josh and the Doc duly put their heads together and this is what they came up with.. (more…)

Get Out Of Jail Free

Norton & BonnieDo not pass GO

Greasy Rob the car mechanic, Otis the mailman, Stomping Stu from the village allotments and the Doc were busy playing a game of Friday night Monopoly on the kitchen table. A large brown pot of Taylor’s Yorkshire Tea steamed away next to Otis who was also banker for the weekend biscuit assortment. Otis had hotels on the home straight, Rob had all four stations and the Doc had a strong collection of reds and yellows. Meanwhile Stu was casually thumbing his Water Works and keeping one eye on Bow Street. (more…)

Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring – J.S. Bach [..with tab]

Switched On BachHark, what peaceful music rings!

[To the Memory of the great Herbert Harris, Choirmaster and Organist of All Saints Church, Harpenden, UK].

Welcome to the Harp Surgery, where one minute we’re honking the blues and next minute we’re power harping on a tangent. Time now to turn the clocks back three hundred years to the ornamentation and etiquette of the Baroque.

Whether or not you’ve studied classical music, it’s a certainty you’ve encountered its superstars. In absentia, these dudes have colonised elevators, call centres hold messages and even TV theme tunes (check out The Antiques Roadshow ) for decades. Our house favourite is Johann Sebastian Bach. Jesu Joy Of Man’s Desiring, composed in the early 1700’s, was regular fayre for the Good Doctor as a junior.  And somehow, Bach was hip. (more…)

Boogie On Reggae Woman..[with tab]

Stevie Wonder diatonic harmonica

It was 1974. With a string of hit singles under his belt, Stevie Wonder recorded Boogie On Reggae Woman amidst some more reflective compositions for his new album, Fullfillingness’ First Finale.

The song’s title is slightly misleading. This is no Trench Town rasta vibe. There is a reggae skank for reference, but underneath it’s as fundamentally funk as Superstition and just as ground breaking.

For Harp Surgery fans, what makes the song especially interesting, is its infusion of a bluesy piano line and some highly expressive first-position blues harping. Let’s look more closely..

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More Beatles Harmonica [..with tab]

Beatles harpTo the toppermost of the poppermost

Further to our harmonica study of Love Me Do, we should now take a further look at John Lennon’s harmonica recordings with the Beatles.

Not including the harmonica quartet on Sergeant Pepper’s For The Benefit Of Mr.Kite, we have identified at least a dozen Beatles tracks that feature harmonica. To be brutal, most of these are either ‘minor’ pieces from the band’s catalogue or else examples of Lennon’s harmonica work in its unaccomplished state. Rocky Racoon or Little Child for instance have particularly ‘unsophisticated’ harmonica parts. On I’ll Get You, the harmonica is badly out of tune.

What quickly becomes apparent is that John Lennon’s melodic use of the Chromatic harmonica was probably more comfortable than his diatonic work. With the Chromatic he could skilfully sidestep the need for reed bending on the short harp, which was not something he had yet mastered in the early 1960’s. We’ve chosen to help you nail three tunes where John Lennon’s harp lines feature most strongly.. (more…)

Love Me Do – The Beatles [..with tab]

Beatles HarmonicaI’ll always be true, so please, love me do

Much has been written about John Lennon’s harmonica playing with The Beatles. He started playing at a time in the 1960’s when American blues music was taking the UK by storm. Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin Wolf all toured the UK. The Rolling Stones were stiff competition in the popularity stakes, with harmonica work by the multi-talented Brian Jones and many other UK R&B bands followed.

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Bruce Channel was also touring the UK on the back of his ‘Hey Baby’ hit (many will be more familiar with the 1990’s cover version, famous for its loutish Ooh-Aah chant). With him was Delbert McClinton, the harmonica player on the hit. Legend has it that Delbert McClinton taught John Lennon cross harp while Channel’s band was touring Merseyside. In a later interview however McClinton busts this myth.

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Little Bitty Pretty One (Rockin Robin) – Rod Piazza [..with tab]

Little bitty pretty one, come on and talk to me

Rod Piazza 2 ©FrankVigil.comIn a previous post we had the good fortune of reviewing Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers live in Las Vegas. It was a welcome treat as the Harp Surgery has always been a fan of his work. Little Bitty Pretty One (Rockin’ Robin) brought back happy memories of a time when this instrumental was a hot topic of conversation. It is not just a catchy tune; more importantly it includes a devilish switch between separate draw bends in hole 3 and the straight draw in hole 2. Something the Harp Surgery likes to call a wobble.

Wobbles can be executed in several departments of the harp. They are achieved by direct bending in one hole (this could be a draw bend or a blow bend), rolling into an adjacent hole and then returning to the original bent note or, as in this case, a second bent note in the original hole. Join us on our journey into rocking blues and all will be revealed. (more…)

Pencil Full Of Lead – Which Harmonica?

Fraser Speirs by Harry MillburnI knew it was a G harp, but is it a high G harp?

Regular visitors will remember we recently ran a post about Paolo Nutini’s priapic UK No.1 hit Pencil Full Of Lead from his chart topping album Sunny Side Up. When the song first hit breakfast radio, the Harp Surgery resembled a madhouse as The Good Doctor, Elwood, Otis and Monica cavorted around the kitchen in total abandon. The The Riverboat Captain is still sounding his horn from the wheelhouse and singing along.. most of all, I’ve got my baaaaaay-bee!

One player from Nutini’s band, The Vipers, caught our collective eye of course – Fraser Speirs, Scotland’s Laird of the Moothie. That’s King of the Gob Iron to those of us south of the border. And having listened to the track with his good ear, The Doc concluded that Fraser was using a G major diatonic in 2nd position for the harmonica solo. A week or so later, Otis delivered a letter from our dear friend Tenbar who wrote I’ve been trying to figure out the Paolo Nutini track and knew it was a G harp, but is it a high G harp? Straight away the Good Doctor dispatched a missive to the tartan territories, enquiring about Fraser’s choice of instrument and which position he used on the hit.

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Culture Club Harmonica II – Karma Chameleon [..with tab]

Karma Chameleon single coverIn Culture Club Harmonica part 1, we studied Judd Lander‘s harp playing on the band’s top 10 hit, Church Of The Poison Mind. Their follow up single, Karma Chameleon, went flying to the top of the charts worldwide, where it stayed for several weeks. To this day it remains a classic of 1980’s pop. Culture Club and Boy George had well and truly arrived.

To recap for a moment, Judd Lander is purported to have taken lessons from Sonny Boy II during his formative playing days in Liverpool. He subsequently relocated to London where he found studio session work and launched Charisma Records. His playing is not complex, relying as it does on cross harp blues sequences, but it is highly polished and instantly recognisable. Full of natural tone and excellent phrasing, Judd Lander gives his harp licks real ‘voice’ without resorting to digital trickery or overdriven tubes.

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Culture Club Harmonica I – Church Of The Poison Mind [..with tab]

Culture Club - Colour By NumbersThe Harp Surgery has had a number of enquiries regarding the harp riffs used in Culture Club’s hits and who was responsible for them. The culprit was Judd Lander, a harp player from Liverpool who managed to ingratiate himself with Sonny Boy II before moving to London as a session musician and co-founding the Charisma record label. You can find more about Judd in our Harp Trivia pages and on his website.

In the heady days of post-punk Britain, the Sex Pistols‘ erstwhile manager Malcolm McLaren branched into the New Wave pop market with his new creation for the 1980s, Bow Wow Wow. We could look into how and where he found the lead singer Annabella Lwin, his promises to side step the Lolita and Svengali traps, how old Lwin wasn’t, that scandalous album cover, the Vivienne Westwood effect, and how utterly brilliant the music actually was. But we won’t. (more…)