The Mighty Ship – The Housemartins [..with tab]

The Mighty Ship seems to crop up on a regular basis on TV, Radio, at training seminars and on line, the same way that Groovin’ With Mr. Bloe does. It is a rare ‘good time’ harmonica instrumental. As a resident Brightonian, nay Hovite, the fact that The Housemartins‘ bassman (Norman Cook alias Fat Boy Slim) is an extremely close neighbour geographically, and former sponsor of The Albion through Skint Records, makes this tune all the more poignant.

At the Harp Surgery, we will forever remain convinced that The Mighty Ship is a secret Groovin’ With Mr. Bloe derivative, principally because of the common ‘sweet notes’ produced in the scooped 4 draw bend and straight 4 blow. The decision, as they say, is yours…. (more…)

Misty – Jerry Portnoy [..with tab]

On my own, Would I wander through this wonderland alone, Never knowing my right foot from my left, My hat from my glove, I’m too misty, and too much in love.. Misty (Johnny Burke)

In 1995, Jerry Portnoy recorded his landmark harmonica album Home Run Hitter with The Streamliners. The record’s producer was Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, while Duke Robillard contributed guitar and vocals to the project. The result is a collection of songs that bounce, groove and swing like a beast.

For harmonica players, the album provides many rewarding lines of exploration. This is partly owing to the rhythms and styles Portnoy uses, but primarily because of his attention to detail. The title track Home Run Hitter for example, is one of the most perfect examples of first position blues harping you’ll ever hear. In Misty (the 1954 jazz standard written by pianist Erroll Garner, adopted by Johnny Mathis with lyrics by Johnny Burke), Portnoy demonstrates his ability to hit and hold awkward bends that would leave most of us severely exposed. (more…)

Perfecting that 2 draw bend – Low Rider (War) [..with tab]

Lee OskarFew students ever arrive at the Harp Surgery knowing exactly how many bends there are or where they’re all located. Some think they do, but on closer inspection find there are gaps in their knowledge or ability. Some can draw bend but not blow bend. Some are unable to bend at all. This is a skill area that almost always needs attention. I firmly believe players of any ability should spend time working on the accuracy of their direct bends. No matter how good you are, those 3 hole draw bends can never be taken for granted.

When you start bending, it always pays to remember the Harp Surgery’s golden rule – it’s ok to make mistakes. That’s why they put erasers on the end of pencils. Perfecting your bends will involve an amount of trial and error. You will learn from your mistakes. And remember this is one of the most significant points of any harp player’s development. Be patient and persevere. You’re breaking into the big time!

In another article, we spoke about monitoring the accuracy of bends – How do I know I’m bending in tune? My conclusion was that all the electronic paraphernalia in the world is no substitute for using your own ears. Furthermore, instead of learning each individual bend in isolation with an electronic tuning device to determine your accuracy, far better to pick a fun tune and learn to play the bends in context. You’re a musician after all. If the bends ain’t right, the tune don’t work! (more…)

Paul Jones – Flatfoot Sam [..with tab]


It was Blues at The Fort, Portsmouth 2007 and the Good Doctor was in the backstage marquee with The Elevators. Three years earlier he was playing the same gig with The Blackjacks. ‘Who else is on the bill tonight?’ he asked. ‘Eddie Martin is after us,’ came the reply, ‘and The Blues Band are headlining.’ The Good Doctor smiled at the news; an excellent evening’s harpoonery lay ahead.

Then the Good Doctor’s thoughts rolled back to 1979 and radio reports of a new blues band that was taking the country by storm, featuring Paul Jones, former front man of Manfred Mann. It was a time when Punk Rock and New Wave were peaking on the UK music scene and live music gigs were where you still went to be cool. No MTV, no internet, no DVDs. The erupting live music scene had belched forth a number of red hot R&B bands. The Blues Band, 9 Below Zero, The Inmates and The Cheaters to name a few.

A year later, amidst great media interest, The Blues Band took the stage at the 1980 Knebworth Festival. The Good Doctor was in the crowd with the ‘naughty botty’ gang, ready for a musical feast which also featured Lindisfarne, Elkie Brooks, Santana and The Beach Boys. It was a fabulous day compered by Richard Digence and the bands were exceptional. After the festival, one song in particular stuck in the Doctor’s mental jukebox – Flatfoot Sam by The Blues Band. It was his favourite track on their Bootleg LP and just as good performed live. (more…)

Whammer Jammer – Part 1 […with tab]

J. Geils Band - Full HouseYou gonna get it all down, get it all night, get it all right, get it out of sight and get it down baby?

Here’s the #1 entry in our ‘I wanna play like that’ hit list. Originally recorded on the  J.Geils Band studio album The Morning After in 1971, Whammer Jammer reappeared a year later on the classic live album Full House. It is power harping of the highest order.

Like the lunar landing, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, every power harp fan can remember when and where they were first Whammered. So, it’s time to get nostalgic. We’ll reminisce a little, do some research and then, with the help of modern technology, deconstruct the song for you. A major diatonics at the ready..


Orange Blossom Special – Charlie McCoy [..with tab]


When I heard Charlie’s recording of Orange Blossom Special for the first time, I was utterly stunned at the speed and accuracy of his technique – it is both jaw busting and jaw dropping. In fact it ranks right at the top of the “I’ll never play like that” top 40.

How do you unravel something so fast and complex? First you need to establish the key Charlie’s playing in. Clearly he starts in the key of C and an F harp in second position seems to do the trick. Initially that is. Until the tune takes a twist. Suddenly, as the melody ascends, modulating the same country lick four times, your F harp no longer does the business. Frustration sets in until the tune recommences its cycle and for a brief period you’re safe again.

So what devilry enables Charlie to reproduce this lightning bluegrass fiddle part on a tin biscuit? Is it some closely guarded Nashville technique? Could it be a particular playing position or a crazy tuning? Only one thing to do in such circumstances. Call international rescue. (more…)