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…)

Introduction to Sonny Boy II Harmonica Technique

Rice MillerDon’t start me talking, I’ll tell you everything I know

Elwood reminded folks at the Harp Surgery it’s the anniversary of Sonny Boy II’s birthday this week. How about we tab out one of his monster tracks? he suggested. The Doc stroked his goatee and lifted his bowler down from the coat stand. No need to tab one number, young Elwood, we’ll do them ALL he replied. But how is that possible? quizzed Elwood.

The Doc raised a sagely eyebrow. Once you’ve mastered his trademark cross-harp licks and timing, my boy, you can tackle much of his material. Then it’s a case of studying the first position harp work, timing and tone. But always remember you will never sound exactly like the master, nor should you . Elwood started warming his favourite blues burger. So where do we begin? he asked. From the turn around, answered the Doc, it’s his signature lick. It goes like this…

Listen to

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Groovin’ With Mr Bloe – Part 1 [..with tab]

Groovin' With Mr Bloe LPGroovy baby – yeah!

Otis stopped by this morning for a nice cup of tea and a sit down and brought us a lovely letter from Stuart Willowgate.

Been blowin’ since Christmas ’08 – or trying to, and loving it! I heard the song Groovin’ with Mr Bloe as the out music to Oz and James’ beer tour of Britain and have now found it on your site. I remember it the first time round! I think its on a C harp based in or around the 5 or 6 hole draw. Any tips to playing it, or a tab perhaps?

Thanks for your comments Stuart. You’d be referring to the entry about Groovin’ With Mr Bloe on our Harp Trivia Who Played That page. It’s not the first time Mr Bloe has come into conversation, so we ought to investigate the song and nail that tab for you right away. (more…)

Nobody’s Fault But Mine – Led Zeppelin […with tab]

If I leave my love behind, nobody’s fault but mine

Led Zeppelin - PresenceAnd so to the wonderful world of heavy metal harmonica. Use of the humble harp in big time rock’n’roll should not really be a surprise. It’s no secret the likes of Led Zeppelin, Cream, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and their peers drew inspiration directly from the great blues masters. So a splash of harp is quite fitting.

On this note Otis, the Harp Surgery’s postman, delivered this lovely letter this morning. It brought a big smile to the Good Doctor’s dear old pre-breakfast visage (him being a life long dirty Leeds fan).

I was wondering if you can answer my question?? What key harp is Robert Plant playing on the Led Zeppelin track ‘Nobody’s Fault but Mine’???? I’ve been learning the harmonica for a few months now and I find your website very inspiring!

Thanks, Johnny. From Leeds.

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