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.

Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers – The Railhead, Las Vegas, Thursday 14th January 2010

You just wait till he does his walkabout and gets up on the table

Rod Piazza ©FrankVigil.comThe Good Doctor found himself back in Vegas for the post-Christmas lull. It was strange seeing folks in coats and jackets complaining about the cold in a City that is normally a kiln. But the white tops on the nearby mountains, the absence of crowds and an ill wind blowing through the valley spelt winter in Sin City.

The Doc was in need of something to warm the soul and what better than a Vegas helping of Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers? He jumped a cab and rode out from the Strip to the Boulder Station Hotel and waded across the Casino floor to the The Railhead. Standing in line, he was engaged in conversation by Carol, a regular winter migrant from Michigan. Oh I’ve seen Rod Piazza many times. This your first? she quizzed. The Doc nodded and smiled, showing full British reserve. Oh you just wait till he does his walkabout, gets up on the table and Honey starts playing that piano with her toes. The Doc’s grin broadened. Sounds more like the Cirque du Soleil he thought to himself. (more…)

5 Questions for Joe Filisko

Joe FiliskoElwood the Apprentice chats to the master of old-school blues harmonica

[UPDATE: Epilogue is now live – Old-school harmonica or new school?]

For a man bearing such a burden, you’d think Joe Filisko would have broader shoulders. I mean, considering he hoisted the entire tradition of blues harmonica up on them things, you’d think he’d be wide as a Buick.

Perched on a high stool with nothing but a harp, a mic and a couple of stories, his one-man show is like an oral ethnography of the blues harp tradition (see the Good Doctor’s review). Considering Filisko devoted decades to studying and mastering the styles of bluesmen long deceased, there’s just about nobody in the world who knows more about what it takes to be a Walter, Big or Small, or a Sonny of any kind.

(more…)

Split Rivitt Archives

A rivitting read

Split Rivitt - Chris Warren, David Lyttelton, Dave Wilgrove, Barney Jeffrey, Mark Hughes

We recently featured a post about Split Rivitt, a largely unknown band from the UK’s R&B boom of the early 1980s. From our last post, you may recall that England’s 2009 Ashes Test victory over Australia had reminded the Good Doctor of the BBC’s Test Match Special theme, Soul Limbo by Booker T. & The MGs. Only an alternative version by Split Rivitt, who replaced the Hammond lead of the original recording with a searing new harmonica line (also tabbed). You can download the track from Amazon here.

Listen to

During our research we interviewed Peter Shertser of Red Lightnin’ Records, the track’s producer, as we could find out nothing about the band on line. Being the generous sort he is, Peter kindly promised the Harp Surgery team exclusive access to his Split Rivitt archive material. Well Otis dropped off the clippings this morning, so with our thanks to Peter, we are delighted to now bring you our ‘Rivitting’ scrap book. (more…)

Jiving With The Greats: Lee Oskar – 22nd July 2009

Towards the end of last year, a student came for his first lesson at the Harp Surgery. ‘So can you already play anything?’ I enquired. ‘A few bits and pieces,’ came the reply, ‘I like the Low Rider tune.’ I nodded politely but had to confess I didn’t know it. So he played it for me. Dah-dah dah-dah dah dah dah, dah dah-dah dah dah! We spoke about the Marmite advert that used the riff and then carried on with the lesson.

I asked the Riverboat Captain (our webmaster) what he knew of Lee Oskar, WAR and the Low Rider tune. ‘You should check it out,’ said the Captain, ‘it’s good stuff. Especially the ‘World Is A Ghetto‘ album.’ And he filled me in on an area of music about which I had been totally ignorant. I looked at my small collection of Lee Oskar harmonicas in a totally different light. Time for the Good Doctor to pull out his press card and investigate. It was early morning somewhere near Seattle…

So Lee, tell me about arriving in America, aged 18, straight from Denmark, with no money..

Yes, I left Denmark when I was 18 for a life in the USA. I wanted to be in the music business. It was my main interest. My heart was in it. It was my dream.

Were things different in Europe at the time?

Yes, very different. The whole industry was focussed on the US rather than Europe. The UK had the Stones and the Beatles, but the US was the main hub for music. Europe has changed now. The music industry is now more homogenised all over the world. (more…)

Billy Branch – Kingston Mines, Chicago, Sat 21.Mar 2009

The blues keep following me around

Ever since buying a copy of the 1990 W.C.Handy award winning album Harp Attack, Billy Branch has had me intrigued. He’s pictured on the cover as the new kid on the block, alongside three legends – Junior Wells, James Cotton and Carey Bell. Billy provides fresh reinforcement for the old guard, enlisted to extend the Chicago Harp tradition rather than bend it (as Sugar Blue might have done). The album is of course a valuable celebration of ChiTown honking, however the full extent of Branch’s artistic ability was probably hidden under the barrage.

So it was when I heard his 1995 solo album, The Blues Keep Following Me Around, that I really began to appreciate Billy’s work. Again it stems directly from the Chicago idiom – how could it not – but it makes a fearless march forward. It is new, energetic and wonderfully varied. Billy’s passion for the blues shines through the whole recording and he takes no prisoners. His cover of Tony Joe White’s Polk Salad Annie is a particular classic. With a heap of soul in the vocals and a brooding, pulsating groove, Mr. Branch takes you down in Louisiana and dumps you right on your…corn patch. Which reminds me – Billy is not only a cool harp player, he is also a magnificent singer. (more…)

Jiving With The Greats: Jerry Portnoy – Boston, 2.April 2009

…he, whose heart was that of a little child, had answered to his name, and stood in the presence of The Master. William Makepeace Thackeray

Prologue

For anybody looking to master the art of Chicago and blues harmonica, look no further than Jerry Portnoy’s front porch. Study his Grammy Award winning work with the Muddy Waters Band. Update this by investing in his solo project Home Run Hitter. Then check out Down In The Mood Room – it’s predominantly, though not exclusively, jazz. Give it time if you’re a bloozer. You’ll soon understand what Jerry has to say. Then get yourself a copy of his instructional package – Blues Harmonica Masterclass. It’s not cheap, but you get every ounce of bang for your buck, plus it’s the real deal straight from one of Muddy Waters‘ monolithic harp dynasty.

Harp Surgery visitors and students will know that Jerry Portnoy‘s work is regularly mentioned on this website. It also features in our teaching sessions. Most recently we’ve been mastering his version of Misty from the 1995 Home Run Hitter album. One student in particluar, Rob Ryman, has also been working on Real Gone Guy (from the same record). These are just two of countless numbers that carry Mr Portnoy’s hallmarks of style, accuracy, tone and expression. (more…)

Mountain of Love (Alabama 3), Concorde II, Brighton, 2 Dec.2008

You know how it is when people evangelise. You smile, nod your head and then shove an invisible finger in each ear. The first time I heard Exile On Coldharbour Lane, I was unreceptive. My friend, on the other hand, was entering a transcended state even before he hit the play button. ‘You’ll love it!’ he beamed. What I heard was good, but it didn’t burn bushes for me or part the clouds. In fact all I could focus on was the crudeness of the harmonica.

A few days later I cranked up my own copy on the car stereo. This was when it hit me. It actually sounded fantastic. Immediately the world was a better place and before the month was out I had subscribed, unconditionally, to a new subculture. Then I too found myself evangelising. Alabama 3 made me chuckle inside. It made me groove. It was clever, it was sleazy, it was irreverent. It had a punky edge and musical depths. It had a lyrical wizardry and it was relevant. It was an adventure. It threw high fives at roots Americana. It flashed a V at decorum. It gave prejudice the bird. Most importantly it had a layer of raw harmonica that sat perfectly… (more…)