Harping in Havana – a bluesman’s introduction to Latin diatonic

Latin American diatonic for the uninitiated

To witness Cuba’s musical pulse first hand and sip Mojitos in the sweat of Havana’s Bar Montserrate is privilege enough, but to sit in with the house band Sabor de Cuba, play the diatonic harmonica and get out alive? Ay Caramba! That’s the stuff of dreams.

The Montserrate is a tourist magnet for genuinely good reason. Kitsch-free, under a blanket of humidity and aromatic cigar smoke, the throb of its acoustic Latin music is quite simply mesmerising. Add a splash of Ron Cubano, a serpentine twist of Salsa dancing and you have all the ingredients of an impromptu Latin fiesta. Next time you’re in town, drop in and join the party.

During a break in the music, house vocalist Luis Franklin presented the band’s bongo drums to guests sitting at the bar. Stepping up, the Good Doctor patted a rhythm across the skins which drew a nod of approval from Luis. Followed by an offer of sale. Sadly a shortfall in funds and luggage space forestalled business and in broken Spanish the Doc explained he too was a poor musician. What do you play? Luis asked. The Doc produced a lone Lee Oskar diatonic from his bag.

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1st Position Blues Harp – An Introduction (Part 2)

A guide to straight blues harping

In Part 1 we looked at an overview of first position. We considered why it may be something blues players put off till later. We noted that 1st position blues mainly comprises deep low end draw bends and confident high end blow bends, and that the middle octave has little to offer to those who cannot overbend.

We also recommended that blues players develop the ability to identify positional playing by ear. This isn’t as hard as you might believe. It’s like birdsong. You could probably recognise the call of an owl, a seagull or a finch right? Well the three principal blues harp positions also have their own signatures.

In this, the second part of our series, we look at the bottom end blues scale in 1st position and its trade licks. Meantime here’s more of our series theme tune from Nine Below Zero. The song is called Doghouse and it’s from their second album, Don’t Point Your Finger.

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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.

Listen to

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…)

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…


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The Sailor’s Hornpipe [..with tab]

Marine BandAll the nice girls love a sailor

As an island nation, a good deal of Britain’s military, economic and cultural tradition is drawn from its seafaring experience. So what better way to mark the romance of our heritage than a good old sea shanty?

A few years ago the Doc was chaperoning the West Sussex Youth Orchestra on their tour of Germany and Austria. As a finale to each concert, the orchestra chose to perform Sir Henry Wood’s wonderful Fantasia Of British Sea Songs, a fulcrum of the annual last night of the Proms. The prize number from the fantasia is the Sailor’s Hornpipe. ‘Tis music to stir the heart of any a true Brit; and as the revellers display the glorious eccentricities of their patriotic pride, you just can’t wait for that Mr.Toad car horn and a frenzied climax which, with every tin of spinach on the planet, even Popeye could not sustain. (more…)

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…)

Horn Concerto No.4 in Eb Major (Rondo Allegro Vivace) – W A Mozart [..with tab]

I once had a whim and I had to obey it

Welcome to part two of our Baroque Blues Harp trilogy. The headline might look rather daunting, but don’t be put off. This is a piece we have all heard at one time or another and, once you’ve heard it again, I am sure it will bring a reassured smile to your face. Written in 1786, it is the final movement from the last of Mozart’s four horn concertos. The concertos were composed for his close friend Joseph Leutgeb a master horn player of the period. This finale is written in 6/8 time as a chasse or hunting tune. Consequently there is frequent use of triads in the melody to give a hunting horn flavour and triplet phrasing for a galop effect.

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