If I leave my love behind, nobody’s fault but mine
And 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!
[We respectfully dedicate this page to the friends and family of Barney Jeffrey 1958-2008]
The Good Doctor found himself in San Francisco, the morning after England had pulled off their 2009 Ashes victory against Australia at The Oval. For those unfamiliar with this particular competition, we will go no further than to say it is a bi-annual cricket tournament played exclusively between two great Commonwealth rivals. Poms versus Ozzies. On a world scale, the patriotic fervour runs disproportionately high. On a local level however, thousands of cricket fans tune their radios in and will every ball to swing their way. To partake is a birth right. To draw is acceptable. To win is sublime.
From his hotel bathroom, the Good Doctor could be heard preparing for the day ahead, humming Soul Limbo by Booker T. & The MGs. For years it had been the iconic theme music to the BBC’s evening Test Match Special programme. All summer long, across the nation mothers were subconsciously swaying their hips to its tropical rhythm from behind their ironing boards, while fathers took to their sofas armed with pipes, slippers, bottles of pale aleand an instinct for the complex rules of play. (more…)
Life is like a card game, you always take a chance
And so to the final installment in our 9 Below Zero trilogy. So far we have covered Riding On The L&N and Swing Job. We’ve looked at the key musical influences in each case and considered some of the history involved. We’ve also tried tabbing out the harp parts. Pack Fair And Square holds no secrets. It’s drawn directly from The J.Geils Band’s live Full House album. Simple.
With 80s contemporaries such as The Cheaters from Manchester, 9 Below Zero were inspired by the high voltage delivery of the J.Geils Band’s live performance and they set about reproducing it British Pub-Rock style. (more…)
Welcome to the second part of our trilogy, covering the top three harp tracks from 9 Below Zero‘s debut Live At The Marquee album, released on A&M in 1980. By that time the UK had already experienced the revolution of Punk Rock and DIY record labels such as Stiff, Beggars Banquet and Rough Trade. New Wave was virtually passe, two-tone ska was skanking it’s heart out and dueling shirted New Romantics such as The Teardrop Explodes and Duran Duran were waiting in the wings, busily back-combing. (more…)
I first encountered this barnstorming track on 9 Below Zero‘s debut Live At The Marquee album (A&M) when it hit UK record stores in 1980. The band had already raised heads with its eponymous EP a few months earlier (originally on M&L records featuring Pack Fair And Square, Rocket 88, Last Night and Tore Down). Their new LP bowled in, tweaked noses and blew everyone away. My copy flew onto the bedroom turntable straight from its jacket and there it stayed for months. Of the fourteen tracks that received a daily spin, L&N, Pack Fair And Square and Swing Job went straight to the top of the ‘I want to play harp like that‘ list. It was a tall order, but through trial and error the decoding process slowly took shape. (more…)
Well I’m so tired of crying, but I’m out on the road again
Midway through the harp solo in Canned Heat’s On The Road Again, Al Wilson plays a G in the middle range of his A harmonica. ‘How did he do that?’ asked then student, now performing UK harp ace, Clive ‘Jive’ Langhorn… Over to Pat Missin for the definitive…
A harp in the key of A has a G#, but no G and it is not possible to bend the G# in this octave, so how did he do it?
Several suggestions have been put forward. Perhaps he played an overblow? That is possible as other players around that time were starting to discover overblows and the hole 6 overblow on an A harp would give you a G. However, the slide down from this note includes a very quick slur over the D (5 draw) and the B (4 draw). If he had to switch between overblowing and drawing, there would be a slight hiccup in this phrase. (more…)
This is THE showcase blues harmonica number which every journeyman player needs to learn. It’s a catchy melody in its own right, but it is particularly attractive when played on the blues harp. And what makes it so important to a player’s development is that, while it incorporates the essential elements of a good harmonica boogie, it offers a concise blueprint for circuiting the 12 bar format without ignoring chord changes and clinging to special effects. In other words it promotes the art of blues musicianship – how and what to play over the I, IV and V chords.
There is no doubt that emulating Big Walter’s delivery demands a great deal of precision. You will need to master a range of techniques including tongue fluttering, octaving, puckering, tongue blocking, tongue slapping and accurate bending. All of which are sustained with excellent breath control. And above all else, you’ll have to nail that BIG tone. Take your time and pay attention to the detail. (more…)
She asked me why. I just went on and told her. The engineer blown the whistle, the fireman he rang the bell
I remember seeing R.L. Burnside in Brighton in the late 1990’s. The gig was above a pub (the Flying Pig I think) on Queens Road, just down from the railway station. My enduring memory will always be of Cedric, his grandson, silhouetted behind the drum kit, pumping out ‘tribal’ blues rhythms. There were just the two of them, musicians that is, but it was utterly mesmerising. I’d never experienced blues of this kind before; far removed from standard Chicago 12 bar romps. It took the audience somewhere humid and remote. Down in Mississippi, but back up in the hills.
Who’s blowing the harp?
So who’s responsible for all that raw harpooning on It’s Bad You Know? Only Lester Butler of The Red Devils! I believe recorded scraps were sequenced and engineered by Tom Rothrock and the track was released into the underground dance scene in 1998. Where it flourished. The message was then adopted by the likes of Moby, Little Axe and now Alabama 3. More recently by Son of Dave. If it’s any testament to quality, this track and, of course, Alabama 3’s Woke Up This Morning have been used in the TV series The Sopranos.
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…)
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…)