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

Background

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.

I emailed Pat Missin. “Was Charlie using a special country tuning?” I quizzed. The Jedi Master sent his reply. It was a simple harp swap. “Surely not! Ain’t that cheating? It’s so simple it’s genius. Doh!” I bowed to the eternal wisdom of the chosen one. Charlie starts on an F harp and momentarily swaps to a Bb.

What was the Orange Blossom Special?

The tune was written in 1938 by Chubby Wise (a champion Floridian fiddle player) and Ervin T Rouse about the express train which ran from New York City through the Florida orange groves to Miami. In post-depression America, this was a high class, air-conditioned voyage, steeped in luxury and glamour.

How to play it like McCoy

Grab your F and Bb harps. The bulk of the song uses an F harp, but you’ll need the Bb handy for that key change. Make sure your chops are well honed too. Charlie uses lateral jaw movement to facilitate the rapid-fire note playing. This is something I have also seen Brendan Power use for his Celtic harping – he learned the technique from Charlie. Also the high end acrobatics will leave you badly exposed if you’re not match fit. Finally make sure your third hole draw bend is in good shape. It is central to any country style harpooning. All aboard…!

F harp

Intro, vamping and country licks

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………… (3D’-4D’)

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D (3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………………. (3D’-4D’)

(4D’) 4D (4D’) 4D 3D (4D’) 4D (4D’) 4D………….4D’

(4D’) 4D (4D’) 4D (4D’) 4D (4D’) 4D 4D’ (3D’) 3D 2D

(4D’) 4D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D (4D’) 4D 4D’ 4D…………..4D’

(4D’) 4D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D (4D’) 4D 4D’ (3D’) 3D 2D

1D 2B …..then vamp away…. 1D-2D 1D-2D 1D-2D-3B 1D-2D-3B 1D-2D 1D-2D 1D-2D-3B 1D-2D-3B

(3D’) 3D 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B vamp

(3D’) 3D 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B vamp

5B 4B 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B vamp

5B 4B 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B vamp

6B 5B 5D 5B 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D (3D’) 3D 3D’ 2D 2B vamp

6B 5B 5D 5B 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D (3D’) 3D 3D’ 2D 2B vamp

(1D’) 1D 2B 2D (3D’) 3D 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D 3D (3D’) 3D 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B vamp

6B 5B 5D 5B 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D (3D’) 3D 3D’ 2D 2B 2D

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………… (3D’-4D’)

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D (3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………………. (3D’-4D’)

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D (3D’-4D’) 3D-4D 3D’ 2D (3D’-4D’) 3D-4D

3D 3D’ 2D 2D” 2B 1D 1B-2B

Bridge

First note of each line comes in well ahead of the beat for that ho-down fiddle-bow effect

Bb harp…

(3D) 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B (5B)

F harp…

3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B (5B)

Bb harp…

(3D’) 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B (5B)

F harp…

3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B

Mid section

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D 5D 4D

6B 6D 7D 7B 8D 8B 8D 7B

6B 6D 7D 7B 8D 8B 8D 7B

6B 6D 7D 7B 8D 8B 8D 7D

6B 6D 6B 5D 5B 5D 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5D 5B 6D 5D

7B 7B 7D 7B

7B 6B 6B 6D 6B 5D 5B 4D 5B 5D 5B 4D 3D 3D 4D 4B

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………………………….. (3D’-4D’) …..then vamp away

3D’ 3D 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D 3D 3D’ 3D 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B

3D’ 3D 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D 3D 3D’ 3D 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B

6B 5B 5D 5B 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D (3D’) 3D 3D’ 2D 2B

6B 5B 5D 5B 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D (3D’) 3D 3D’ 2D 2B

1D 2D” 2D (3D’) 3D 4B 4D’ 4D 5D 6B (6D) 7D 8D 8B (8D) 9D 8B 8D 7D 6D 6B

5D 5D 5B 4D (3D’) 3D 3D’ 2D

2D (4D’) 4D 5D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D (4D’) 4D 5D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D (4D’) 4D 5D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D gliss…. 4D 3D 2D

2D (4D’) 4D 5D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D (4D’) 4D 5D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D (4D’) 4D 5D 4D 4D’ 3D 4B (3D’) 3D 2D

1D-2D-3D 1D-2D-3D 1D-2D-3D

7D 6D 6B 5B 5D 4D 5B 4B (3D’) 3D 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D 3D 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B

7D 6D 6B 5B 5D 4D 5B 4B (3D’) 3D 4D 3D 5B 4B 4D 3D 4D 3D 3D’ 2D 2B

4D 5D 4D 4D’ 3D 4B 3D 1D-2D 1D-2D 1D-2D-3D 1D-2D-3D 1D-2D-3D

4D 5D 4D 4D’ 3D 4B 3D 1D-2D 1D-2D 1D 1D-2D-3B 1D-2D-3D

1D-2D 1D-2D 1D-2D-3B 2D-3D 2D-3B 3D’ 3D 4D 3D 5B 4D 5B 4D ???????????

????????????????????????????????????

3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………… (3D’-4D’)

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D (3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………………. (3D’-4D’)

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D (3D’-4D’) 3D-4D 3D’ 2D (3D’-4D’) 3D-4D

3D 3D’ 2D 2D” 2B 1D 1B

Bridge

First note of each line comes in well ahead of the beat for that ho-down fiddle-bow effect

Bb harp…

(3D’) 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B (5B)

F harp…

3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B (5B)

Bb harp…

(3D’) 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B (5B)

F harp…

3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D 3D 3D 4D

4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B 4B 4B 5B

Mid section

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6B 6D 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D 5D 4D

6B 6D 7D 7B 8D 8B 8D 7D

6B 6D 7D 7B 8D 8B 8D 7D

6B 6D 7D 7B 8D 8B 8D 7D

6B 6D 6B 5D 5B 5D 5B 4D

4B 4D 5D 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5B 4D

4B 4D 5B 4B 6D 6B 5D 5B 6D 5D

7B 7B 7D 7B

7B 6B 6B 6D 6B 5D 5B 4D 5B 5D 5B 4D 3D 3D 4D 4B

(3D’-4D’) 3D-4D…………………………….. (3D’-4D’) …..then vamp away

Outro section

To be added…..!

And finally..

Be aware there are other versions around that may be evem more bluegrassy. if you thought Charlie’s version was hot, check out Mike Stevens!

Now check out his Bluegrass Harmonica tutorial and CD published by Hal Leonard ISBN 1-57424-045-5.

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15 Responses to Orange Blossom Special – Charlie McCoy [..with tab]

  1. Hi all, Compare Orange Blossom Special using a microphone and amp. and then without it. You tell me ? It is easy to hide mistakes and notes that can’t be found on your harmonica when using this help. I have been playing the harmonica sense the age of three which is 60 year’s ago. My grandpa, who razed me would make me stand on the kitchen table and play Onward Christian Solders so that I could make him cry. At the age of 7 I loved to listen to the William tell and mastered how to play it by the age of 12. I am not a entertainer, I enjoy playing it gently and close into ones ear. My stile is like no other I have seen………..Your’s truly, Willy

  2. Wilf says:

    Hi Willy!

    Thank you so much for visiting the Harp Surgery. I loved your comments and totally endorse your sentiment regarding amplification. You don’t need it to get the message across. As with most instruments, the natural ‘un-plugged’ flavour of the harp can say it all – and more.

    As a youngster it is easy to be drawn into amplified harp and lose touch with its natural acoustic qualities. Coming back to basics (especially when your amp packs up during a gig) is a challenge at first (you feel kind of naked for a while!) but so much more rewarding in the long run.

  3. Willl says:

    Hi Wilf, Thank you for your response regarding my comment about amplification. I remember when I was a little boy, I use to go deep within in a train tunnel and play my Bb because I was able to get a nice clear G note out of the #1 hole which was needed when I was playing the William Tell. I was able to achieve super train sound affects as well. I found that large empty water drainage pipes, the kind found under road’s work very well too for accentuating and achieving nice clear notes and affects. Another good way to get quality out of the harmonica is to put it out in the hot Sun for about 20 min. My advice is to not get hooked on an amp because it masks the true you and supplements notes and sounds that you can’t without it…………..Willy

  4. Wilf says:

    The good doctor always said that harps love intimacy, warmth and humidity, but sun-baked tin sandwiches are not something he’s encountered before. Could he use a toast maker during the winter months?

    With you all the way on the amplification front. I remember panicking when my amp blew up during a show. No option but to play off-mic instead. Soon became a regular feature cos there is so much more you can do.

  5. Wilf, You are so funny, “sun-baked tin sandwiches”. Now that is what you call hot. That was only an example to demonstrate how heat can change the quality of the sound. Try this, Take two harmonica’s, preferably the black tin painted harmonica such as the HONNER Pro Harp as black absorbs heat. Now put one in the Sun for awhile and leave the other one indoors. Heat softens all metal such as super thin brass reeds.

    Now compare both harmonica’s by bending the reeds that were hard to reach before and you will find that the hot one works best. Oh, by the way, the toaster thing sounds like a good experiment to try….thanx …Willy

  6. PS….Wilf, RE: (Hot harmonica’s) Who knows, maybe some day down the road perhaps there will be a little hot box just below the microphone and you could switch harmonica’s when needed……..Just a thought………Willy LOL

  7. Henk says:

    But that is exactly why you need an amplifier, especially a tube amp. They get very hot so if you park your harps on top of that then they are baked and ready when you have to play.

  8. Wilf says:

    A top tip there from Henk (as long as the Amp is behaving itself). Thanks. Meanwhile it’s time we started a new band called The Blues Bakers… or did John Mayall already do that?

  9. William Nelson says:

    Hi Wilf, Charlie has got it almost down pat when it comes to the orange blossem special, and as for Mike, Its like listing to someone speak who can;t talk and make any sense, so he has a long way to go to achieve perfection. He seems to just go into space and runs his mouth back and forth and the notes just don’t go togather. Is he fast?, yes. Is he sloppy?, yes.

    I was thinking of starting a William Tell harmonica club. I feel that if a person can play ALL of the William Tell Overture with perfection and clearly without an amp, then he can play just about anything. Its nice to hear each and every note……………..Do you agree ? Willy

  10. Wilf says:

    Hi Willy,
    I understand exactly where you’re coming from!

    At the Harp Surgery, the Good Doctor stipulates there’s a time and a place for everything on the harmonica. Everything is right and nothing is wrong. Better play sloppy than not at all – some simple tuition can help tidy everything up.

    Off the record, though, he’d probably agree with you. Good harp playing boils down to accurate note playing, discipline, clarity, good tone and a descent sense of rhythm. Overplaying and sloppiness defeat these principals. And of course, less is always more.

    As for the William Tell? Hell yeah! Check out Buddy Greene on YouTube here…

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=rfLhnkme2mE

    No hiding behind anything there….I’m out of breath every time I watch him!

    Good harpin’ to ya!

  11. Willy Nelson says:

    Hi Wilf, I am pleased to know that the Good Doctor somewhat agrees with me. Sloppiness is ok, so long as I don’t have to listen to it. Sloppy playing should be played when alone or when getting lessons and not to a bunch of people who are expecting to hear something pleasant to the ear. As for Buddy Green, I watched and listened to him attempt to play the William Tell and It wasn’t to bad, but he left most of the arrangement out. He forgot the rest, or can’t play all of it.? He is good, but not great like many other harmonica players I could name. I am tempted to play the William Tell on YouTube and set the goal for other harmonica player’s to attempt. I was playing all the William Tell when snot was still running out of Buddy Green’s nose into the body of his plastic harmonica. I’ll give him another 30 year’s to get it right. I don’t knock harmonica player’s, but I can’t stand watching someone make a full of themselves on YouTube. ………………..Willy

  12. Wilf says:

    Hi Willy,
    It sounds to me like William Tell is a personal favourite for you! I think you should definitely publish your own performance on YouTube so that we can benefit from the full measure of your rendition. I was tempted to edit the end of your comment, but in the interest of freedom of speech decided to remove my finger from the delete key! Personally I remain impressed by Buddy Green’s nerve and ability in tackling two iconic classical numbers at the Carnegie Hall. That takes balls. I also suspect there may have been a time constraint on his rendition – I am certain he is capable of playing the whole score. The sections he does play are very musical and not at all untidy. It’s a convincing, entertaining and pleasing performance. There may be some who could play it better at home, but would melt in front of an audience and cameras. In the same way, there are singers and musicians who make great recording artists, but who are lousy on stage and vice versa. The giants are those who transfer their skills between the two without any apparent drop in impact. Who are the other guys you’re thinking of?

  13. William Arwood says:

    I really appreciate part one of Orange Blossom Special. When do we get part two.
    Thanks

  14. Wilf says:

    Hi William. Thanks for the nudge. You are quite right! I have been brazenly forging ahead with lots of other stuff in recent months. Our site moderator, the Riverboat Captain, has also reminded me there are some early posts that still need completion.Thank you for your patience. I intend tabbing the remainder of Orange Blossom before the end of the week.

  15. andrew davidson says:

    I was shook by the mike stevens version if possible could you put out the tablature for it?

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