It was a humid summer’s day. Beyond the duck pond, the Rear Admiral’s mower muttered to itself and occasionally spat stones at his prizewinning parade of pink floribunda. Next to the Tickled Trout, a canopy of elder flowers floated in the warm breeze, while hover flies patrolled the cow parsley below, pretending to be bees. In the harp surgery kitchen, the Good Doctor was preparing cordials and halving strawberries for afternoon tea. He flourished sugar across the fruit from a shallow silver spoon. ‘How many songbirds fly to and fro, in an English country ga-ar… what the?’ A manilla envelope boomeranged through the window, clipped his ear and skidded to a halt on the kitchen table. The sugar spoon fell to the floor.
As regular visitors to the Surgery will know, we hold immense respect for the work Steve Baker does in harmonica education and as a consultant to Hohner harmonicas. Having proudly hosted Steve at our Harpin’ By The Sea Festival in 2013, we recently stumbled upon his Step by Step module for blues harp beginners. Ever curious, we duly purchased a copy so we could take a good look under the hood. Here’s what we found. (more…)
A crazy little feeling called.. blues shock
Regular visitors to Harp Surgery will know we’re huge fans of Billy Branch. This weekend we look forward to catching him live at the annual Blues Festival in Chicago’s Grant Park. A stunning performer and renowned blues recording artist for over forty years, Billy has a knack for reigniting the blues, then blasting it clean into the new year. Given the chance, you’d be crazy to miss him on the big stage, but of course you can also enjoy his rich back catalogue of recorded material from the comfort of your own back porch.
For the unacquainted, the best point of embarkation is probably the Harp Attack album recorded in 1990 with Junior Wells, James Cotton and Carey Bell. It’s an explicit illustration of Billy’s roots. From here, check out Billy’s personal favourite, Mississippi Flashback from 1992, when he emerged with his own band, Sons of Blues. Then our own favourites from 1995 The Blues Keep Following Me Around and 1999 Satisfy Me. You’ll be hard pressed to find a collection more evocative of contemporary electric Chicago blues. (more…)
‘Take a loooook up the rail track, from Miami to Canada.‘ With a song on his lips and a bounce in his step, Otis strode into the Surgery to deliver a letter from America. The Doc was plinking and filing away at a Crossover reed plate on his Sjoeberg 7.5 rig. He peered over his glasses and smiled. ‘Your vocal chords would benefit from a go on here, Otis old boy!’ Otis stopped dead. ‘Whaddya mean?‘ ‘Well, if you were a dressmaker,’ the Doc replied, ‘you’d be tucking up all the frills, instead of which, you’re just..’ ‘I have the voice of an angel‘ Otis interrupted. (more…)
It was the end of another busy week in the village. There’d been so much rain, the duck pond had swamped the High Street and a family of widgeon was floating past the Surgery’s kitchen window. Our Monica had finished mopping up the puddle by the kitchen door and it looked like there would be no way home for a while, short of borrowing the Good Doctor’s waders.
‘Time for a nice hot cup of Yorkshire Tea!’ the Good Doctor said cheerily, placing a couple of logs in the AGA and setting the kettle on the hob. ‘Now here’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you for a while,’ he continued, ‘head or hands?’. Our Monica looked worried. ‘Do you mean heads or tails?‘ she replied cautiously. ‘No, no, when one plays a trill on one’s gob iron, should one move one’s head or one’s hands?’, the Doctor asked in earnest. ‘Doctor, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,’ giggled Monica. ‘Hmmm, I’ve been weighing it all up..’, the Doctor replied, ‘here’s what I think..’ (more…)
Ain’t that a pity, I declare it’s a cryin’ shame
It was Guy Fawkes’ night down at the Surgery. Beside the wood burner, Greasy Rob and Shagpile Jim were playing light sabres with their indoor sparklers. From the galley, the Doc was dispensing glögg and spiced ale. As Otis queued up Homework on the Sonos system, from the foggiest fathoms of his sub-conscience, he quietly muttered, ‘Poor old pigeons.’ The Doc set down his mulling poker and turned from the ARGA. ‘Since when did pigeons and The J. Geils Band have anything in common?’ he asked. Otis resurfaced. ‘I was thinking of the fireworks; it’s coming down in stair-rods outside. The Rear Admiral said there’ll be a few damp squibs this year.’
Well you know it’s nine below zero
‘That’d be wet squab mate.’ Greasy Rob was chairman of the surgery’s pub quiz team and an authority on trivia. ‘Young pigeons are squab. A squib’s a small stick of dynamite; an out-sized banger to you and me. And we’re not talking Cumberland. And don’t you get me started on squid either, sick or otherwise. They’ve set up a marquee by the pond – they’ll be fine.’ Otis was back in the building. ‘Alright! Alright!’ he growled, ‘no need for the third degree.’
It’s been a while since we posted anything technical from the Harp Surgery, so pull on your overalls and let’s hit the grease pit. We’ve been busy refreshing our harp rig and look forward to reporting on all the fantastic hardware we’ve assembled. Customised harp mics, harp effects pedals and tuning equipment; they’re all here. So let’s start with some real harp mic cheesecake.
I am officially a liberated blues harmonica player. I woke up this morning and admitted to myself that I just don’t get Little Walter. I never have. I’ve been denying the fact for years, cowering in the deepest recesses of the blues closet, fearful of public ridicule. But now I’m out. O U T, out.
Everyone knows mastery of Little Walter’s diatonic blues dialect is an essential step in any half-decent harmonica apprentice’s development. If you can’t recite Juke note for note, name all his hits and tongue block them, you’re nobody. Well, I can play the intro to Juke from draw two or blow three, with or without octaving blow six, I can tongue-block or purse it at will, but I’ve never stopped to learn the whole piece. The reason for which is two-fold. Firstly, there was a timing issue I just couldn’t unravel, whether or not it was a mistake on Walter’s part. Secondly, for love nor money, I simply couldn’t copy Little Walter’s phrasing, nor did I feel the urge to do so. Oh, and there was another reason. Big Walter.
There’s a right old rumpus down at the Harp Surgery! The Doc has taken delivery of his new Hohner Rocket and he’s been putting it through its paces. The verdict? It’s everything Hohner claims it to be – comfortable, responsive and loud. If you’re considering investing in a Rocket, we say go for it, you’ll love it! It’s great for blues, rock and pretty much every contemporary style. And just to get us in the mood, here’s some Pocket Rocket from the Fab T-Birds..
For those of you looking for more information before you dive in and buy a Rocket, it’s time to grab your beverage of choice, turn the phone to silent, draw the blinds and enjoy a good graze through our analysis below. But just before we get going..
At the start of the 2014 when we had the pleasure and good fortune of seeing Kim Wilson in San Jose, there was rumour he would be playing new Rocket harps for the show, in advance of their official release date. Contrary to speculation however, he didn’t. Nevertheless, here’s a short video of Kim trialling the Rocket at the 2014 NAMM exhibition. (more…)
Otis the postman dropped by this morning to deliver a letter from brother Neil Callaghan, who writes, ‘As a complete novice harmonica player I am trying to find out the harmonica key that Steve Weston is using whilst playing on the song I Keep It To Myself, which also has Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey performing. I hope you can help’.
Well, before you ask, yes that’s Roger ‘M-my g-g-g-generation’ Daltrey of The Who. And for anyone not in the know, I Keep It To Myself is on Wilko Johnson’s new album Going Back Home, which features Roger Daltrey (vox), Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Dylan Howe (drums), Mick Talbot (keyboard) and Steve Weston (harmonica). The occasion has also been marked by a bespoke resurrection of the iconic Chess record label.
Now, in response to the original email, I could slide into a friendly discourse about how to identify song keys and pick the right harp for yourself, but I’ll save that pleasure for a rainy day. In any case, divulging the secret could quite possibly make me redundant. So instead, let’s cut to the chase and call West Weston for the answer. You can listen to our chat and find the answer to Neil’s question on SoundCloud the end of this post. In the meantime, here’s some background.. (more…)