Big Walter’s Boogie – Walter Horton

Introduction

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.

Listen to

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, pay attention to the technique and detail, and you can master this show stopper for yourself. (more…)

Why Is 2 Draw So Difficult?

I think my harmonica’s broken…

When learning to play individual notes for the first time, 2 draw (2D) is often the hardest reed to master. We frequently receive emails asking, is it me or is there something wrong with my harmonica? It may not be what you want to hear, but the short answer is, it ain’t the harp! OK, point of order, we have had one occasion in the last fifteen years when the instrument was at fault, but there have been a couple of blue moons since then.

2D is a long old reed, which swings through a big slot as we play it. Picture in your mind a spring diving board, fixed at one end and unfettered at the other. The reed and the diving board behave in the same way. Consider also, the fact that 2D shares a chamber with 2B, another long reed in another big old slot. These two reeds are in constant interaction, working as a pair. So we expend a lot of air when we work in hole 2 and it can feel like we’re running out of breath really quickly.

Add to this the flexibility of the reeds themselves. With a choice of one natural and two bent positions, 2D is very sensitive to changes in air pressure. When we try to play 2D for the first time, it can sound mangled or flat, but don’t panic. Alternatively, despite our best efforts, it can simply not respond at all. At the same time we seem to be inflating much faster than when we play the neighbouring holes.

Fear not, this is a really common experience. So let’s look into things together and see if we can help you overcome an important hurdle in every harmonica player’s development. It’s a short process and we promise you it will be painless. Kim followed our advice and look what happened to her! (more…)

Soul Limbo – Split Rivitt (Part 1)

We respectfully dedicate these pages to the friends and family of Barney Jeffrey 1958-2008

Owzat!

Split Rivitt - Soul LimboThe 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 against 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.

Split Rivitt - Chris Warren, David Lyttelton, Dave Wilgrove, Barney Jeffrey, Mark HughesFrom 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. In the olden days, all summer long and across the nation, mothers were inadvertently swaying their hips to its tropical rhythm from behind their ironing boards. Meanwhile, fathers switched on the telly, then took to the settee with their pipe, slippers, a bottle of pale ale and an innate comprehension of cricketing’s complexities. Today of course the domestic scene is very different. Fathers vape to Sky Sports, while mothers limbo under the ironing board, swig craft gin and surf Netflix.

Listen to

Rinsing his toothbrush and still humming, the Good Doctor’s thoughts were arrested by the memory of a school mate slapping a shiny sliver of black vinyl onto the common room turntable, then grinning ear to ear as a raunchy harmonica version of Soul Limbo belted out through the stereo speakers. It was an irreverent piece of R&B; punky, zestful and hip.

(more…)

Whammer Jammer […with tab]

J. Geils Band - Full HouseYou gonna get it all down, get it all night, get it all right, get it out of sight and get it down baby?

Here’s the top entry in our ‘I wanna play like that’ hit list. Originally recorded on the J.Geils Band studio album The Morning After in 1971, Whammer Jammer reappeared a year later on the classic live album Full House. It is a power harping beast of the highest order.

Like the lunar landing, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, every power harp fan can remember when and where they were first Whammered! So, it’s time to reminisce a little, do some research and then, with the help of modern technology, deconstruct the song for you. Key of A major ten hole diatonics harps at the ready..
(more…)

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

Harps and Guitar 1A guide to straight blues harping

No force, however great, can stretch a cord, however fine, into a horizontal line which is accurately straight. Elementary Treatise On Mechanics (William Whewell)

The classic blues harmonica journey starts with a crusade to the Holy Shrine of cross harp. Whereupon, straight harp (normally in the guise of Oh Susannah) is swiftly abandoned. Drunk on the glories of success, and soon lavishly equipped with assault amplifiers and bullet microphones, the crusade continues.

New techniques are won – including tongue blocking, vibrato, blow bends and third position blues – before a dark specter looms like a cloud on the horizon; the ghost of first position past. It’s been neglected for too long and now it’s broken our serenity, and it’s raining torment. Here’s how to make amends…

Listen to

(more…)

Misty – Jerry Portnoy [..with tab]

On my own, would I wander through this wonderland alone.. Misty (Johnny Burke)

In 1995, Jerry Portnoy recorded his landmark harmonica album Home Run Hitter with The Streamliners. The record’s producer was Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, while Duke Robillard contributed guitar and vocals to the project. The result is a collection of songs that bounce, groove and swing like a beast.

Listen to

For harmonica players, the album provides many rewarding avenues for exploration. This is partly owing to the diverse rhythms and styles Jerry uses, but more importantly because of his unerring attention to detail. The title track Home Run Hitter for example, is one of the finest examples of first position blues harping you’ll ever hear. If this position is new to you, or you just need to brush it up a bit, grab an E harp and play along.

In Misty (the 1954 jazz standard written by pianist Erroll Garner, adopted by Johnny Mathis with lyrics by Johnny Burke), Jerry demonstrates his ability to hit and hold those awkward cross-harp bends that would leave most of us audibly exposed. Add in the exciting transition from ballad to swing time at the midway point, and we have two and half minutes’ worth of sublime jazz. (more…)