Blues Harp Radio – Radio Caprice

Blues Radio IconCruisin’ and playin’ the radio

The Good Doctor had closed the Harp Surgery for the day and was just settling down to a medicinal Jim Beam when the doorbell rang. It was Otis the postman with some extra news for blues harp fans.

Otis had been messing around with the Internet Radio App on his new bluespad and stumbled across Radio Caprice’s twenty-four hour Harmonica Blues channel. Perfect for after-hours listening at the Surgery.

With no particular place to go

Radio Caprice is a free Internet Radio Station broadcast from Russia and can be located through most Internet Radio search engines. Listeners are treated to the classic tones of masters such as James Cotton, Big Walter, Rod Piazza, George Butler and Junior Wells, as well as one or two very pleasant contemporary surprises. Ron Sorin, The Pera Joe Blues Band and Sven Zetterburg are just a couple of examples the Doc and Otis grooved on down to.

Switching to cold shots of Stolyichnaya in celebration, Otis and the Doc stoked the winter coal fire and kicked back for an evening of top class entertainment. David Rotundo’s That Girl had them shimmying like a pair of old hippies on flower power. Nostrovia Radio Caprice!

Why Is 2 Draw So Difficult?

ONE FROM THE ARCHIVES: Problems with draw 2 came up in a Harp Surgery lesson today, so we thought a revisit was overdue. Here’s our original post from five years ago with some important updates.

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Help, my harmonica is broken!

When learning to play individual notes for the first time, 2 draw is often the hardest reed to master. ‘Is it me or is there something wrong with my harmonica?‘ is normally the question that arises. The short answer is, it ain’t the harp!

2 draw is a long old reed moving through a big old slot. And with a choice of one clean and two bent draw notes (as well as an adjacent blow reed that facilitates the bends), the draw reed itself is pretty sensitive. As a beginner, we get the feeling that 2 draw refuses to co-operate. It also seems to empty our lungs much faster than all the other reeds.

Fear not. Let’s look into this together and overcome an important hurdle in every harmonica player’s development. It’s a short process and we promise you it’s all quite painless. (more…)

Andy Santana, Gary Smith and Aki Kumar, Poor House Bistro, San Jose, Sat 22.Jan 2011

Slow down chariot, come down easy

Listen up people. The Good Doctor recently dropped into San Francisco for the winter sales, jumped the Caltrain to San Jose and bagged him a bargain. Three for the price of one, plus a surprise bonus.

What are we talking about? Only a one night stand with Andy Santana, Aki Kumar and the legendary Gary Smith, that’s what. Oh, and a Sunday morning helping of Dave Earl.

Now we don’t make this stuff up. As Andy Santana’s band took the stage, the San Jose Sharks fans were busy fuelling up for their scrap with the Minnesota Wild. It was t-shirt weather (in January for crying out loud) and the local brew was tasting just right. Time for a winter feast of west coast blues harmonica. (more…)

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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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 now equipped with assault amplifiers and bullet microphones, the crusade is remobilised.

New techniques are won – including tongue blocking, vibrato, blow bends and third position blues – before a pale figure appears on the horizon; the ghost of first position. Time to go back to square one.

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Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers – The Railhead, Las Vegas, Thursday 14th January 2010

You just wait till he does his walkabout and gets up on the table

Rod Piazza ©FrankVigil.comThe Good Doctor found himself back in Vegas for the post-Christmas lull. It was strange seeing folks in coats and jackets complaining about the cold in a City that is normally a kiln. But the white tops on the nearby mountains, the absence of crowds and an ill wind blowing through the valley spelt winter in Sin City.

The Doc was in need of something to warm the soul and what better than a Vegas helping of Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers? He jumped a cab and rode out from the Strip to the Boulder Station Hotel and waded across the Casino floor to the The Railhead. Standing in line, he was engaged in conversation by Carol, a regular winter migrant from Michigan. Oh I’ve seen Rod Piazza many times. This your first? she quizzed. The Doc nodded and smiled, showing full British reserve. Oh you just wait till he does his walkabout, gets up on the table and Honey starts playing that piano with her toes. The Doc’s grin broadened. Sounds more like the Cirque du Soleil he thought to himself. (more…)

Win a Voucher for Seydel Söhne Harmonicas

Seydel Söhne 1847 Classic[Note: competition now closed.]

Harps down, heads up! Our lovely friends at Seydel Söhne are offering you the chance to win an e-voucher to the tune of €30.00 (US residents $40.00). If you submit three correct answers to our quiz before midnight (GMT) Jan.10 2010 and are one of three lucky names drawn at random from the Harp Surgery’s ugly hat, an e-voucher will be winging its way to your inbox.

All you have to do is study our competition questions, find the correct answers on the Seydel Söhne website and drop us an e-mail, stating your country of residence and your three competition answers (you can also access the Seydel Söhne site by clicking the yellow logo in our Partners menu to the right). (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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Harmonica Effects 1 – Police Sirens

Jake, Elwood and The Blues MobileOur Lady of blessed acceleration don’t fail me now

As we know, every Blues Harp player grows twitchy when they hear the sound of Cop Cars in pursuit. Unless, of course, they happen to be driving one themselves. But have you ever tried to imitate the sound of a police chase on the harmonica? Grab your nearest diatonic and we’ll take a look. But before we do, just a few words from our sponsors, fresh from the Mount Prospect City police auction..

  • Jake: The Caddy. Where’s the Caddy?
  • Elwood: It’s been traded for a microphone.
  • Jake: I can see that.
  • Elwood: Like it?
  • Jake: No I don’t like it
  • [Elwood floors the gas pedal and leaps an opening drawbridge]
  • Jake: Car’s got a lot of pickup
  • Elwood: It’s got a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant, it’s got cop tyres, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. What do you say, is it the new Bluesmobile or what?
  • a brief pause as Jake lights his cigarette with a Zippo lighter – having previously thrown the electric car lighter out of the window]
  • Jake: Fix the cigarette lighter (more…)

Journeyman’s Road by Adam Gussow (Part 1)

Elwood the Apprentice seeks wisdom in the holy scriptures (of blues harmonica)

[UPDATE: Part 2 of the review is now live.]

Well, as I was saying – it’s the end of a Gussow era but not the end of the Gussow era. There’ll be no more free YouTube lessons, but there’s more Gussow wisdom to be harvested for the apprentice blues player – assuming you’ve not yet read Journeyman’s Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner’s Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York.

“In the skilled blue-collar trades,” writes Gussow, “a journeyman is a way station and job category: no longer an apprentice, not yet a master.”

Well, there you have it. This delightful patchwork of essays, scatter shot and rapid-fire in their wisdom, chronicles Gussow’s journey to becoming a master – and he’s crammed in every titbit of wisdom accrued along the way. It’s like a little street manual on how to graduate from your apprenticeship and start the sometimes weary trudge towards mastery. There are threads on blues culture, threads on jam session etiquette and ‘sitting in’, threads on blues history and blues future. And the result is a palimpsest which, when held up to the light, might just give us new ways to understand ourselves. (more…)