Jiving With The Greats: Lee Oskar – 22nd July 2009

Towards the end of last year, a student came for his first lesson at the Harp Surgery. ‘So can you already play anything?’ I enquired. ‘A few bits and pieces,’ came the reply, ‘I like the Low Rider tune.’ I nodded politely but had to confess I didn’t know it. So he played it for me. Dah-dah dah-dah dah dah dah, dah dah-dah dah dah! We spoke about the Marmite advert that used the riff and then carried on with the lesson.

I asked the Riverboat Captain (our webmaster) what he knew of Lee Oskar, WAR and the Low Rider tune. ‘You should check it out,’ said the Captain, ‘it’s good stuff. Especially the ‘World Is A Ghetto‘ album.’ And he filled me in on an area of music about which I had been totally ignorant. I looked at my small collection of Lee Oskar harmonicas in a totally different light. Time for the Good Doctor to pull out his press card and investigate. It was early morning somewhere near Seattle…

So Lee, tell me about arriving in America, aged 18, straight from Denmark, with no money..

Yes, I left Denmark when I was 18 for a life in the USA. I wanted to be in the music business. It was my main interest. My heart was in it. It was my dream.

Were things different in Europe at the time?

Yes, very different. The whole industry was focussed on the US rather than Europe. The UK had the Stones and the Beatles, but the US was the main hub for music. Europe has changed now. The music industry is now more homogenised all over the world. (more…)

Perfecting that 2 draw bend – Low Rider (War) [..with tab]

Lee OskarFew students ever arrive at the Harp Surgery knowing exactly how many bends there are or where they’re all located. Some think they do, but on closer inspection find there are gaps in their knowledge or ability. Some can draw bend but not blow bend. Some are unable to bend at all. This is a skill area that almost always needs attention. I firmly believe players of any ability should spend time working on the accuracy of their direct bends. No matter how good you are, those 3 hole draw bends can never be taken for granted.

When you start bending, it always pays to remember the Harp Surgery’s golden rule – it’s ok to make mistakes. That’s why they put erasers on the end of pencils. Perfecting your bends will involve an amount of trial and error. You will learn from your mistakes. And remember this is one of the most significant points of any harp player’s development. Be patient and persevere. You’re breaking into the big time!

In another article, we spoke about monitoring the accuracy of bends – How do I know I’m bending in tune? My conclusion was that all the electronic paraphernalia in the world is no substitute for using your own ears. Furthermore, instead of learning each individual bend in isolation with an electronic tuning device to determine your accuracy, far better to pick a fun tune and learn to play the bends in context. You’re a musician after all. If the bends ain’t right, the tune don’t work! (more…)