Whammer Jammer – Part 1 […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 #1 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 power harping 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 get nostalgic. We’ll reminisce a little, do some research and then, with the help of modern technology, deconstruct the song for you. A major diatonics at the ready..

My Whammer Jammer tale begins many years ago, when I learned a whole other harp instrumental called Swing Job by Nine Below Zero. I innocently believed I’d planted my flag on the pinnacle of power harping. But a friend brought me sledging back to reality on my arse. Bluntly, he pointed out I was playing a Whammer Jammer derivative and, noting my cluelessness, he pulled out a copy of Full House.

He dropped the needle on track four. My jaw dropped and my eyes glazed over. I had no idea the Centerfold band played R&B. Or they had opened for the Rolling Stones in the 1970’s. Worse still, I hadn’t heard of their harp man Magic Dick (aka Juke Joint Jimmy), the man with a sexy name and a crazy mane, who blew the back off his harps like a demolition worker.

Live At The MarqueeLet me hear ya Dickie!

In my naivety I was even unaware of the influence the J.Geils Band had on my favourite UK outfit, Nine Below Zero. Nowadays, when I reflect on a J.Geils live set list which included Homework, Pack Fair and Square and Whammer Jammer, the connection is blindingly apparent. I had been enlightened by my Ozzy mate.

Magic Dick credits Sonny Boy Williamson II’s Bye Bye Bird as his inspiration for the opening to Whammer Jammer. He also quotes the jazz horn greats (John Coltrane in particular) as being of great influence on his own playing.

Another observer on the Harp-L forum has pointed out similarities between the warbles on Little Walter’s ‘Backtrack’ and parts of Whammer Jammer. Magic Dick maintains that although he drew on both Walters when building his technique, James Cotton remained his biggest influence. Indeed the end stabs in Whammer Jammer have been compared to Cotton’s version of ‘Rocket 88’.

Acknowledgment to those who have gone before

A few years ago I discovered the semi-diagrammatic harp tab for Whammer Jammer on line compiled by Rick Barker. It was a ground breaking project and remains a useful resource for anyone investigating the song’s structure. I also pay tribute to Adam Gussow. His five part entry on YouTube and his interview with Magic Dick are invaluable points of reference. By the third installment, Adam obviously realised the sheer magnitude of the task in hand – it’s a tall order for any harp tutor.

While neither project is without error, both provide strong analyses for what is a very technical piece. The king of harp transcription, Dave Barrett, has also produced a beautiful score of the studio version, complete with harp tab and standard musical notation. This is a more accurate take on things and well worth obtaining. Meanwhile, and with thanks and full acknowledgement to all the above, I have chosen to take my own shot at tabbing the live version of Whammer Jammer for Harp Surgery readers.

So let’s get it crazy…

To play Whammer Jammer convincingly, good technique is essential and that’s something you will have to learn. Don’t worry, there are plenty of useful tips in our Harp Skills menu at the top of the screen and I will do my best to point out what’s happening as we go along. You can then investigate and perfect the required skills in your own time.

The basic skills you’re going to need are lungs like oil drums for power harping, a good sense of rhythm, the ability to switch between puckering and tongue blocking and a strong embouchure to avoid lip freeze on those high end blow bends.

To perfect things, you’ll also need to master fluttering, hand cupping, triple tonguing, tongue-blocked trills and whooping. If you are missing one or two of these techniques, don’t despair. Look on this as a prime study piece and use it to break into the Chicago and Rock styles of blues blasting.

Whammer Jammer song map..

  • Double-hit, fanfare intro
  • One unaccompanied solo section
  • Six accompanied twelve-bar sequences
  • Final flourish

Magic Dick uses so many techniques and effects, it’s best we lay out the essential notes first and then add any comments afterwards. A key to the tab is in our Harp Theory section at the top of your screen and here’s a copy of the track to get things started.

Double-hit, fanfare intro

4D’..4D   2D-5D

2D.. 2D”..1D

9B’..9B   10B..10B”

9B’ 9B

Fluttered : This short section is puckered apart from the 2-5 split which is fluttered.The split 2-5 draw is rapidly fluttered on-off-on-off with the front end of the tongue. The result is an alternation between the open 2-3-4-5 chord draw and the split, or blocked, 2-5 draw (E-D). You may need to perfect this technique. It is an in-out dabbing movement which momentarily blocks and then opens up the central 3-4 draw holes. It is not a draw trill across holes 4 and 5.

Tenuto : The notes at the end of each line are stabbed notes; they are emphasised. In this case, attack them and make an impact with them.

ModulatedMeanwhile you will need full control behind the blow bends. It’s what makes the audience sit up and pay attention. The full blow bend on hole ten is partially released and re-applied in rapid succession to produce a modulation. This is sustained by applying a serious amount of pressure from behind the blow bend and a repeated flexing of the central upper tongue area. You would use the same mechanism to produce a high pitched vibrato effect when whistling. Try it.

Unaccompanied intro section

Sonny Boy II plays ‘Bird’ (see above)on a C harp with an extended lower octave. The basic rhythm matches this part of Whammer Jammer. The chugging that follows is common to both songs too, however Sonny Boy uses a push-pull across 1D..2B..2D..2B..2D, while Magic Dick opts for a tongue blocked 1D..2B..3B..2B..3B. Beyond this the songs diverge and Magic Dick develops his own classic show stopper.

3….1 2B   3B..2B..3B 1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D (1D-2D) 3D’..3D’

1D   2B   3B..2B..3B 1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D (1D-2D)   3D’ 3D’

1D   2B   3B..2B..3B 1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D (1D-2D) 3D’ 3D’

1D   2B   3B..2B..3B 1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D (1D-2D)   3D’ 3D’

1D..1D..2B   4B   3D..2D..2B..(1B-2B)   4B   3D

1D   2B   3B..2B..3B 1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..3D

3D..1D 1D 2B 1D

  • Bold glissando
  • Bold articulatewith derdle-erder

[Harp Surgery sound file to follow]

1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D.. 1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D (1B-2B)

[1D-2D-3D..1D-2D-3D 2D   1D-2D..2B..1D-2D]

1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D (1B-2B)

[1D-2D-3D..1D-2D-3D 3D   2D..2B..1D]

1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D (1B-2B)

[1D-2D-3D..1D-2D-3D 2D   1D-2D..2B..1D-2D]

1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-2D   1D-2D..1D-B (1B-2B)

[1D-2D-3D..1D-2D-3D 2D   1D-2D   2B]

  • Bold articulate with derdle-derdle-derdle-der
  • Boldstun the notes by attacking with a drawn tuh-kah.

[Harp Surgery sound file to follow]

1D 4D (1B-2B-3B-4B) 4B   (1B-2B-3B-4B) 4B

1B 4B   3D’   (1D-2D-3D) 2D..2B..3B   3D’   4B   4B


[Harp Surgery sound file to follow]

3D (1D-2D-3D-4D) 4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D)   5B

3D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 5B

3D (1D-2D-3D-4D) 4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D)   5B

3D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 5B

[Harp Surgery sound file to follow]

1B   2B   2D”   2D

..1B..2B   2D”   2D

[Harp Surgery sound file to follow]

2D (1D-2D-3D) 3D   (1D-2D-3D) 4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 5B

2D..2D 3D   4D   5B

5D   (2D-3D-4D-5D) 5B   4D   (1D-2D-3D-4D) 4B

3D’..2D   2D”   1D..1B

2D   (1D-2D-3D)   3D   2D   2B   2D   2D”..1D   1D

[Harp Surgery sound file to follow]

3D-4D (16 beats)

3D’-4D’ (8 beats)

3D-4D (8 beats)

3D   3D   (power harp these last four lines!)

2D   2D

2D   2D (1D-2D)

2D   2D”..1D   1D

[Harp Surgery sound file to follow]

Bold accent with a swift upward bend (or portamento) into the note.

Boldstun the notes by attacking with a drawn tuh-kah.


Thetrills are accented across the first beat of each bar. Try to tongue block this. Don’t worry if you have to snatch a breath, Magic Dick does on one or two video takes.


Most of this section is played with a cupped microphone for fat tone. The tab marked in bold indicates open hands for a thinner tone. Pull slightly off the harp at the same time, allowing it to resonate naturally.

Blocking and Puckering

Magic Dick tongue blocks most of this solo section, including the straight and bent trills. Some notes are puckered however. These are shown in square brackets [ … ] The more you can accurately pucker, the better.

Pulls, Slaps and Pull Slaps

These three tongue blocking techniques are integral to the whole tune. They come from, and help generate, the soloist’s rhythm by rapidly applying the tongue for single notes (slaps), opening up from a single note to a group of notes by pulling your tongue off the harp (pulls), or closing down from a pulled group to a single note (pull slaps).

This technique is also applied to blown notes. You could describe pulled notes as incidental or passing notes which are sounded as you breathe. Initially you can get away without them, but they soon become an essential ingredient. So experiment! Pulls and Pull Slaps are indicated by rounded brackets ( … ) Regular slaps are used throughout the number but cannot really be indicated in the tab.

Six accompanied twelve-bar sequences

a) 2D 3D 4D 5D (4D 3D) 2D 3D 4D 5D (4D 3D) 2D 3D 4D 5D-6D~ 5B..6D~ 4D

b) 2D 3D 4D 5D (4D 3D) 2D 3D 4D 5D (4D 3D) 2D 3D 4D 5D-6D~ 5B..6D~ 4D

c) 1B 2B 3B 4B 1B 2B 3B 4B [ 3D’ 3D” 2D ]

d) 2D 3D 4D 5D (4D 3D) 2D 3D 4D 5D (4D 3D) 2D 3D 4D 5D-6D~ B5..6D~ 4D

e) 4D-5D~….. (8 beats) 6B 5D 4D 4B [ 2D 2D” 1D 1D ]

f) 4D-5D~ 5B..6D~ 5D-6D~ 5B..6D~ 4D-5D~ 5B..6D~ 5D-6D~ 5B..6D~ 4D-5D~ 5B..6D~ 5D-6D~ 5B-6D~ [ 10B 10B” ]

g) [ 9B articulated phrase I ]

h) (2D-3D-4D) [ 4D 4D 4D’ 4D… ] (4D 3D 2D gliss.) (2B 3B 4B). 4B 4B [ 3D’ ]

i) [ 2D 2D’ 2D ] 3D’ 4B 4B [ 2D 2D” 1D 1D ]

j) 6B 5D 4D 5D 6B 6B 5D 4D 5D 6B 6B 5D 4D 5D 6B 10B 10B”

k) [ 9B articulated phrase II ]

l) [ 2D 4D’ 4D…3D 2D gliss. 4D’ 4D…3D 2D gliss. 4D’ 4D…3D 2D gliss. 4D’ 4D…3D 2D gliss. ] 3D 3D 4B 4B [ 2D 2D” 1D 1D ]

m) [ (1D-2D) 4D’ 4D (1D-2D) 4D’ 4D (1D-2D) 4D’ 4D (1D-2D) 4D’ 4D (1D-2D) 4D’ 4D 4D’ 3D 4D’ 4D ]

n) (3D’) 3D’-4D’ 3D’-4D’ 3D”… (across 8 beats) (2D) 2D 2D 2D” 2D 2D” 1D 1D

o) 4D 5B 5D 5B 5D 5B [ 3D’ 2D 2D (2D) 2D 2D” 1D 1D ]

p) Wooooooh! (16 beats)

q) [ 3D’-4D’ 3D’-4D’… 3D’ 2D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 1D ]

r) Articulated triplets [ 4D-4D-4D 4D-4D-4D 4D’-4D-4D 4D-4D-4D 4D’-4D-4D 4D-4D-4D 4D’ 3D 2D 1D 2D 2D” 1D ]

s) [ 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D ]

t) [ 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D ]

u) [ 3D” 3D’ 3D” 2D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 3D” 3D’ 3D” 2D 2D 2D 2D” 1D ]

v) [ 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D ]

w) [ 4D’ 4D 4D’ 3D 2D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D 2D 2D 2D” 1D ]

Final flourish

[ 6B 5B 4D 4B (3D’) 3D 4D 5B 6B 10B 10B”…. modulated flourish ]


Once again, the tab marked in bold indicates open hands for projection.


The upward runs in lines (a), (b), (c) and (d) are glissandos. They are best achieved by running a tongue block across holes 2-3-4 in sequence, before a applying a slap on the same holes and drawing hole 5. The italicised 4 and 3 in brackets are passing or pulled notes as you return to draw 2 in order to repeat the glissando.


Magic Dick produces his trills using a tongue blocked head roll. If you’ve got crazy hair, you need to flaunt it. Line (f) is the extreme example. The follicley challenged (and those who prefer to keep brain and retinas attached) can use a standard hand roll or a hybrid. Of course you can also pucker. It’s almost as effective, but play it ‘wildly!’

Pulls, Slaps and Pull Slaps

These were covered in part three. They are tongue blocking techniques which are integral to the whole tune. Try them out. I mentioned that regular tongue slaps are used throughout the number and cannot really be indicated in the tab. One example occurs after the trill in line (e). Here the notes in holes 6, 5 and 4 need a good slap!


Line (g) is articulated:
‘dwit dwit dwit-dwit duh-diddit dwit-dit dwit-dit dwit-dit duh-diddit’

Line (k) is similar… although you could get away by repeating line (g)!
‘dwit dwit dwit- dwitduh- diddit dwitduh- diddit dwitduh- diddit dit dwitduh-diddit dwit’

Line (p) is falsetto in the style of Sonny Terry’s whoopin’ and hollerin’. Listen to the recording to get the pitch. Line (r) has repeated triplets. The very first note is a straight draw. A slight bend can be detected on the first of each subsequent paired triplet in order to accent the down beat. The articulation is diddler-diddler dwoodler-diddler dwoodler-diddler dwiddler and then into the 1 draw. The 3 draw bend in line (u) is ‘squeezed’ from 2nd bend to 1st and back into 2nd bend. So is the bend on draw 4 in line (w). Finally, it’s worth noting the blow 5 in line (x). For years I’ve been drawing it by mistake!

And that completes our project! The tab does appear complex initially, but this is a complex tune. In the words of Magic Dick – ‘Every little thing you do makes a difference.’

Check out the J. Geils Band, Nine Below Zero and Sonny Boy II in our music store.

Good harping to you!

8 thoughts on “Whammer Jammer – Part 1 […with tab]

  • April 9, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    Thank you for your comment on my Blowing the family jewels by William Clarke video on youtube. And thank you for the info on Whammer Jammer. I put up the results on youtube and the sound quality is a bit better.

  • October 28, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Cheers for the tips the other day, its the subtelties of the song that make it great! May have to come down to the surgery for a lesson on this tune, playing it live for the first time in December…
    Regards, The number 1 (and only :P) youth blues diatonic player in the UK

  • October 28, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Champion Jack Fuller!
    Congratulations! I watched your performance of Juke and you were great. Now you wear the crown. As for the other players of your early vintage out there? They snooze, they lose. Shiimpo (as the Meerkat says).

    And hey, time to turn that ‘may’ have to come down into a definite. You got the need, we got the power. Let’s get that fluttering and syncopation nailed for you my man. Any coaching you want – you know where to come. Just do it.

  • May 12, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Please put up the sound files you promised…I’m still waiting for them 🙁

  • May 26, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Preston my man – thanks for the prompt. I’ve just done my first Whammer Jammer workshop for the National Harmonica League (Uk NHL) and it helped me refine my original work. I promise you everything’s in the pipeline, it’s just a case of grabbing a couple of hours to set it all up on the site. Things have taken off recently with the HarpsCool project (www.harpscool.co.uk) so I have been heavily involved with getting UK elementary school children moving on the harps. Really exciting and great fun…and time-consuming! I think the balance is starting to shift. Thanks for your patience – please don’t desert the old Harps Surgery, your reward is on its way! :O)

  • December 17, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    thank you for your tab, this has been useful but would really, really appreciate the sound file for Wamma jamma, please

  • December 31, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Request noted Breezy. This is something we have planned for our site upgrade in 2014. Stay tuned!

  • November 2, 2014 at 7:04 pm

    2014 is on the way out. Hope to see the tracks here soon!

    Great wprk!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *