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..

My Whammer Jammer tale begins many years ago, when I learned what I assumed was a unique harp instrumental called Swing Job by Nine Below Zero. Innocently, I believed I’d established myself at the pinnacle of power harping. However, a friend brought me tumbling back to reality and landing firmly on my arse. Bluntly (being an Ozzie), he made it clear I was playing a Whammer Jammer derivative, and he duly produced his Full House LP to prove the point.

Dropping the vinyl on the turntable and grinning, he guided the stylus to track four. As the musical mayhem unfolded, my jaw dropped and I stared into space bewitched. I had no idea the Centerfold band played weapon grade R&B. Worse still, I’d never heard of their harp man Magic Dick (aka Juke Joint Jimmy), the man with the sexy name and the crazy mane, who blew the back off his harps like a deranged pyrotechnician.

Live At The MarqueeLet me hear ya Dickie!
I was even unaware of the influence the J.Geils Band had on my favourite UK outfit, Nine Below Zero. With a set list that included Homework, Pack Fair and Square and Whammer Jammer, the connection should have been blindingly apparent. It was an harmonica epiphany.

Following the forensics, 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. Further analysis reveals influences from James Cotton (Rocket 88) and Little Walter (Back Track), to Big Walter Horton (Hard Hearted Woman).

Magic Dick himself 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 correlate directly with 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 his third instalment, Adam realised the sheer magnitude of the task in hand. Teaching this piece is a tall order, even for the most seasoned of harp tutors.

While neither of the projects mentioned is pinpoint perfect, both provide a strong analysis for what is an intensely technical piece. And while a perfect transcript is as likely as a flagpole bursting into bloom, the doyen of harp notation, Dave Barrett, has produced a beautiful score of the studio version, which is as close as it comes. It is meticulous and well worth obtaining. Meanwhile, and with full acknowledgement to those who have gone before, let’s take a Harp Surgery shot at tabbing the live version of Whammer Jammer.

So let’s get it crazy…
As a prelude, we should accept that to play Whammer Jammer convincingly, the right technique is essential and this is something we may have to learn. But what better reason to begin our quest for the summit? There are plenty of useful tips to help you acquire new techniques in our Harp Skills menu and I will point out what’s required as we go along. You can then investigate and perfect the required skills in your own time.

The bare essentials you’ll need are lungs like oil drums, a strong sense of rhythm, the ability to switch between puckering and tongue blocking and chops strong enough to avoid lip freeze on high pressure blow bend licks. As this is an electric harp piece, you’ll also need a rig to play through at some point, which in turn will unveil another layer of learning needs. But don’t despair if you haven’t a mic and amp, these are secondary to the main task.

For adding the final glaze of sonic confectionery, you will need to master fluttering, hand cupping, triple tonguing, tongue-blocked trills and falsetto whooping. And again, if you are missing any of these techniques, don’t despair. Look on this as an omnibus journey into a new blues neighbourhood and enjoy the ride.

Whammer Jammer song structure..

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

Top Tip
Listen to the tune a few times until you are able to run through it in your mind, or whistle or hum it unprompted. Try to filter out the melody from the textures; you can experiment and build these layers back in later. This winnowing process will provide a reliable mind map when reapplying everything to the harmonica. So exercise and build your ear muscles. Let’s get started..

Double-hit, fanfare intro
The piece begins with a couple of attention-getters. An extended flutter and stab (in effect a drum roll and cymbal crash on the harmonica), and then a special high-end lick.

Listen to

4D’..4D   2D-5D
2D.. 2D”..1D

Listen to

9B’..9B   10B..10B”
9B’ 9B

Fluttered : This opening two notes are puckered and the 2D-5D split which is fluttered. This is a rapid on-off-on-off tongue blocked movement, rather like articulating lull-lull-lull-lull as you draw in. The result is an alternation between the open 2-3-4-5 open draw chord and the blocked, 2D-5D draw (E-D). It’s not an easy motion for everyone and you may need to practise it slowly at first. Note that this is an in-out dabbing movement which momentarily blocks 3D-4D to create a 2D-5D four hole split. It is not a lateral sweep, nor a drawn 4D~5D trill.

Tenuto : The notes at the end of each line are stabbed notes; they are emphasised. Attack them and make an impact.

ModulatedMeanwhile you will need full control behind the blow bends. This is what makes the audience sit up and pay attention. It also book-ends the whole piece. The full blow bend on hole ten is partially released and re-applied in rapid succession to produce a modulation; we call this tongue vibrato. 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

2D..2D”..1D..1D

[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.

Bold stun the notes by attacking with a drawn tuh-kah.

Trill

The trills 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.

Cupping

>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

hese 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 ]

Cupping

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

Glissando

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.

Trills

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!

Articulation

‘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!

16 thoughts on “Whammer Jammer […with tab]

  • April 9, 2009 at 9:54 pm
    Permalink

    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.
    Tony

  • October 28, 2009 at 11:45 am
    Permalink

    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
    Permalink

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

  • May 26, 2011 at 9:55 am
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    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
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    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
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    Request noted Breezy. This is something we have planned for our site upgrade in 2014. Stay tuned!

  • November 2, 2014 at 7:04 pm
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    2014 is on the way out. Hope to see the tracks here soon!

    Great wprk!

  • March 28, 2019 at 12:14 pm
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    Great material thank you!

  • May 29, 2019 at 12:05 am
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    Thanks Daniel. Come back soon. The Good Doctor x

  • June 12, 2019 at 6:51 pm
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    Hi believe or not I can play 99% of Whammer Jammer however they key note the 10 hole blow bend I can’t master worth a damn. What note is this and can it be gotten using another harp on a different hole bend ?

  • July 29, 2019 at 2:18 pm
    Permalink

    Hi Peter,

    The blow note modulates slightly between the first and second bends in 10B. These are a semitone and tone below the Key of your harp respectively. So on an A harp the notes will be Ab and G. There are tons of options for finding these notes on other harps, with and without bends, but you’re not going to stop and swap harps mid flow, just because you have yet to master this important skill are you? Come on, set your barrow down and get some blow bend lessons under your belt. Give me a call/email if you like and we can Skype it. Doesn’t take long, you just need to learn and apply the technique.

  • June 10, 2020 at 1:55 am
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    Hi, thank you for posting these tabs. I found the sound files up top very helpful any chance there are files available for the rest of the song?
    Much appreciated!

  • June 16, 2020 at 10:38 am
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    Thank Mr McGee. Watch this space.

  • June 28, 2020 at 3:37 am
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    Hey, Wilf, real great stuff here. I’ve been playing harp for 15 years and during that time never came across as good of a breakdown of Whammer Jammer as this. Really appreciate your site and all the excellent content you bring to the harmonica community. I did have some issues with the links on some of the sound tracks but otherwise this has helped me more than anything. Anyways, happy harping.

  • August 9, 2020 at 11:48 pm
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    Hey Tom, thank you so much. That’s a wonderful testament. I do plan to fix the sound links, so come back soon.

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