Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Who was your mentor?
Who was your mentor?
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Garlic Breath
89 posts
Jul 14, 2017
7:54 PM
I was typing a followup response to Tom Halchak's thread about the relevance of harmonica, when I realized that my post had become a story of how I had been accepted as a student by a group of disciples who were dedicated to preserving and advancing the teachings of one of Chinese Kung Fu's last great masters. In retrospect, it was an incredible stroke of luck which forever changed my life. It reminded me of Adam's story of having met Nat Riddles, and how that changed the direction of his playing, and I would assert, also his life. I have seen many great posts where forum members recount meeting some of the harp world's great players, and how it impacted them, so It seemed like a great topic to illicit some classic stories of players you've met or studied under, and how it altered the direction of your harp interest. It's not just the technical knowledge disseminated by this forum that shapes our world, but also the inspiring stories of the fellow practitioners who experienced fateful encounters with great mentors. Thank you all for being mine!
271 posts
Jul 15, 2017
10:02 AM
My mentor was MENTORS
1] All the instructional cd's--
Especially Jerry Portnoires 3cd and book- he taught bassline--- boogies---octave splits-backbeats -on n on great learning tool

2]slowing down all the greats new and old and learning there stiff-[even if it took years ,which it did'
3] but for me IT was "Rod Piazza"--When i started slowing down "Juicy Harp" "chicken Schack" Rockin robin" ON N ON
my backbeats --tounge slaps n pulls, [octave splitsw/ added notes] etc improved a lot
and his turnarounds go all over the place--u could sell a cd on his turnarounds alone

anyway Juke--Whammer Jammer--Room to move--Work song for minor--Juicy harp--mojo--Mr magic--Put it where u want it--Thrill is gone for minor--Summertime I use nat minor harp---on n on great songs to study n learn
1496 posts
Jul 15, 2017
10:37 AM
Pierre Beauregard and the Cambridge Harmonica Orchestra.
9521 posts
Jul 15, 2017
1:59 PM
I've had different people teach me things, but actually, the people who had the most influence on my music, my high school and college choir instructors, other people I randomly stumbled across,... some of them probably barely new who I was. My friend Shannon called my friend Jon once, who happened to be at my house, looking for people to go to open mic with (just to watch). Jon and I went, and it turned into a regular Monday trip. We included my friend Mikey, who I'd been in a garage band with with Jon, that had broken up (really I'd just written lyrics and sung a little backup with them. We did our one and only public performance as Mozart's Other Brother Daryl there). The hosts, Matt, Tom and Josh ran a great open mic that kept us coming back. We got to know the hosts. We got to know some of the other musicians. One of the regulars, a young lady named Jen Abounader, ran a song writer's circle. Shannon wanted to go, but wanted someone to go with her. I went and got inspired. My friend Jeff, who'd been our bands drummer, and I started our own band that lasted a few years and a lot of open mic appearances. My music improved a lot playing with him. We added Dan (who we met when he started dating Shannon), and his friend Mike (not Mikey).

Somewhere along the line I realized if I was going to be writing down music I needed to figure out the names of the notes I was playing well enough to quickly write stuff out, so I picked up harmonica. (I've got tendon problems in my wrists, everything else I tried caused flair ups).

Playing harmonica I looked up some videos. I ran into something our own Jason had put up and then suddenly thought, oh, this can actually sound cool. It could be something I could play (mostly before that I had heard Dylan and Petty). I ran across Adam's MySpace page and signed up for emails. I very nearly threw it in the spam folder because the first post's headline was 'Magic Dick, Whammer Jammer', and to someone who doesn't know harmonica that is a link you shouldn't click on.

I met people on the forum, Germanharmonicist, Adam, Isaac, and a lot of other great people. I could find people who could talk gear, music theory, art deco harmonicas from the 40s, whatever, and harmonica became a passion.

Of course I've watched a bunch of tutorials from various people, particularly Adam's. His videos on the 12 bar structure were exactly what I needed.

I tend to be unfocused. By having all sorts of different harmonica stuff on one site, MBH gave me a place where I could be 'unfocused' on different topics but still be learning more about the general topic of harmonicas. In a single day I could learn art history, music history, U.S. race relations, metallurgy, music theory, wave physics, art design and still find time to try to give something back.

Musically, my biggest influences are all over the place, Beatles to Nirvana, Bach to Beastie Boys.

So thanks to Dr. Wilson, Ms. Cady (can't spell her married name), Adam, the forum, Jen Abounader, Mike, Dan, Shan, Mikey, Jeff Jackson, Matt, Tom, Josh, Isaac, George... and I'd like to thank the accade... oh wait, getting a little carried away... is that the time signal?

Thread Organizer (A list of all sorts of useful threads)

First Post- May 8, 2009
171 posts
Jul 15, 2017
4:18 PM
Jon Gindick - Took me from zero to playing harmonica in a band. I owe everything harmonica related to this guy. He got me started playing, introduced me to the harp community, and gave me good advice when I started my microphone business. Thanks Jon.

Dennis Gruenling - Introduced me to tongue blocking and gave me some great advice that eventually moved me to 100% TB. He told me not to try to switch from lip pursing to TB. Just add a few minutes of TB to my practice routine and work on it just like any other harp technique I wanted to learn. I did, and one day I looked up and realized I was playing 100% TB.

Jim McBride
Bottle 'O Blues microphones
294 posts
Jul 15, 2017
4:51 PM
David Barrett, I had 2 1/2 years of private lessons with him.

Aki Kumar too, I've learned a ton from watching and playing at his jams.

Lucky to have these guys in my hometown is all I can say.
4' 4+ 3' 2~~~
-Mike Ziemba
Harmonica is Life!
493 posts
Jul 15, 2017
5:10 PM
I learned the most from a guy on these forums.

He goes by the name "sharpharp", and he is really good on the harmonica. Some even say that he is the best.

Other than sharpharp, probably the Three Stooges:
Three Stooges

Marc Graci
YouTube Channel

Last Edited by Mirco on Jul 15, 2017 5:11 PM
161 posts
Jul 15, 2017
5:42 PM
Dave Gage is my harmonica mentor. I was so lucky to move to his neighborhood. I appreciate the fact that he is a traditional music teacher.

Cadillac Zack is my blues mentor. So lucky to move to his neighborhood. He's been single-handedly running the best blues show on the West Coast for 10 years. He's the real deal, and good guitar player.

Both good businessmen. I'll never be like either one of these guys but they sure inspire.
64 posts
Jul 15, 2017
7:36 PM
I need to credit a few guys - Louis Myers, James Cotton, and Junior Wells. Each was giving of their time and advice. As a teenage novice I soaked up their advice (and criticism). Also, my friend, guitarist Luther Tucker, who was always very kind in what he said to improve my playing and listening.

Finally, Thomas Edison - it was his phonograph that provided consistent guidance when no one else was around.
2148 posts
Jul 15, 2017
9:01 PM
sharpharp is my mentor. He is the best!
Irish Soul
31 posts
Jul 15, 2017
9:24 PM
My Great Great uncle...he started me on an old German harp he brought back from WW1. He was in his late eighties or nineties when he taught me the basics. He wasn't famous, just a soldier that learned how to play in Europe.

I'd say I have to thank Jason Ricci...da Moon Cat for bringing me back to harp even if he didn't know it. Plus all his awesome vids, etc.

Adam Gussow for all the free lessons and the paid ones, as well as his writings.

Two guys nobody may suspect that have taught me a ton....one is Andrew Zajac for getting me down the road of tweaking and tuning....without him I would be out of luck keeping things in working and sometimes semi custom order.

. Another is Rockin' Ron for advice on harp choices, gear, the scoop on what guys are liking ....I consider customizers and sales experts mentors, too, just in a different way.I haven't known him as long as some but he's a huge help and a hell of a nice guy.

Jon Gindick and Ronnie Shellist, for sure, for videos. I hate to leave anyone out but I'm sure I will and it's unintentional.

I've never had the benefit of a Nat Riddles in my life directly but I haven't given up hope!
622 posts
Jul 15, 2017
9:26 PM
My Grandad,Dad and Uncles. My Grandad learned from his Dad and he in turn taught my Dad and 2 Uncles. My Dad, due to me bugging him, gave me one of his harmonicas when I was 10. I started right then getting all the info and instruction I could get. Learning all the old songs and how to play them. That was 58 years ago and I'm still learning.
Wisdom does not always come with old age. Sometimes old age arrives alone.
4260 posts
Jul 15, 2017
9:30 PM
Clint Hoover and Chris Michalek
My Website
My Harmonica Effects Blog
139 posts
Jul 16, 2017
12:27 AM
#1 Brother Benson, an old guy who played harp at our church. He took me under his wing when I was about 8 years old.

Hal Sherman (Director/Producer/Author) for sure, and numerous music teachers and comrades for general musicianship.

Dick Dale "King of The Surf Guitar" in one inspiring conversation about music regrets and playing by ear.

My current mentors are the generous contributors here and at Youtube. That would have to be a very long list.


In the 60’s "Brother Benson" was the only name I knew him by. He was a dapper old guy from our church. He was thin, always wore a three piece suit and carried a few harmonicas in his vest pockets. Brother Benson played by ear which seemed like magic to me. He did not sit with the choir or organist. He usually sat in the front row of pews. He told me that he played whenever the spirit struck him.

We sang a lot in church back then and it was always a high point when Brother Benson would suddenly stand up and bring the spirit. It was the type of church that folks would shout amen!

Brother Benson gave me harmonica lessons after church on the back porch overlooking a dairy near Artesia California. I just had one harp. I’m pretty sure it was a Marine Band. I remember brass rails giving me sores at the corners of my mouth. I recently asked my mom about Brother Benson and she could only add that he was a very fine man who also acted as a caretaker and that he lived in a small trailer on the church property.

It's about time I got around to this.
The Iceman
3253 posts
Jul 16, 2017
3:04 AM
is the "sharpharp" reference a satire or a real mentor?

I never had a specific mentor aside from a piano teacher in Detroit - Howard Lucas. It was like hanging out with Bill Evans and Ivan Moravec combined.

With harmonica, I was self motivated until the early 90's when I started seeking out the best teachers I could find - Augusta Heritage Blues Week, which included Madcat and Phil Wiggins, although I quickly absorbed everything they had and sought more. Then I was turned on to Howard Levy, whom I did two years with at Augusta Heritage for his small class (12 students) week long events.
The Iceman
172 posts
Jul 16, 2017
8:43 AM
I also need to call out all the great harmonica players in Atlanta that helped me along the way. Atlanta has some really good players and all of them helped me at one time or another. Some gave me lessons, others I learned from by watching, others just gave me advice. But all helped. In no particular order.

Joe Lee Bush (I think you guys know him - he was active on this forum some years ago)

Carlos Capote

Rich Machiz

Reece Nazzaro

Stoney Brooks

Matthew Smart

Matthew Shelton

I may have forgotten someone. So many great players in Atlanta.

Jim McBride
Bottle 'O Blues microphones
129 posts
Jul 16, 2017
9:17 AM
I started in music singing R&B AND DOO-WOP ,1963 ,I was 14, the black Baptist church in the town and some of their kids our age was a big influence.Also my uncle was a jazz sax man.I got into Harp and Guitar in 1968,so I got" too" meet all the great harp players and Jazz players in Philadelphia.Rahassahn Roland Kirk knocked me out, never will stop.....
1381 posts
Jul 16, 2017
9:50 AM
I think of a mentor as someone who directly gives you guidance, as opposed to someone who inspires you. I've had tons of inspiration, but very little in the way of mentoring.

When and where I started playing harmonica (Vancouver, BC in 1968) there simply wasn't anyone around to learn from. At my highschool there were two other guys who played harmonica. One of them, Harry Kalensky (who played drums at the time but later became a pro bass player), gave me the advice to "Get a C-harp, that's a good one," not knowing I was trying to play a tune in E (not your fault, Harry!). That set off a whole chain of cognitive dissonance that turned me into an investigator and ultimately an author and teacher. So in a sense, that bit of offhand advice made Harry a mentor.

Another mentor was trombonist and arranger-bandleader Dave Robbins. Dave began his career as a teenager, touring with big bands, probably in Texas, at the end of the 1930s, played with such name bands as Harry James, and eventually settled in Vancouver, where he both led hotel big bands, worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and taught at Vancouver Community College, where he helped found a music school staffed by working musicians, not ivory-tower types.

Dave had a deep knowledge and love of American popular music and, unusual for his generation, incorporated rock into his writing. But he also had a deep understanding of classical music and could write for any type of ensemble and with a lot of hipness (I mean the real stuff - originality based in understanding, not poser hipness). It was Dave who turned me on to Madcat, who was playing with Dave Brubeck at the time (about 1975).

I wish I could say Dave taught me all sorts of cool stuff about arranging. He did, sort of, mostly through insightful commentary on the work of other arrangers or going through his own scores while listening to the recordings. But when it came to my own stuff, he left me alone on the specifics while acknowledging my unusual approaches (which originated more in naiveté than in originality) and simply encouraged me, often in words but also by example. I think of Dave often, and treasure what I learned from him.

Much later, when I formed a relationship and dialogue with Toots Thielemans and tried to elicit advice from him, he spoke mostly in generalities. He preferred to focus on the energy of jazz life, and if speaking about music itself, would focus on the materials of music, such as scales and harmony, as opposed to harmonica technique (he didn't feel he had any, other than the obvious mechanics!).Thinking about that, I'm reminded of a remark by Stéphane Grappelli (violinist who worked extensively with Django Reinhardt) that a real musician will always find his way. While Toots never stated that outright to me, I can see a similar attitude in him. (And maybe that partly informed Dave Robbins' hands-off approach to my student arranging effort.)

Over time, I've learned that Toots had similar relationships with dozens of other younger musicians all over the world, all of whom got huge inspiration and encouragement from him but few of whom received harmonica-specific advice.


Check out my blog and other goodies at winslowyerxa.com
Harmonica For Dummies, Second Edition with tons of new stuff
Join us in 2017 for SPAH in Tulsa!

Last Edited by WinslowYerxa on Jul 16, 2017 11:41 AM
672 posts
Jul 16, 2017
10:19 AM
there was a great harmonica player in philly named billy burns. he had monster tone.well,he still does,he lives in florida now.
he had a band called the jukerockers,i would go to see him all the time and he would have me sit in sometimes.
he taught me a lot about microphones,amplification and electric technique.

i was fortunate enough to win a bet with james cotton.
he sat down and showed me third position in a major key. up to that point i had thought third was minor only.

both junior wells and carrie bell were very nice to me with critiques and advice.

also,in philly,there was a fantastic singer and guitarist named james ford. i was lucky enough to spend a good deal of time with him and lots of shows,driving around etc.

lots of fun in my life!!
130 posts
Jul 16, 2017
11:28 AM
Shakeylee, I jammed with Billy Burns a number of times.I played harp with The Flamin` Harry blues band from 1976to 1979.also some stuff with Steve Guyger and jammed with Joe Zook blues delux a lot long time ago and a lot of fun.....
1647 posts
Jul 16, 2017
12:32 PM
I'll probably realize I'm missing mentors but here goes...

In order of appearance (mostly)

Adam Gussow - YouTube videos starting around 2008. Especially in my first few months after discovering his videos & forum I went from just having a harmonica, not really knowing blues music, not really knowing how to bend, etc to being a practitioning harmonica player.

The Philadelphia Harmonica Club (while it existed) - Just spending time with its members and it was the club and its members who first got me on a stage playing with a band.

Seth Holtzman - club meetings, workshops, listening to him play, a few lessons.

Emile D'Amico - club meetings, workshops, listening to him play, I think about a good year of formal lessons and getting me into chromatic harmonica.

Chris Michalek - not too many formal lessons but we did email back and forth a lot and he got me playing piano.

SPAH - SPAH 2010 was huge for me as it was my first and really opened my eyes to what's available. Any other SPAH's were also valuable. I can't even estimate how much I've learned at SPAH and what the performances did for me. I went from being afraid to play at the beginners jam to feeling mostly comfortable at the nighttime pro jam.

Michael Rubin - years of lessons and mentoring, playing diatonic chromatically, playing chromatic in all 12 keys, helped me feel comfortable with transcribing, make me feel comfortable at jams back when I did not, and so on...

Mikey Junior - I've probably spent at least 2 weekends a month every month for 5-6 years now playing at his open mic jam in Philly. Lots of good times, lots of advice.

Jason Ricci - His YouTube videos, any formal lessons we had done together.

Harmonica Collective (2016) - I only made it the one year but I just loved that I could take part in every workshop being held, I didn't have to miss anything, every workshop I left feeling like I learned something.




See My Profile for contact info, etc.

Honkin On Bobo
1421 posts
Jul 17, 2017
6:45 AM
Ferris Bueller, duh. I mean, clarinet is not his only instrument you know.
674 posts
Jul 17, 2017
8:20 AM
nowmon- that's the good stuff!! NOBODY has tone like flamin harry!!

jp mcbride, maurice nazzaro is one of my favorite modern players.i will have to come down to atlanta and see some of these guys. i have lots of friends down that way ,and athens.
812 posts
Jul 17, 2017
8:39 AM
I started playing when i was 14. I was pretty much self taught until the age of 55. I then became aware of Adams lessons - great help. I also became goods friends with Deak Harp who has always encouraged me and showed me ways to do things. Being a U Blocker sometimes gets in the way though. What helped me the most - in the trenches - were a guitar player and a base player at a local open mic night. Both were established area musicians - Morris Tarbell, the guitar player was just elected to the Syracuse Blues Hall of Fame. I had stopped playing for 17 years and decided to get back in - thus meeting Adam and Deak. But it was these two local fellas that encourage me every week for several years .

Procrastinator Emeritus
2720 posts
Jul 17, 2017
11:34 AM
Mentors can come from a lot of different places and quite often they may not even play the same instrument. Recently, some of the people that I have learned the most from have been guitar players, drummers and singers.

I've had harp players that I learned from, but in terms of people teaching me something by sitting down and showing me. That's a completely modern phenomenon and I wasn't that fortunate. Everything that I learned, I had to learn the hard way by trial and error. I stumbled across a lot of stuff by making mistakes and I played a lot of stuff the wrong way.

I was fortunate enough to see a lot of really great players. I listened, watched and learned. I learned to watch and look for really subtle stuff by sitting very close to really great players. I remember a time when about a third of the audience at a James Cotton or Junior Wells shows were harp players trying to steal their stuff.

The Blues Photo Gallery

Last Edited by Joe_L on Jul 17, 2017 11:42 AM
22 posts
Jul 17, 2017
1:04 PM
A word to the wise: I myself hesitate to mention the name sharpharp, only because like the ancient Tantric masters of old, his teachings are so easily misunderstood and can be downright dangerous for the uninitiated..

But seriously folks, what a life-affirming breath of fresh air it's been to been to meet
and talk to so many players and appreciators over the years who've been so happy to lovingly, generously share their knowledge, life experience, and friendship. And what a relief it is to have experienced such irrefutable confirmation that the toxic mythology of hypercompetitiveness and information hoarding so beloved by our 'captains of industry' here in the U.S is like so much lint in overall scheme of things..

A few quick inpressions. Bumping into Kim Field in Pioneer Square in Seattle many moons ago and him taking the time to show me how to play Juke right then and there on my grungy beat-to-shit Marine Band in front of God and his universe..hearing Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee show me how it's really done up-close-and-personal and leaving a life-long impression..Hearing and watching Jerry Portnoy with Muddy from ten feet away at the Shaboo Inn in Storrs Ct..Meeting Butter and Cotton in Boulder and them treating a smart ass green kid with a lot of stupid questions like a prince..And now all you folks. What a long, strange, ghastly and wonderful trip it's been. Peace.
2993 posts
Jul 17, 2017
3:38 PM
My mentors were all in the flesh, living with, traveling with, onstage, experiences. Being in the audience is great but being onstage with them takes it to a different level at least to my way of learning. Seek out the best and offer your heart to them and very few will turn you away. Here is a partial list of my mentors:


walter tore's spontobeat - a real one man band and over 1 million spontaneously created songs and growing. I record about 300 full length cds a year in the Tunnel of Dreams Studio.
" life is a daring adventure or nothing at all" - helen keller

Smiling With Hope Pizza-pizza with a social cause

my videos

Last Edited by waltertore on Jul 17, 2017 3:40 PM
ted burke
570 posts
Jul 17, 2017
4:58 PM
I never had the opportunity to have anyone give me one on one instruction, which means i am pretty much self taught. I did obsess on harmonica players, though, both on record and locally. These were guys I listened to trying to get their sound, their licks, their tone, their phrasing. To varying degrees, I failed to get what they were doing, but was kept on the path of constant playing and practice until my own style, such as it is, formed and found expression. Butterfield is a constant influence, an example of Harold Bloom's "anxiety of influence" ( I think Adam would get that reference). Others who provided with clear ideas about attack, phrasing, tone would be:

Mark Bosworth, aka, Raphael Harp
Bruce Hartkinson
Ken Schopmeyer

Ted Burke

98 posts
Jul 17, 2017
6:16 PM
Teachers at the Augusta Heritage Festival Blues Week-
Larry Eisenberg
Joe Filisko

Tommy the Hat
599 posts
Jul 17, 2017
6:25 PM
2724 posts
Jul 18, 2017
8:05 AM
Sharpharp is simply The Best and extremely inspirational, but I don't find him to be a great mentor. He is a great role model, but his playing is at a completely higher level that most people can't grasp it's true greatness. Being around him might cause a person to hang in all up in quiet desperation, rather than spur them to the next level.

The Blues Photo Gallery
58 posts
Jul 18, 2017
8:47 AM
I have several, depends on the musicians and instruments. For when my first instrument was bass guitar, my influences included Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, & Geddy Lee of RUSH. For diatonic harp it was John Lennon. Chromatic harmonica goes to Toots Thielemans. But my biggest influence was my mother. She played & taught accordion. Growing up, she'd be on the porch on hot and humid Saturday nights playing the sweetest Polka in town. And many of the old timers who immigrated from Eastern Europe would come and listen. It was a weekly ritual with memories I will happily remember for life. So overall, the highest credit goes to my mother.

Last Edited by hot4blues on Jul 18, 2017 11:07 AM

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