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What Happened to the Harp in Rock and Roll?
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MindTheGap
550 posts
Mar 06, 2015
10:08 AM
Why didn't the amplified harmonica make it as a must-have instrument in a rock n roll lineup? It had all the right characteristics. Angry, loud, distorted, cheap.

Was it used to start with, then got dropped?

(I don't mean as a special on some songs, but as a must-have).

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Mar 06, 2015 10:10 AM
ted burke
111 posts
Mar 06, 2015
12:39 PM
The guitar is a much more visual , dramatic instrument for the purposes of rock and roll showmanship. Even people in the nose bleed seats could see Peter Townsend doing his windmills and Malmsteen's fingers blurring as he scorched the frets. A good rock guitar showman could easily make his instrument into an Arena spectacle. That was attractive to fans, mostly males, many of whom wanted to be that guy in the spot light. Harmonica players are at a disadvantage in that no can can actually see the instrument they are playing in a large venue; from even a few rows back, a harmonica player looks like he's eating the last bite of a Big Mac, not playing music. And, it might be added, perhaps too few good harmonica players read music.
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Goldbrick
890 posts
Mar 06, 2015
1:43 PM
It was a must have instrument thru the British invasion time,

Johh Lennon, Brian Jones, Paul Jones, Robert Plant , Jack Bruce--etc, etc were all harp players.

It became the " poor man's sax" that was prominent in 50's rock and roll..

By the 70's and prog rock it kinda fell out of favor but you still ahd J Geils Band , Ozark Mountain Daredeils etc keepin' on







Last Edited by Goldbrick on Mar 06, 2015 2:48 PM
rainman
157 posts
Mar 06, 2015
1:51 PM
They say the Harp of rock and roll is still beating
And from what I've seen I believe 'em,
Now the old boy may be barely breathing
But the Harp of rock and roll, THE harp of rock and roll is still beatin' !


Maybe I misunderstood the question...;)

Last Edited by rainman on Mar 06, 2015 1:53 PM
HawkeyeKane
2737 posts
Mar 06, 2015
1:55 PM
good call rainman! I was about to mention Huey as another example!

Then you had bands like Supertramp, Aerosmith, Petty & Heartbreakers, War, CCR, etc...
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jbone
1899 posts
Mar 06, 2015
3:12 PM
Imho the advent of synthesizers and a general move toward more sophisticated electronic sound was also a move away from harmonica. Harp has been in popular music for what, 100 years or more?
My first concert was J. Geils and I was awestruck by Dick.
Over several decades I have had a love for and obsession with that particular sound and the way it feels to make it. Everyone from SBI and Rice Miller to Pryor, Butter, and all the rest have led me along the path. I think it takes a special kind of person to pursue harp as a hobby/career/avocation. There is just no substitute in my book.
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JustFuya
756 posts
Mar 06, 2015
5:23 PM
I wonder if rock is still recovering from the disco era but that's beside the point. I don't think the concert going, music buying public has a discerning ear (generally speaking). Their money is going into the hip jar and I have no idea who is deciding what's hip. Did I miss Woodstock III?

When I see a great harp solo during the halftime show of a Super Bowl I'll know we have turned the corner. (End of old fart rant.)
Popculture Chameleon
36 posts
Mar 06, 2015
6:42 PM
The only guys in rock band I'm aware of that still uses the harmonica even on occasion is Steven Tyler and Aerosmith and of course Bob Dylan. Guys like John Popper are still top notch in the rock community but in order to stay mainstream they would have to release a hit song once or twice a year which is pretty difficult to do on its own.
What I think would need to see happen in order for the harmonica to become Mainstream would be that not just one but a small handful of bands using harmonica came out all at once with Harmonica as a main instrument launching a string of hits to make any kind of impact. Granted the Harmonica can easily be placed in Blues music but to put it into any other kind of popular music like rock and pop and alternative rock- heck even rap- is pretty difficult to do.
nacoran
8315 posts
Mar 06, 2015
7:22 PM
My brain is drawing a blank, but I just heard some harp in some fairly contemporary (last couple years) harp in some hard rock the other day. Gah. It's right on the tip of my tongue.

Edit- not the one I was thinking of, but Eddie Vedder plays a bit of harp for Pearl Jam, and of course Alanis Morissette played some (awful) harp on some of her albums. I guess those aren't terribly contemporary these days, but they were in a time I remember. Shakira plays a bit, and Kei$ha brought someone in to steal a Lee Oskar riff (although I'm not sure you'd consider them rock so much as pop.)

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Nate
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First Post- May 8, 2009

Last Edited by nacoran on Mar 06, 2015 7:25 PM
nacoran
8316 posts
Mar 06, 2015
7:28 PM
And lets not forget Viking Metal! The forum's own J-Sin is pretty epic.



And a little bit here in Guns & Roses of all places.






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Nate
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Last Edited by nacoran on Mar 06, 2015 7:37 PM
MindTheGap
552 posts
Mar 06, 2015
11:58 PM
Ataturk Band - Prince of Freedom!!!!! I've always wanted to visit Finland. Now I'm not so sure :)

Thanks for this great set of answers. I think they have deepened the question, because they demonstrate what a great fit the harp is on all eras of rock. Ok, maybe not prog rock? Is there a clip of Peter Gabriel doing a 10 minute harmonica piece, dressed as a bee, for instance?

I have early memories of British bands where there is some wild harmonica interlude e.g. the Kinks, just like in thr '13th Floor Elevators' number (I know they are US).

I just get the impression that somewhere during the birth of RnR all that technique of amplified tone and technique built up in amplified blues got sidelined. Whereas as that chuffing guitar technique just kept on going.

I can certainly buy Ted's concept, it's not visual enough.
Diggsblues
1676 posts
Mar 07, 2015
3:38 AM

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Barley Nectar
701 posts
Mar 07, 2015
8:00 AM
Granted the Harmonica can easily be placed in Blues music but to put it into any other kind of popular music like rock and pop and alternative rock- heck even rap- is pretty difficult to do.
@ Popculture, Sorry buddy, I'm not buying that statement. The only thing limiting harmonica to blues is us!...BN
R2D2
21 posts
Mar 07, 2015
8:24 AM
I don't buy that statement. It is all over country music which is more like pop rock these days. You also hear it in numerous commercials and TV shows.

And don't forget one of the best harp intro solo's ever with Charlie Musclewhite in INXS' Suicide Blond.

And Willie and Jimmy Buffet count too.

Even Kid Rock has some harp in his latest song.

Last Edited by R2D2 on Mar 07, 2015 8:37 AM
nacoran
8318 posts
Mar 07, 2015
11:31 AM
Mindthegap, I don't know about Peter Gabriel dressed as a bee, but I know there is a video somewhere of Christelle using one of his songs as a backing track. It fits very nicely.

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Nate
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First Post- May 8, 2009
MindTheGap
554 posts
Mar 07, 2015
11:45 PM
Nacoran - I found it, very tasteful. This is the beauty of the MBH meandering thread - in my OP I was thinking of the absence of harp on early RnR numbers, but it led to discovering this kind of thing. Thanks!



Diggsblues - I'd never heard Psychotic Reaction before (Wikipedia calls it an acknowledged cornerstone of garage rock) and it typifies what I heard of the harp used on garage rock numbers: reverb-laden chords and 4-draw wails - and shakes on other numbers. Iconic sounds of course, but no longer the Mother of the Band?

And what is Kenn up to, bothering Butch during his drumming?

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Mar 07, 2015 11:47 PM
HarpNinja
4051 posts
Mar 08, 2015
6:07 AM
I consider myself a rock player. It is far and away what I do best. I think what limits the harp from being more involved in any genre is harmonica players themselves - both the obsession with playing post war blues and reluctance to learn the harp as an actual instrument.

At the end of the day, rock is pretty much dead and it is unlikely the harmonica become any more popular on the radio than it has been.
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Gnarly
1270 posts
Mar 08, 2015
8:27 AM
I am primarily a guitarist and so feel qualified to post my thoughts.
First of all, it seems to me to be much harder to play really well on harmonica than guitar--with guitar, you can really let the amp do the heavy lifting, harp not so much.
Secondly, you can't sing and play harmonica--or, you shouldn't! Granted you can do call and response, singers are less inclined to study an instrument that doesn't allow them to accompany themselves.
In my opinion, the physical posture assumed by players informs their reception. What I mean is, how you hold yourself and that stance creates an impression on the listener.
Guitarist use a variety of stances, and they all convey emotion. I sat during most of my three hour gig last night, but I was doing a solo and I'm 62 (it was a 60th Bday party). Even so, much of the time I was presenting the guitar in a manner that made it easy to watch--and people like to watch.
When we play harmonica, we assume a posture that indicates tension. I like to call it the "oh no" pose--hands up to the head on either side. Plus, no one can see what you are doing, and that doesn't help gain attention.


My final suggestion as to why harp is not more prevalent in rock music is monetary. Guitars are cheap and prevalent, and you can create a large sound with them, articulating bass lines, chords and melody, sometimes all at the same time, as well as providing percussion. Harmonicas are less prevalent and more expensive in the long run (if you want to play in all keys, something that is much easier on guitar). I can't think of a contemporary music that employs harmonica more than guitar.
Of course, much of today's music (not that I study it) is created without real instruments at all, and that is not an incentive for a young person to want to devote their time and energy to learning an instrument. Much easier to concentrate on other aspects of the music experience--of course, devotion is its own reward.

Last Edited by Gnarly on Mar 08, 2015 8:36 AM
CarlA
713 posts
Mar 08, 2015
8:45 AM
With differing musical trends, the instruments employed to evoke said style will differ. There was a time in musical history when the harpsichord was a featured instrument in Baroqu music. When is the last time you saw a harpsichordist? Harp was prevalent in blues because of the emotional aspect that a good harp player can convey. Guitar became prevalent in Rock and roll because of the visual component, and showmanship. Unfortunately, this has led many guitarists with self-inflated egos and resultant jerk-off mentality, where playing louder is more "applicable".
Now, the dominant musical expression of the day is pop/rap. The guitar is non-existent in that sphere/genre of music. When is the last time Rhianna, 50 cent, eminen, Katy perry, etc busted-out in a guitar solo?
Today's music is about image and sex. Nobody gives a dookie about either harmonica or guitar!!
........or saxophone:)

Last Edited by CarlA on Mar 08, 2015 8:46 AM
harpdude61
2235 posts
Mar 08, 2015
9:08 AM
Heart of Rock n Roll is 30 years old. Peter Gabriel song is over 25. Supertramp, Aerosmith, Petty & Heartbreakers, War, CCR? It's been 10 years or more since Aerosmith had a hit with a touch of harmonica.

Can you turn on the radio today to modern rock, contemporary rock, or top 40 and hear some harp. Very rare.

You can surf the FM dials and are more likely to hear a bit of harmonica on a country channel than anything else.

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walterharp
1605 posts
Mar 08, 2015
9:26 AM
i am with ted on this one.. what happened to ALL OTHER INSTRUMENTS THAT WERE IN POPULAR MUSIC BUT GUITAR?.. the drummer is needed but gets shoved into the back.. otherwise it is all guys stroking giant phallic symbols for show....
The Iceman
2313 posts
Mar 08, 2015
9:32 AM
I used to work with a real Rock n' Roll photographer 15 years ago when we both lived in Orlando.

His photos have been widely published throughout the rock and roll magazine world and he schooled me in the real deal for rock and roll...

Guitars, drums and lead singers are the most important part of the scene, mostly from a visual standpoint. He told me that keyboard players are minor players and work well mostly if they are dressed like Beethoven for that stage look. since sitting down while playing lacks that high energy of a guitar strutting the stage making faces while playing. Portable around the neck keyboards helped a bit for a minute.

This may apply to harmonica players, as they don't have that rock and roll visual on stage while playing for the most part.
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Goldbrick
892 posts
Mar 08, 2015
9:37 AM
Gee I am a 13 year old boy full of new testosterone and anger. Do I want to spank a plank and scream or hunch up an eat a tin sandwich?

Girls think harp is for their nerdy uncle, sax is for band nerds and keyboards is for " the brainy piano kid"

Drums and guitar are awesome and bass is for the kid who just wants to be in a band and wasnt really good at guitar ( or another chick- girl bass players are cool)

Trust me I have teenage twins
harpdude61
2236 posts
Mar 08, 2015
10:13 AM
Get a wireless mic and be as visual as any instrument. Get out amongst the people. We can complain and evaluate all we want, but until we take it upon ourselves to "rock out" on our little instrument it won't make the comeback in Rock n Roll that I know it can. People tell me they hear my band, but see me. Trying my best to pick up new harmonica fans every day!

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Last Edited by harpdude61 on Mar 08, 2015 10:15 AM
HarpNinja
4054 posts
Mar 08, 2015
12:23 PM
Rock, as we know it, is commercially dead in pop culture. Other than country music, guitar is nothing compared to what it is a generation ago. Drums and bass are on the wane too.

I work with a lot of 20 somethings and always ask about music. They listen to music all the time, but never check out live music.
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harpdude61
2237 posts
Mar 08, 2015
1:02 PM
I agree with ninja. Never thought I would say this, especially as commercialized as it is, but country music has more soul and feel than the current rock/pop stuff.
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Rontana
54 posts
Mar 08, 2015
1:07 PM
Yeah . . . forget about the harp aspect . . . what happened to the "rock" in rock n' roll?

The times, they've already changed (and will no doubt change again . . . for either good, bad or indifferent).

The upside, for those of us of a certain age, is that we can now enjoy the surreal experience of yelling at brats to get off the lawn while cranking up some Stones, Meatloaf or Foghat.
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HarpNinja
4056 posts
Mar 08, 2015
1:34 PM
There is more and better music than ever, however, it isn't on the FM radio, and it isn't "pop". The same has probably always been true, but pop music makes up the minority of music.

What is different, IMO, is the way we consume music. It is now mobile devices, and not venues that provide our music.

I am getting old because I am not that into YouTube. I still prefer hearing more than seeing.
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Dr.Hoy
8 posts
Mar 08, 2015
2:45 PM
I didn't think harmonica was ever used in early rock 'n roll, by which I mean Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and so on…there just isn't any to be heard, not to my knowledge anyway.
jbone
1901 posts
Mar 10, 2015
3:35 AM
How many of you guys have been to a blues festival? You see it all, and yes guitars rule mostly, but ask some of the real deal blues harp guys if it worries them to be or not be in top 40 radio. Some things are done for art or love.
As for posture on stage I have adopted sitting since my last two duo partners sat. And sit. There are other ways to establish contact with an audience than thrashing around flogging a guitar. Ways like actually speaking with the crowd and not at it, like playing and singing in a relaxed yet honest and forthright manner, like playing basic roots and blues with passion.
I have never been in this for the top 1% who have made a huge mark in music society, I have been in it for my soul food and to honor and respect the greats.

The radios in the vehicles I drive feature rock shows and blues hours as much as possible, it's how I came up. Most hormonal teens are not listening to what I listen to, yet when Jolene and I are on the street someplace playing, a part of our audience is the young restless kids who sport death metal t-shirts or even respectable button-downs. We've had a tail end charlie kid sneak back to drop a buck in the hat more than once, as long as his "hip" pals didn't see him do it.

If you think blues is dead, rock is dead, why have you not moved on? Or done some work to preserve it? Every time I go out and play I am doing a little bit to turn people on to real music. At the same time I am feeding my own soul and sharing wonderful moments with my soul mate. Unique situation and most are not as lucky as I am that way, but I maintain, if you care for the music, get out and spread it around!

I have played on covers of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis in a band or two and at open mic/jam nights. Rock and roll was derived from blues so why not? I have put a harp part to a song Dylan gave to Hendrix.

My goal every time out is to reach 1, 4, or 40 people and give them a good time, hearing stuff they never heard or don't remember hearing. The whole blues idea is about resonating in the heart and it does that like no other genre.

Stop by and visit with us next month at Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale MS. Come by Copper Penny Pub in Hot Springs AR the weekend after. Or in between we're at East End Cafe in East End AR on 4/14. We'll be doing some early roots rock along with the blues.
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CarlA
716 posts
Mar 10, 2015
5:22 AM
@jbone

"If you think blues is dead, rock is dead, why have you not moved on? Or done some work to preserve it?"

It sounds like noble advice, but in reality/practically its like pissing in the ocean to try to raise the tide ;)


Many will disagree, but in my opinion JR and "New Blood" were the best chance for blues/rock to experience a real revival of the genre and the harp to a widespread, younger audience. They were a tight band with a GREAT sound that spanned beyond the "old school" blues mold, while at the same time still remaining loyal and firmly grounded to it. They had the visual appeal, swagger, and overall "look and feel" that could have very easily molded with the mainstream. That ship has sailed, but I still believe there is a chance for JR to explode into the mainstream.

I love me some old school blues, but let's face it! There is nothing thats appealing to mainstream audiences about listening to over-age, overweight, bald/balding musicians piping-out the same old post-war harp licks repeated ad nauseum.

Last Edited by CarlA on Mar 10, 2015 5:26 AM
nowmon
14 posts
Mar 10, 2015
7:59 AM
I saw and heard some honkin` harp with a hip-hop show.they had a funk loop with bass and drum and the top sound was a honkin` harp playing a hip-notic riff.also they had five chicks on roller skates dressed to kill doing a dance routine !it fit...This was an out side show in Philly about4 yr. ago...

Last Edited by nowmon on Mar 10, 2015 8:02 AM
shakeylee
154 posts
Mar 10, 2015
4:53 PM
^^^ yes philly hip hop certainly has used a decent amount of harp and bottleneck guitar.
with the re-launch of ruffhouse,we may see it again.
BTW,ruffhouse off-shoots often pay harp pretty well.that one studio near bryn mawr was POSH.

i always think it is funny when you hear harp come from a gangster rappers car.sometimes people are surprised i know what's coming next :)
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kudzurunner
5336 posts
Mar 10, 2015
5:01 PM
Jack Bruce on harp, with Ginger Baker on drums. And Clapton, eventually. BHE.

Last Edited by kudzurunner on Mar 10, 2015 5:06 PM
MindTheGap
558 posts
Mar 11, 2015
3:09 AM
Lots of interesting thoughts and examples here. What I hoped for was a historical, technical explanation of why and when the harmonica stopped being an essential part of the band during early RnR, and became something special instead.

I've just now got a copy of Machers and Rockers. Chess Records and the Business of Rock & Roll and I'll see if that sheds some light. With Chess having all those musicians on the books and a track record of success selling harp-rich numbers, including all those LW instrumentals, what happened next?

I wonder did they try it, and found they didn't sell? If so it would be great to hear those numbers.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Mar 11, 2015 5:51 AM
gmacleod15
249 posts
Mar 11, 2015
7:57 AM
Here is a band that doesn't get mentioned on the forum.
Harp starts about minute in.



However it is not "new" as it is from the 90s. I thought it was more recent.

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clyde
405 posts
Mar 11, 2015
9:26 AM
Well you could say what happened to harp in rock and roll is exactly what happened to the banjo in jazz.

But I won't, because I don't think that it was ever essential to rock.
clyde
406 posts
Mar 11, 2015
9:28 AM
By the way you know there's nothing more versatile than a guitar
MindTheGap
560 posts
Mar 11, 2015
9:55 AM
clyde - what did happen to the banjo in jazz? I mean, in detail.

The harp not being essential to rock - that's a matter of fact in hindsight, but was that the view in 1957? There's a load of examples old and new just in this thread to show it fits right in.
CapnKen
56 posts
Mar 11, 2015
9:44 PM
Black Sabbath from the early '70's featuring some harp
I can't get it to post but it's really a pretty good song. Who said a tin sandwich isn't heavy?
--Black Sabbath-Wizard - YouTube
www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCjspyo-_aI
LINK
"Blues with a vigor and determination hitherto unknown to the people of this area." Mudflap Nichols

Last Edited by CapnKen on Mar 11, 2015 9:57 PM
Goldbrick
897 posts
Mar 11, 2015
11:55 PM
The banjo was a popular jazz instrument because of its percussive volume. Even Django began as a banjo player.
Guitar took over after improvements in technology( archtops and electric) improved volume to be heard over brass and drums.. Lonnie Johnson and Charlie Christian introduced more modern styles and the guitar took off


MindTheGap
561 posts
Mar 12, 2015
2:13 AM
CapnKen - Excellent Sabbeth example! I was expecting to hear heavy distorted harp, but it's acoustic and simple. Ok with some effects - ADT (automatic double-tracking) or just double-tracked? But clearly a straightforward acoustic harmonica sound. Right next door to fat distorted metal guitar chords. Just shows what a versatile instrument it is.

Goldbrick - Thanks for the banjo info. Seems like the trajectory of guitar technology ensured it was good in all kinds of music - and I think the amplified harp was the same, and yet...

I can see that the diatonic harmonica in Jazz as it developed had to wait for the coming of the overbend style, but that's clearly not true for rock and even more so for early rock and roll.

Although, the bebop scale(s) are easily available on the harp, so did it get used there when Jazz took that turn? That's for another thread.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Mar 12, 2015 2:16 AM
LittleWalker
6 posts
Mar 12, 2015
2:21 PM
"DAMAGED SOUL" OFF THE LATEST SABBATH ALBUM (13)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNqFTBeBUR0

The liner notes on the album give credit to Ozzy for the harp parts, but since the album's release, a player by the name of Stanley Behrens has spoke out as being the "real" harp player on the track. I'll let you folks decide...
Goldbrick
900 posts
Mar 12, 2015
5:23 PM
Here is some harp in early rock . A little instrumental break between vocal parts




Last Edited by Goldbrick on Mar 12, 2015 5:29 PM
clyde
407 posts
Mar 12, 2015
7:00 PM
Mindthegap
It might fit in but who needs to split pay with a harp player? Maybe if he's the singer and fills with frills or even one of the other players but a full cut for that?

Late 50's, well let's see. 80 bucks a night 4 ways noooo let's make that a 5 way split with a harp guy. Ok he can take your place
clyde
408 posts
Mar 12, 2015
7:03 PM
Come to think of it sometimes we were lucky to get$50
Glass Harp Full
2 posts
Mar 13, 2015
12:16 AM
Very interesting thread.

I used to have a live album by Carl Perkins which featured harp in many of his songs like Blue Suede Shoes and Matchbox. The harp worked really well and added another dimension to the songs, at least for me. It wasn't recorded in the early days though, I think it was done in the '80s, so I suppose the original question still stands.
I think clyde might be on to something though.

Unfortunately I don't have that album anymore because I left it at my Mum's house when I moved out. I might see if it's still around somewhere...
MindTheGap
564 posts
Mar 13, 2015
12:44 AM
Clyde - yes I can believe that. I've certainly read about the costs of running a big band, and how the coming of amplification allowed much smaller bands to make the same noise. Cheaper for promoters to hire and more pay for each member of the band.

Here's a thought. Shoot me down in flames if you like but - maybe playing the harp as a convincing main instrument was too difficult vs playing an electric guitar. Certainly my own experience was playing simple-but-punchy, satisfying electric guitar was much, much, much easier and quicker to pick up than playing good harp.

What if those RnR kids picked up a guitar and found they could knock out chords and riffs quickly, then tried harmonica (with all it's hidden secrets - no Adam Gussow video lessons then) and stuck with the guitar?

It's all fine and good hearing rip-snorting amplified harp from those greats, but pick up a harmonica yourself for the first time and what comes out? Whereas you could probably hear Link Ray play Rumble and have a good go at it yourself.

Just a discussion point.

Last Edited by MindTheGap on Mar 13, 2015 12:51 AM
MindTheGap
565 posts
Mar 13, 2015
12:50 AM
...and hello Glass Harp Full - like the name!
Glass Harp Full
3 posts
Mar 13, 2015
1:19 AM
Thanks MindTheGap.

It was intended as a reference to the practice of soaking harps in water (I know that's not done anymore) and also to express optimism that I may one day become a good harp player.


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