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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > Feedback please? on our IBC competition set
Feedback please? on our IBC competition set
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188 posts
Sep 14, 2016
4:24 AM
Hi MBH'ers,

This was our set from the Long Island Blues Society qualifying event for the IBC. Unfortunately, we lost by a cat's whisker (4 points out of something like 700 points - there were 7 judges, all using IBC criteria) and it still stings a bit.

Rob Europe, the guitarist, wrote all of the songs and we were really proud of how our set turned out. On the video I think the harmonica sounds a little low in the mix and a little tinny, but there's not much I can do about that now! Any advice you might have on how to advise the sound guy on mic/board settings for live acoustic harp would be greatly appreciated. On stage, the monitor mix was great, and I was actually worried that the harmonica might be too loud out front, but now I can hear that that wasn't the case.

I thought I'd post this clip up here for two reasons:

A. I'd like to get your feedback on it and your suggestions as to what we could be doing better, and

B. To thank the guy who was nice enough to film/post the clip to YouTube. Mike Osip is a fantastic chronicler (is that even a word?) of Long Island live music and cultural happenings, and he gives blues artists a lot of love. So a lot of views would be a nice "thank you" to him.

Please note that the clip doesn't show our talking in between songs where we let them know that these were all original tunes.

Also, I'm a big boy; I can take any criticism you have! :) But if you think we sucked or anything, please tell us why so we can make efforts to improve.

Hopefully I will embed it correctly:

Thanks in advance for your criticism and advice!

Bill Lifford
(cliffy here on MBH)

Last Edited by cliffy on Sep 14, 2016 4:34 AM
103 posts
Sep 14, 2016
9:15 AM
Congrats, great job - I really liked it!

My critique is more about the act than the music. Your act seems a little rushed, like you've got somewhere to be. Also, the songs seem similar in tone. Looks like a bunch of songs in E, for example.

When Keith Richards picks the set for the Stones, every song is in a different key so that it's not all the same tone.

So just vary it more in tempo and song key, and think you guys will win!
9233 posts
Sep 14, 2016
9:28 AM
I liked it.

I noticed your volume problems. In a couple spots, particularly when you were trying to do soft backing where I couldn't hear you at all. It might not have been you though. It seemed to be his guitar volume came up in those spots a bit.

I think your tone matched the style well. Your backing vocals were really strong too, although they were a little buried too.

There wasn't a hook in any of the songs that got me locked in. That's probably the hardest part of any original song.

I enjoyed it.

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First Post- May 8, 2009
662 posts
Sep 14, 2016
10:55 AM
first, you didnt suck, i enjoyed the set.
i don't know whether the songs are all in the same key, but ValleyDuke has a point about playing a different key for each song; our band selects ascending key songs (E to A to Bb to G, etc) It's a subliminal thing, I'll let the musicologist weigh in on that.

Very strong guitar, the harp sound like its trying to keep up. To my ears, you guys put the pedal to the metal, consequently, every bit of space is filled. It all sounds good, but balance by letting the song breath, leave some space. Also, some volume modulation and a little more nuance. Now I sound petty, I'm serious its pretty good, good enough to win.
1602 posts
Sep 14, 2016
11:37 AM
I really dont like to critique as we are all our toughest audience ( or should be ) and I dont like the idea of music as competition.

That being said
If they were originals - they were kinda generic Gary Davis meets Lightnin Hopkins kinda blues .
The singer is not bad but not special- he looks like he has to pee wth that chair wiggling stuff

I liked your background vocals - maybe share verses with him to be more interesting.

First song I felt like the harp just rambled over everything--without a rhythm player maybe just set up a strong chug to put a bottom on the music

Last song I didnt think the guitar solo was well thought out and clashed with the harp--leave some space.

Finally you guys never looked at each other- you coulda been playing in separate rooms= I think an audience likes to feel the band members are connected and not each in their on world

Sorry- I liked your music and watched the video twice. I think a little communication and stage savvy would go a long way to making an impression on the judges and audience
189 posts
Sep 14, 2016
4:27 PM
Thank you so much to everyone for checking out our tunes and your advice!

A couple of you mentioned that many of the songs had a similar tone... You're right, three of them are in Eb. I think it's because Rob sings most naturally in that key. But maybe I should have switched to a different position, like play in 1st using an Eb harmonica, rather than doing all three of them with the Ab harp in cross.

As for the volume thing, someone had suggested to me to watch videos of Joe Filisko and observe how he holds the harp relative to the vocal mic. The guy who emailed me said that Joe has a very precise way of positioning himself near the mic to get the tone clear with all the hand motions. Do any of you know anything about this?

Regarding the other stuff, I think all of them are valid points. The rapport between us, the rushed feel, etc. that gives us some stuff to keep in mind when crafting our next set! I really appreciate all of your feedback.


Last Edited by cliffy on Sep 14, 2016 4:27 PM
3689 posts
Sep 14, 2016
5:03 PM
Eb is a bit high for straight harp.
3119 posts
Sep 14, 2016
5:05 PM
Ok, the last 2 tunes worked best, but in general the guitar player wasn't leaving much space, so for the rest of the set you guys weren't really playing together. The way the guitar player was laying down the changes, there was not room for a call and response type of thing, nor is the chord structure he was using suited for the pure blues low end harp riffing you kept playing. The guitar was playing Piedmont style which is much more major than many other styles of blues.

Sooo...you either had to lay out more and not try to constantly force fit low end one change blues chording over all the changes OR instead, work primarily off of the major blues scale to move through the changes with the guitar as this style is as much or more country than blues. Major blues scale a/k/a country scale is 1, 2, 3b, 3, 5, 6, octave. but you wind up using 4 quite a bit, too since it is such an important chord tone. But don't lean on blu notes so constantly and so hard--especially the 7b.

Now, in this Piedmont style, you work major blues scale through most of the tune, but typically there will be a change on which you move to blues scale and lean on 3b or 5b real hard, but then immediately go back to major blues scale on the next change. You need to relax and listen to hear/feel where this happens, so don't stay all preoccupied about what you are going to play. Lay back and LISTEN.

The guitar player had a strong groove going, but because you were not moving through the changes with him and were essentially trying to squeeze call and response blues riffs in the tiny spaces the guitar player would leave you guys for the most part were not playing the same groove. In this regard, don't be afraid to lay out more and let the music happen when your partner is driving that hard--he's good, but not very intereactive. But then, again, what you were playing was not very sympathetic to his chord changes.

Not trying to be mean, but I've got about a half dozen duo gigs booked between now and the end of the year playing a lot of this same type of material but in an electric format and it took me for fucking ever to figure out how to play this stuff so it would sound right. Check your blues scale and your call and response phrasing at the door and don't lay on the one chord all the time. In fact, for excerise, stop chugging and play single notes on the major blues scale for a while until you start to hear your way through these type of chord changes. FWIW.

P.S., with all due respect I don't consider using Filisko as a model to be a good idea. Joe tries to cram as much harmonica into every available nook and cranny as he possibly can. You'll get more gigs if you back off a bit and let the music breath. Your guitar player is strong. Don't be afraid to lay out a bit and let him carry it, especially if you can't readily think of something that adds to what he has going on at that particular moment.

Last Edited by hvyj on Sep 14, 2016 5:25 PM
190 posts
Sep 14, 2016
7:39 PM
I don't take it that you were trying to be mean at all... I'm learning a lot here from everyone.

I would love to hear examples of what you're talking about done properly. Could you suggest a few YouTube clips or songs for me to check out that are good examples?

Last Edited by cliffy on Sep 14, 2016 7:39 PM
3120 posts
Sep 14, 2016
9:45 PM
These are not exactly what I am talking about but are kinda/sorta in that direction. Sugar Blue with Brownie McGhee and Sugar Blue with Willie Dixon. I sometimes have trouble finding examples of harmonica implementing some of the things I talk about because I usually don't come up with musical ideas by listening to harmonica recordings.

On the WILLIE DIXON recording I am only referring to the first tune.

Last Edited by hvyj on Sep 14, 2016 10:12 PM
3121 posts
Sep 14, 2016
9:56 PM
This has no harmonica on it, but is an example of a somewhat Piedmont style tune where a harp player would work major blues scale though the tune but play regular blues scale on the turn around.

Last Edited by hvyj on Sep 14, 2016 9:56 PM
216 posts
Sep 14, 2016
11:16 PM
I took Joe's country blues workshop and the Filisko acoustic mic hand position thing is to hold and cup the harp so the right end is always sticking out a bit. I adjust my position so the left edge of the harp is tucked right under the middle knuckle of my index finger. This lets some of the natural sprarkle of the high end to be always present in the tone and Joe says to put this exposed part of the harp directly in front of the mic instead of your cup. So the mic is kinda off a bit to the right of your cup instead of directly in front. This way also when you do cupping effects, you don't have to back off the mic and lose volume.

If done right it gets a superior acoustic tone. I find it a bit challenging because you lose volume by not cupping the vocal mic of course and usually I can't hear myself well when I've tried it. I think it does work really well though for solo harp.

I thought you guys sounded great BTW, you are a good player! I don't really have any criticisms, but it always great to vary the key, groove, tempos and positions (if you're the harp player) between songs, it really adds a lot of depth to have that contrast going on.

4' 4+ 3' 2~~~
-Mike Ziemba
Harmonica is Life!
1916 posts
Sep 15, 2016
3:02 AM
I like your attitude, cliffy. You've got excellent chops, and I agree with much of the commentary above. It does feel rushed. I would like to luxuriate in the music more. A slow blues would be nice.

When the guitarist does a solo starting at 1:16 you are comping, but it's not easy to hear what you are doing. I would stop playing, and look at and admire the guitar/player for the 30 seconds or so. I especially do this when my guitar guy is playing the resonator. I love the sound and enjoy listening to it. It also adds a bit of tonal color when the harp comes in.

My harp teacher told me had a unique signature riff for every song. This helps keep things from sounding similar.

Best of luck.
BronzeWailer's YouTube
191 posts
Sep 15, 2016
7:05 AM
Thanks for the examples! I'm going to listen to them tonight. I find it much easier to learn a concept by hearing it, so these will be a big help.

As for my attitude, I did post the clip and ask for feedback! :) There's lots of folks on here who know a whole lot of stuff I don't. Or, they can articulate stuff that I'm kind of feeling but don't know exactly what it is.

I think that Rob (the guitarist) and I could get really good at this with practice. This competition came after we had only three rehearsals together, and I definitely feel like there is stuff we could have done better.

As for the "signature riff" thing, I am often guilty of playing almost everything I can on every song, because I am a guy who only gets to play with other people occasionally. I started a band, so now I'm getting a little more playing time than I used to, but the exuberance of playing with others, in front of people, sometimes gets the best of me. I haven't done it enough to be really chill about it. I'd like to work on saying more with less.
192 posts
Sep 21, 2016
6:19 PM
Good news... even though we didn't win, the organizers of the Riverhead Blues and Music Festival offered me an opening spot. So that helps take the sting out of it a bit.

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