Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > My Harmonica Story
My Harmonica Story
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4 posts
Apr 14, 2019
3:30 PM
I recently sent an e-mail to Adam Gussow, telling him a little of my story, thanking him for his helpful YouTube videos, and asking a harmonica question. In his response, he started by saying, “Thank you for your email and for your great question. I’m always happy to have helped and inspired players hoping to improve themselves on the instrument, and I’m particularly happy when somebody like you, who is working under a heavier load, achieves something with my YouTube help.”

What is my “heavier load” that Adam referenced? I have Cerebral Palsy, which limits my muscular coordination. Hence, my username, “HandicappedHarpist.”

I’ve always loved music. But due to my limitations, would never be able to play an instrument such as piano or guitar. My fingers just don’t have the dexterity required for that. The nice thing about harmonica is that, as I’ve often told people, is that I just hold it up to my mouth and blow.

My love affair with this instrument actually began when I was a kid. I grew up in the Seattle area, but my mom had been raised in Montana. Going over for summer vacation every year, we’d visit my grandpa, who owned a number of harps. While mom and grandpa visited about “boring adult things,” I was allowed to play on his harmonicas. At the time, all I could do was make noise.

While in my 20s, I bought a harmonica and started teaching myself a few melodies—by ear. I literally would sing a tune to myself, then find the notes on the harmonica, and play it. Later, I discovered tablature. I also discovered what it means to play in different keys, and started collecting harps in different keys. For many years, I didn’t take the hobby very seriously. I would just pick up a harp and play a tune on it, just for fun.

Then, about three years or so ago, it became more than a hobby. A year after starting to attend a new church, I commented to the worship leader that one of the songs they did needed a tambourine. I told him I can play tambourine (and I can). He said, “The next time we do that song, I’ll have you come up on stage and play tambourine for us.” Six weeks later, he texted me. “I need you on tambourine this weekend. Are you available?”

I said yes. Then I added, “I also know how to play harmonica—somewhat. Do you want me to bring my harmonicas?”

He said, “Don’t know if we’ll use them. But yes, bring your harmonicas.”

That weekend, he put me on the spot by giving me a harmonica solo, when it hadn’t been practiced. Gradually, over time, I was incorporated into one of the church’s three worship teams, playing every third week. On the fly, I had to learn how to play fill, rather than always playing the melody. I am pleased to say I’ve become fairly good at it. In fact, a fellow church member, who plays bass, once said to me, “I could never play the harmonica, and make it sound good, like you do.”


A year ago, we introduced a bluesy song into one of our sets, and it sounded great. We’ve done a couple more since then, and we’ve had conversations about introducing more Blues into our worship music. So I’ve been working on learning to play the Blues. Adam Gussow’s videos have been very helpful.

And since he invited me to join this forum, I thought you all might like to know the story behind the Handicapped Harpist.

Happy Harping!
601 posts
Apr 14, 2019
4:01 PM
H.H.: Keep givin the Devil the Bluz! Most all of our Worship songs are Contemporary Rock, and Blues! Hallelujah!!!
And I Thank You !!
KC Bluz
Givin the devil the Bluz
6561 posts
Apr 14, 2019
4:01 PM
Thanks, HH. I trust that my friends here will welcome you, as I do, and answer any questions he may have.

Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition
526 posts
Apr 14, 2019
5:17 PM
Glad to have you with us, HH. You'll find plenty of good info here.

The Blind Doughboy Music Factory

Backwoods luthier specializing in resonator guitars
329 posts
Apr 14, 2019
5:22 PM
Welcome! That's a great "origin story"... you'll enjoy the MBH forum. :)
2890 posts
Apr 14, 2019
9:50 PM
HH, welcome to a great joint here. I joined many moons ago and have been around ever since. I was lucky to have Adam come to my town and do a clinic on harp for a few of my peers and me there some years ago.

My Granddad played harp for me at an early age and it helped me feel ok in a very bad time. That was the basis of why I play today and have for going on 5 decades.

Harmonica has been called the instrument which is closest to the human voice, I think that's why so many people world wide have learned to play. You can reflect what's in your soul with this simple little instrument. Harmonicas have been to the moon, a lot of major mountain tops, the bottom of the ocean, and all continents.

Your story is inspiring. If all you ever did was play to feel better that would be big, but playing in church, and maybe later on at parties or jams or whatever, that is even bigger. My wife and I are a duo and we have played a lot of places across the USA. It's just too cool to see how our music affects people of all ages from 1 1/2 to 101 1/2.

I think there are no dumb questions, so ask away. I'm not the sharpest pencil in the box but we have some very accomplished players here who can lead you along. Even after all these years I still have a lot to learn. It's a great journey!
Music and travel destroy prejudice.



5 posts
Apr 15, 2019
12:03 PM
Thank you all for the encouragement. And, kudzrunner, I see you. I looked up who you are. You've been very gracious. And I will be looking for more of your insights in the future.

And to KC69. If you do a lot of Blues at your church, I'd love to know what some of those songs are. My congregation has done a lot of stereotypical worship music that is not bad, but if it is all you do, can get boring. If you doubt me, just turn on a Christian music radio station. Listen to it for several days. See how long it takes for you to lose your mind. If it doesn't fit into the "box," they don't play it.

So far, at my church, we've done a Blues version of Crowder's "All My Hope," throwing a harmonica solo into it. We've done that a few times. And once, we did Keb' Mo's song, "Hand it Over."

Looking for more ideas.
602 posts
Apr 16, 2019
6:46 AM
H.H: Check out the Mississippi Kairos Band doing: Faith, Faith, Faith: Youtube version under Bryan Ward. Adam Gussow plays 3rd position minor harmonica on the Cd. We bring into the Sanctuary in the morning with this Song. We wrote a song; "Give the Devil the Blues." We also take any Rock song and blues it up. Leo Welch song: Praise His Name. Tab Benoit song: Shelter Me Lord underneath Your Wings. And you have to check out (Buddy Greene's pal) Ashley Cleveland's stuff, including; Rock in a Weary Land, and Come Thou Fount. Hallelujah, It's gettin fun now Baby!!!
And I Thank You !!
KC Bluz
Givin the devil the Bluz
ted burke
760 posts
Apr 16, 2019
10:46 AM
Your story is powerful and has an inspiring message, HH. Welcome to the forum.

Last Edited by ted burke on Apr 16, 2019 10:47 AM

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