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Dirty-South Blues Harp forum: wail on! > First Recording: St. James Infirmary Blues
First Recording: St. James Infirmary Blues
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J.W.C.
1 post
Oct 13, 2020
2:34 PM
Hello, everyone.

I'm mainly a guitar player, but I bought Adam's beginner's course back around August, and I've started learning to play harmonica. I only have two harps at the moment: a Marine Band 1896 in C, and a Lee Oskar in A minor. I bought that second harp to play something on this song, in particular.

So here's my recording of St. James Infirmary Blues.

Drums and bass are software instruments played via MIDI. Guitar is one of my acoustics. Vocal is also me, recorded with a Shure PGA27 condenser mic. Harmonica is the aforementioned Lee Oskar Amin harp, also recorded using the Shure PGA27 condenser.

Any feedback is appreciated (particularly on the harmonica parts).

Lastly, I was just kind of winging it on recording the harmonica. I was satisfied with the sound, but if anyone has any tips or suggestions on recording the harmonica, please feel free to offer them.

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jbone
3260 posts
Oct 13, 2020
4:22 PM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvSlu54nYvI

Jolene and I have been doing this one for maybe 14 years.
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Last Edited by jbone on Oct 13, 2020 4:23 PM
J.W.C.
2 posts
Oct 13, 2020
4:44 PM
That was great, jbone! I enjoyed it a lot, and loved hearing the playing and singing. Your vocal really suits this song.

What kind of harp is that you're playing in the video? Looks like a chromatic?

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Komuso
840 posts
Oct 13, 2020
5:46 PM
Hey JWC,

Nice version!

Feedback wise I'd say maybe expand the call and response with the harp, instead of just doing a harp response with the first line. It kind of leaves me hanging hearing it respond to the first line then disappear. eg: at 30" you respond to the first line, then it drops out completely for the rest of the verse and that pattern continues. They can just be one or two note riffs too, nothing complex - leave that for the solo bits.

You can drop the harp back in the mix more if you don't want to overpower it, but think of it as conversation between the vocals and the harp - especially if you are overdubbing on handheld harp bc you have the freedom to do that. But don't play over the vocal unless you pull it way back in the mix as it competes too much with the vocal otherwise.

Maybe also play around with some effects on the harp, a little delay and reverb, even tremolo, to give it some sonic flavour. Experiment!

You can also try a rack for extra coordinated fun. I don't take my own call/response advice above as I'm playing harp in a rack at the same time. Sometimes you can do C/R with a rack harp depending on the tempo, but easier to overdub that handheld.

I love doing versions of this song too.
Here's one of mine, with a LO Harmonic Minor. Don't mind the crappy mix, I've since revamped it completely since this was recorded.


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Paul Cohen aka Komuso Tokugawa
HarpNinja - Learn Harmonica Faster
Komuso's Music Website

Last Edited by Komuso on Oct 13, 2020 6:06 PM
J.W.C.
4 posts
Oct 13, 2020
6:22 PM
@Kosumo

Thanks for the feedback and encouragement, Paul. I agree that I need to add more harp and work on the call and response. I think when I made the recording I was feeling timid with the harp, and "sat back" too much.

I definitely want to get into experimenting with some effects (and putting the guitar through a few of my guitar amps, as well).

Loved the sound of that harmonic minor harp on your version. (Some sweet slide guitar on there, too!) Really cool that others are posting their own versions of the song. You guys are giving me something to aim for with your harp playing! (I know mine is really basic, at this point.)

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jbone
3261 posts
Oct 14, 2020
3:15 AM
JW, it is indeed a chromatic harp, a 12 hole Suzuki SCX in G. The song Jolene plays in Am and G is 3rd position for harp, which you hear a lot in jazz/swing and some blues. It allows more notes to be accessed easily. Works with a diatonic harp as well in G.


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Last Edited by jbone on Oct 14, 2020 3:23 AM
nacoran
10294 posts
Oct 14, 2020
1:33 PM
I tried doing that live with just harp and vocal once. Forgot the words. I can sing a song. I can play harmonica on a song. If I have to do both I'm in trouble.

Nice job.

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Nate
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First Post- May 8, 2009
J.W.C.
5 posts
Oct 14, 2020
2:01 PM
@jbone

Cool. This version is in Am, too, but I wanted to play in 2nd position, so I went with that Lee Oskar Am harp.

@nacoran

Thanks. When I forget the words to something I usually either make something up (which can be risky), or sing the previous verse again (which often goes completely unnoticed). :)

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jbone
3264 posts
Oct 14, 2020
6:32 PM
JW said "When I forget the words to something I usually either make something up (which can be risky), or sing the previous verse again (which often goes completely unnoticed). :)"

I do that! But usually we have a lyric book in front of us, we sit in our folding chairs when we play all the time.
Nate- Some songs though I can mostly get through most of the time. But a cheat sheet is a must mostly! Just a reminder helps.

Originally, in a band long ago and far away, we did this song in C, and I played 2nd on an F harp. The cool thing about 3rd position is, you can access a lot more of the harp. Especially doing tongue block octaves, which gives you all the holes.

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Music and travel destroy prejudice.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1109912442677135/?ref=bookmarks



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Komuso
841 posts
Oct 15, 2020
3:44 AM
That's why a rack comes in handy. If you forget the words just go all Bob Dylan!

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Paul Cohen aka Komuso Tokugawa
HarpNinja - Learn Harmonica Faster
Komuso's Music Website
GamblersHand
722 posts
Oct 15, 2020
4:38 AM
One thing you could consider is to learn the head/melody and base you improvisation off that

I play this in 3rd or 5th position, but on a Minor key harp I think the first lines would be something like

2d - 3d - 4d / 4b - 3d - 4b - 4d
2d - 3d - 4d / 6b - 5d - 4d - 4d

here's a clip of me playing this in 3rd. (I've posted before)
I'm not great in this position but can play some basic stuff like this, and use plenty of octaves as jbone mentioned


That said, I think I might not have played exactly the lines I outlined above - but you can get the general idea anyway


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