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Posts Tagged ‘Harmonica’

How a Gang of Harmonica Geeks Saved the Soul of the Blues Harp

In Blues Harmonica on August 15, 2013 at 10:26 am

Harmonica players will suck and harmonica players will blow, but mastering the harmonica is tougher than its diminutive size and simple mechanics suggests. “The harmonica is actually pretty hard to play well,” says harmonica virtuoso Mickey Raphael, who has shared the stage with Willie Nelson for the better part of 40 years. “If you have a harmonica in the right key for a song, you can play any note and it’ll sound good. But to be able play melody on it is a whole different skill set.

Of course, it doesn’t help if your harmonica is so poorly designed that you couldn’t play it well even if you were a pro, which describes the state of the instrument from the mid-1970s until the early 1990s, when Hohner, the largest harmonica manufacturer in the world, made a single, seemingly small change to its ubiquitous Marine Band harmonica. Hohner’s bottom-line gambit was to slightly enlarge the slots through which a harmonica’s reeds vibrate. It made the instrument’s pair of reed plates cheaper to assemble but the instrument itself virtually impossible to control, thanks to all the extra air that was now being blown into and drawn out of it. Hohner eventually corrected its error, but it took a ragtag group of harmonica customizers and music geeks from around the world to force the 150-year-old German firm to face the music…MORE

Rick Estrin Keeps Nightcats on the Prowl

In Blues Harmonica, Blues News on June 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm

It’s not just that Rick Estrin is making a name for himself with Rick Estrin and the Nightcats — it’s that it’s finally the right name.

For about 30 years, Estrin, who performs tonight at Montgomery’s Kiwanis Park, was the frontman for Little Charlie and the Nightcats.

“Because I was the face of the band, about 60 percent of the audience would see me and go, ‘Hey Charlie,’ and I’d just go, ‘Hi, how are you doing.’ ”

But when Charlie — that would be guitarist Charlie Baty — retired in 2008, Estrin took over the group. Five years later, not only have there been major awards, booked concert tours, and critically acclaimed albums, but Estrin said people are actually figuring out who he is. MORE

Inhaling the Blues: How Southern Black Musicians Transformed the Harmonica

In Blues Harmonica, Blues News on May 5, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Sneak Preview: Classic Harmonica Blues

What inspired this album?

As a teacher, I found the harmonica to have one of the most interesting traditions. When African Americans picked up the instrument in the 20th-century, they completely transformed it into something it had never been intended to be played as in Europe. To me, that is such a remarkable demonstration of the power of tradition. You don’t just take and play an instrument the way it was built to be played. The music is inside you, and you take that instrument and you try to recreate the way you think music should be played. That’s what African Americans did. MORE