Driving home from practice last night, I stopped off at a bar I knew had some live music to see some friends. There is a tongue-in-cheek group called, The Cocktail Lounge Tusslers–all great musicians. They asked me to stand in with them and I volunteered to play Harp. When we were done with the set I was thanked, the music went on from there and I went on home.
At some point a singer/songwriter becomes a performer. Sometimes it is through much practice, sometimes it is just a natural action of the person, and sometimes it is by accident. With me and performing with the harmonica it was totally by accident.
I first became a harp player in around 1968 and I have been trying to figure it out ever since. Recently I told someone that I have always thought of myself as a reasonable adequate harmonica player. The answer to that was that while I was busy being an adequate harmonica, I turned into a damn fine harpist. Huh? Sometimes life is just funny that way it goes.
It surprises me when I get asked to back someone up, or to lay in a track on an album someone is doing. I usually think something like this: There are really good harpists out there, why would they ask me? I suppose the answer is answered above. I did not try to make this happen, yet it did.
I am not complaining, mind you. I am glad to be good at something that adds to people’s pleasure, but being really good at this instrument was almost a mistake. Let me explain.
I have always wrongly figured that if I did something that anybody could do it and probably do it better. However I am not a hotshot lead guitar player, and many years back I have to come up with something that could fill in and expand my songs when performed. I knew it wasn’t going to happen with guitar–I’d been trying to learn lead for fifteen years and was getting nowhere. Harmonica was going to be it. I had already figured that i could whistle fairly well, but while whistling might work on slow ballads, it just was not going to work with Rock ‘N’ Roll.
So I bought a harp rack (called an elton) and tried to figure out how to keep rhythm on the guitar while blowing and sucking on the harmonica. It wasn’t easy, but it was doable. It took a year to get it down. I must say also that I did not do this totally on my own. I got some great help and advise from a friend who is most generous with his time and talent, Charlie Musselwhite. I have to say bless Charlie, because he answered some of the dumbest questions, with care and interest.
What I have done with the harmonica is not like I have heard others play, and so it has always seemed to me to be elemental and a little boring, but I guess it is not. It just goes to show that if you do something enough, eventually you can accidentally get good at it–I still like to whistle on some of my songs. Someday I’ll write about how I began my shady and sordid career playing harp.