Why do harmonica players get such a bad rap?

Messages
2,800
I was listening to the radio recently and "For Once In My Life" came on, in which Stevie Wonder plays a wonderful, clean and very musical harmonica solo.

It immediately struck me how big a contrast this is with typical "classic rock" harmonica playing which is too often derived from the cacophonous huffing of Neil Young and Bob Dylan

I'll never forget that bit from "Don't Look Back" where the English guy is asked about Dylan's performance and he's like (paraphrasing) 'Pretty good, except that far too much time was devoted to awful improvising on his wretched harmonica"
 

WickedPenguin

Member
Messages
677
I was listening to the radio recently and "For Once In My Life" came on, in which Stevie Wonder plays a wonderful, clean and very musical harmonica solo.

It immediately struck me how big a contrast this is with typical "classic rock" harmonica playing which is too often derived from the cacophonous huffing of Neil Young and Bob Dylan

I'll never forget that bit from "Don't Look Back" where the English guy is asked about Dylan's performance and he's like (paraphrasing) 'Pretty good, except that far too much time was devoted to awful improvising on his wretched harmonica"

Word.

My favorite Dylan use of harmonica is "Gates of Eden"....mostly because he blows one single half-note chord at the end of every verse, and otherwise leaves it the hell alone.
 

chanley

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,098
I've only played in one jam where the guy organizing it is a harp player. He's fantastic. Plays a little rhythm guitar as well, sings pretty good, but is really a fantastic harp player. Has a whole box of them, and if I was leading a song, he would ask what key, then grab one out of his case and rip when he needed to rip. I thought it was awesome. I don't any bad experiences so I don't know if they get a bad rep.
 

charliechitlins

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,004
With some very notable exceptions...
Harmonica players all learned to play with one hand and drive with the other.
They are, in general, the most un-schooled players.
A few years ago, I taught an excellent harp player...one of a small handful of the best in a major metro area...what a I, IV and V chord are.
I mean...he knew how to blow over them, but didn't know what they were.
I think it also has something to do with the fact that, not only do they have a harp for every key, they might be playing in 1st, 2nd or 3rd position, which means, something like .0076% of harp players know what note they're playing at any given time.
And...the harp player should always be the singer...so they have to take the thing out of their mouth now and thgen.
 

ChickenLover

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,562
I was listening to the radio recently and "For Once In My Life" came on, in which Stevie Wonder plays a wonderful, clean and very musical harmonica solo.
That was his first instrument IIRC and it helped launch his career.

I have stolen the harmonica players excuse for having many harmonicas. I just tune my guitars differently and boom...there's my excuse for having a bunch of them.
 

DGDGBD

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
7,621
The bad rep is the stereotypical open mic blues harp guys that feel they have to wail 100% of the time with no regard to nuance or dynamics. I've picked up some blues harp skills over the last several years but I know to use it sparingly and am conscious to not over play. I rarely get a chance to play in a band setting anyway, as i am mainly a guitar player. But you certainly can play rhythm on the harp over 12 bar blues without crapping all over the song. Its similar to a sax player hanging back on rhythm.
 

cram

Member
Messages
14,163
easy - it's an easy entry into making it sound passable. You have a lot of people who are playing... not so well and a few that are amazing and incredibly musical.
 

Strummerfan

Member
Messages
7,523
Way too many harmonica players don't know how to lay out. I think that's the gist of it - harmonica players as a group seem to abhor a vacuum and are intent on filling every fraction of a second of it with the sweet, sweet sound of harmonica.
And of course guitar players never do that.
 

BlueRiff

Member
Messages
7,501
Because blues harp players spend all of their time hovering between the 4th and 5th of the scale? That’s all I got!
 
Messages
1,553
Sh*tty players of all genres matter little to none.

Great players do.

Lots of killer harp players.

I had one in our band suddenly in the early 90's. He was from Wooster Mass, a total drunk but killer harp player.

Never bothered to over analyze what he was doing, but we would trade licks and he improved my guitar playing.

Sad thing was he was always trying to borrow money to drink and it got old.

Our keyboard player had a Hammond B3 and we sounded great, but when the harp player came along we hit the big time, sonically.

We opened for the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and through some bizarre happenstance I knocked all his harps off the box/chair they were on and caught hell for it through the rest of the night.

I remember his drummer trying to console me by telling me "not to worry about it because Paul was a jerk pretty much all the time anyway".
 

tiktok

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
24,751
Way too many harmonica players don't know how to lay out. I think that's the gist of it - harmonica players as a group seem to abhor a vacuum and are intent on filling every fraction of a second of it with the sweet, sweet sound of harmonica.

This.

Also the only time I've played a gig and had someone start "sitting in", uninvited, from the audience--was a harmonica player. I've seen this happen to other people's gigs, as if mid-tune the band leader is going to wave the harmonica player on stage with a big smile--"Oh thank God you're here, we were just thinking what this tune needs is wall to wall harp blowing!!"
 

Julio Iguana

Member
Messages
2,726
Melodic harmonica playing seems a lost art. I enjoy a good blues harp player but as mentioned (many x’s), most just don’t understand when to lay low or out.
 




Trending Topics

Top Bottom