Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

I spent my July teaching harmonica to this spirited group of 8 year olds at the Jumoke Academy/Hartford Conservatory Summer Program. Twice a week for 45 minutes for 4 weeks (one week without harmonicas! Boy, did I have to dig into my bag of tricks for those two classes.)We could play a train that would  make Freeman Stowers quit playing harmonica!

At the end of the four weeks there was "Encore Week" where select instructors taught a small group for an entire day.Six hours of me and half a dozen 10-12 year olds.I knew a little amplified harmonica and guitar time would go a long way. 

I earned my $$ and scraped my toe playing hide and go seek. (I'm a pretty exciting guy, but even I can't keep kids entertained with the harmonica for that long. We took some basketball and hide and go seek breaks) Two other kids suffered some cuts too, it was intense hide and go seek, so we wrote a Blues song about cuts. These kids made Blues changes like Honeyboy Edwards, add to that my dubious guitar playing while trying to keep things going (I can't walk and chew gum at the same time) so it's a little loose but the kids DUG it.

Inspired by the "What are your current amps?" thread on the Modern Blues Harmonica Forum, I gathered up the little ones and the big ones for some pictures. I bought a house three years ago and I thought I sold a lot of amps in the process, but this photo doesn't look like I did.  I think the Dukane, RCA cab and Pro Junior are the only additions since then. 

Kalamazoo II                Silvertone 1432                       Silvertone 1482
Stadium 1x8                 Lopo 1x12 Cab                          RCA 1x10 Speaker Cab
Skip Simmons Dukane PA Head                  Skip Simmons Bogen Challenger PA Head
Fender Pro Jr.

 Mid 60s Ampeg Reverbrocket II 
(not a great harp amp, but when I play harp and guitar on the same gig I bring this one)

  Far-Tone Amp

one of only three that Scooter Berberian did in black tolex

My first amp was a late 70s Silverface Princeton Reverb. I bought it when I was 16 and it was one of the amps I sold when I bought my house. It was a great amp. It was a very bright amp so I just put the bass all the way up and the treble all the way down and it sounded great. 

I bought a used 59 Bassman reissue in college and had that amp for many years. It was good but not great. It took a long time to warm up and always sounded much better the second set.I sold that to a harmonica student of mine when I was living in LA and bought a Kinder Mod Bassman from a friend of Rod Piazza's, sax and harp player Allen Ortiz.If you saw me live between 99 and 2009, you probably heard that amp. It cut through the band and never needed to be miced but it was very midrangey and I just kinda got tired of the sound. I was playing enough where I thought I needed a second big amp as a back up and came across the used Meteor and got that. 

I'm not a gear head. I can't afford to be. When I buy something it's usually because I got a ridiculous deal and I make sure it' will be practical because I'm going to keep it A LONG time.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Welcome to Blues Harmonica News

Print is dead. At least it is for the niche magazines and newsletters that flourished prior to the rise of the internet. I recently ran across some PDFs of H.I.P. and The American Harmonica Newsletter and they inspired me to start this blog. Sure all of that info is available all over the internet, but that's precisely the problem: it is ALL OVER the internet. There is no one, centralized depository for Blues Harmonica, and/or Blues, and/or harmonica information. Furthermore, for better or worse, anyone can put information on the internet. There are no gatekeepers, and thus what one reads on the internet is not always correct, reliable or viable. In other words when it comes to the harmonica I've read a lot of stuff that sounds like it's from a person that knows what they are writing about, but ultimately they lack the chops to back it up. Sure, a person can be knowledgeable and passionate even if they aren't a great player, but I would prefer they were.

So my goal for this blog is to provide a place where a wide variety of harmonica information can be placed from a wide variety of contributors, with myself serving as editor and a contributor of rants and hopefully some legitimate journalism.

As I stated before, while the title of this Blog is Blues Harmonica News, content is open to any and all Blues information and any and all Harmonica information, and since it is my Blog I might throw in my opinions on whatever else I damn well please, short of religion and politics. My opinion on how awesome the 80s Marshall Crenshaw bootlegs I've  been listening too lately are, or how underrated the post-Smiley Smile Beach Boys records are, will be as outside of the boundaries as I might get. Don't worry I've got lots of opinions on harmonica and Blues too, and I have a lot of information too, and that's ultimately why I'm here and why you're here too.

So who am I? What makes me think I can be the arbiter of Blues Harmonica information in the digital age? Well here it is, take it or leave it.

I have been playing harmonica since I was 12. Now 38, that's 26 years on this silly instrument. On one hand I don’t take it too seriously, on the other, I've spent a significant portion of my life studying Blues music and harmonica and take it VERY seriously. I have been playing in bands since I was 16, playing clubs since I was 19 and leading my own band since I was 24. I spent two years literally at the feet of LA Bluesmen like Rod Piazza and Lynwood Slim, among others, learning about Blues, harmonica and life in general. I have lead my current band Ryan Hartt & The Blue Hearts for 12 years. We have recorded 3 CDs, won several local readers’ polls, won the Connecticut Blues Society's Blues Challenge 3 times and participated in the International Blues Competition in Memphis, TN 3 times.  We have played all over the Northeast and occasionally have played outside the region as well.

I'm a very good harmonica player, but not a virtuoso who has played nowhere but his bedroom for a YouTube audience. I'm out there doing it, so while I can't play Donna Lee in 12 keys on one harp I can give the average and above player some useful advice. I always say I'm not the best harmonica player, I'm not the best singer, I'm not the best bandleader and I'm not the best songwriter, but I think I do all four better than most. I've heard all the criticism of my band and me: we're too retro, we just shuck and jive in suits and Blues needs to move forward, blah blah. So in many ways this is my way to shoot back at the naysayers. Hey jack, YOU lead a band for 12 years then you can tell me whatever you want. And if you have and do, that's cool. I'll just keep doing what I do and you can to, but you might end up as fodder for this here blog.

So that's where I'm coming from for this blog. If you've never heard of me you've probably had your head in the sand of harmonica nerddom. I'm actually kinda well known. Probably better known than you, even though I've probably heard of you. I keep a pretty close ear to the ground and that's partially how I got where I am.

So if you've got something to contribute don't be afraid to write it up and shoot it off to me. Got a CD you'd like reviewed? I'd be happy to write about here. Got a product you'd like put through its paces and get some press on? Send it on over. Want to read the ramblings of a full time talent trapped in the life of a part time musician? Stay tuned.