Tuesday, April 23, 2013

i was not born a blues man



With The Guise @ MoonSong 2009
Born into a large family, we all had to share a bed.  Four girls to two beds, two boys to one bed.  Brook and I shared a small bedroom to ourselves.  The girls had the master bedroom down the hall.

If Brook ever brought something neat home, I was into it.  One time Brook built a cool model WWII model airplane.  I had just watched 633 Squadron on television and decided to reenact one of the scenes.  I was humming the soundtrack to 633 Squadron as the plane in my hand attempted to dodge the imaginary antiaircraft fire.  There was a narrow passage in that I had to make it through.  The Germans had the target well protected with guns aimed at my plane.  I could have made, but I had to see the plane crash into the door frame.  There was quite a scene going on in my mind and the music swelled and faded.  I didn't bother to pick up the pieces.  Brook came home and asked me what happened to his model airplane.  I mentioned 633 Squadron and he put the pieces together.  It's a good thing he had only assembled just one model airplane together that day.  I would've tried and tried until I had successfully bombed my objective...or die trying.

If Brook ever brought something nifty home, like a typical little brother, I'd wait till he was gone and I'd get into it.  It's how I got my first harmonicas.  At that time Brook had started hanging out at Laverty Music Company.  One day he brought home three brand new Hohner harmonicas.  I'd never seen one up close.  They each came in their very own little case.   Brook later left the house, tooling around somewhere in this MGB.  I couldn't resist.  I didn't just try one of them, I tested them all out.  I figured he wouldn't notice I'd goofed around with them...but he did.

As it turned out, I left one or two out of their little blue coffins.  I was in the bedroom, at the scene of the crime when he noticed his harps had been tampered with.  "David, did you blow on my harps?"  I didn't see in any harm in being honest about it.  I said, "Yes."  "Well, they are yours now."  I didn't understand.  Why would he just hand them over to me because I blew in them a little.  He replied, "David, do I use your toothbrush?"  Why no I didn't.  I had to think about it for a moment...OH... it's was a little brother germ thing.

I had unwittingly scored big time!

One afternoon, a couple of weeks later, Brook was behind the couch playing his old Telecaster.  I walked in the room and Brook said, "Go get your harmonicas."  I ran back to the bedroom, grabbed the harps and joined him behind the couch.  He sat on the piano bench and played some blues licks on his Tele.  He told me to start by focusing on a hole on the harp and inhale...try to make a note bend.  I didn't come close, but he kept playing and I kept trying to make it happen.  From time to time, he'd get me to fetch my harp and we'd jam a little.  I know I sucked at it for a long time, but my brother is a patient teacher.  Maybe he was just desperate for someone to play the blues with.

I was a young man and knew little about the blues.  What little I did know, it was from Brook's record collection behind the couch.  Brook listened to a lot of Eric Clapton and B.B. King back in the day.  He spent a lot of time working on his blues chops.  It took me a long time to get mine.

I kept a harp in my pocket through most of my teen years.  There was nothing like playing in stairwells or parking decks.  It was great finding places that had good acoustics where that harmonica could really wail.  Public bathrooms worked well too.

The first song I learned wasn't the blues though.  I learned Amazing Grace note for note.  That was the song that I played over and over again and got better and better.  I'd learn other songs, but I eventually got the hang of playing the blues and that's what I enjoy playing the most.

There was a great parking garage at the Lenox Square Mall parking deck in Atlanta.  That's where students of Art Institute of Atlanta had to park their cars.  We had to walk a couple of blocks to and from the parking to the school every day.  I'd cut loose on that harp on that deck.  I'd also make it wail in the AIA stairwell.  I became the mystery harmonica player that took a long time for faculty to find me out.

I had to walk a lot in Atlanta, and I had my blues harp to keep me company.  A harp is good company when you're along.  A harp also comes in handy in a room full of strangers.  I don't recall ever meeting a soul that didn't like the blues.  The blues transcends age, race barriers.  It's a common language for mankind.  The blues is something that the more you live, the better you get.

I don't just blues.  I always enjoyed listening to Bob Dylan and Neil Young.  Those are two songwriting harmonica guys.  The second song I learned to play on harmonica was the Neil Young's Heart of Gold solo.  I always liked hearing Dylan with a harp rack and guitar, vintage songs or new songs, he rocks.  Both those guys influenced the way I deliver songs today.  If I'm on stage, I usually have my harps with me.

I've enjoyed going to Vineyard and worshiping with harmonicas.  I'm glad I'm at a church that don't mind the blues...or harmonica texture.   I've got friends that know how to go vertical with their guitars, but playing harmonica for me is when I feel vertical.   When my voice reaches limitations, my harp goes where my voice can't reach.


Nori let me jam a little with Wind at Vineyard in 2009.
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