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How to Play the Blues Harp

Live performances

On the world stage, top players to go and see include Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza, Charlie Musselwhite and Jerry Portnoy but typing blues harmonica in the search box of YouTube will reveal a wealth of good players from the US and elsewhere. See You Tube Links for a selection

In the UK, the best known performers are Paul Lamb and Paul Jones either with the Blues Band or with Dave Kelly.

However, there are many other UK-based players who deserve your support and these include:

Pete G (Pete Welland) and the Magnitones. Pete has fantastic tone (truly Magni) and is a really good singer. Here he is playing Sonny Boy Williamson's classic "Trust My Baby" at the 2007 NHL Autumn Festival

Giles Hedley (with or without the Aviators) Described by Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown's legendary drummer, as "the funkiest man I've heard in Europe", Giles is vocally the closest vocally to Howling Wolf that you may see in a long time. As well as being a very powerful vocalist, he plays a number of guitars including a home-made lap steel guitar as well as rack harp using a home-made microphone which gives tremendous punch to his playing. He is also famous for playing a harp with his right nostril which is a sure fire way to stop people asking him if they can have a blow. Here he is at the NHL Autumn Festival 2005

Eddie Martin Another exponent of rack harp and a favourite of the NHL, Frome-based Eddie travels extensively in the UK and is well worth seeing both for the intensity of his harp playing and his stinging guitar.

Here he is at the NHL playing a beautiful version of Robert Johnson's Little Queen of Spades that really makes my eyelids prickle.

Another Giles, Giles King, recently laid low by a back problem,who plays with Willie and the Poorboys. Here he is playing at the 2008 NHL Spring Festival in Birmingham

(there's a subtext developing here - have you spotted it yet?).

The secret of learning to become proficient on the blues harp is to listen to as many players as possible - not only to pick up riffs but also to become familiar with the way in which the harp fits into the blues so that you can anticipate and play turnarounds, endings and rhythm accompaniment. To do this you need:

Source Material

On record

When I started learning the harp, the choice of listening material was very limited. Now you have access to the Amazon and Document web sites and can get hold of a huge variety of material. If you are interested in older material, it has even been digitally remastered to remove the hiss and scratches.

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For some guidance on recorded source material check out the harps section on Blues Who's Who

For a good taste of harp styles on a single CD, check out Blues Harp Boogie

This features Little Walter, Cary Bell with Muddy Waters, Paul Lamb, Junior Wells with Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite, Big Walter Horton, Jimmy Reed, and Sonny Boy Williamson and thats just the well-known artists. There are also some "finds" like Greg"Fingers" Taylor, Paul DeLay and Paul Orta. This has got to be one of the best blues harp CDs issued in a long time.

Slapheads Unite!! Eddie Martin (Right) with Perry Foster at the highly successful Upton Blues Festival 2008.

Perry was Sonny Boy Williamsons minder during his visits to the UK in the 1960s and he claims to have the same 14-hole Echo SuperVamper that Sonny Boy used to play "Bye-Bye Bird. He also turned Robert Plant onto the blues but that's another story.

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How to Play the Blues Harp

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