In addition to doing some writing, art, and photography, I play harmonica. I have played for over 35 years. I was actually able to take a few lessons with Tommy Morgan when I was a youngster. Tommy Morgan is one of the most heard harmonica players ever, yet one of the least known. He has played harmonica scores for the television and movie industry since the late 50’s through the 90’s. His contributions to the industry are innumerable. He was the harmonica in the Sanford and Son theme song, Rockford files theme song, Gun Smoke, Bonanza, Paint Your Wagon, and a myriad of other movie and television scores. Tommy mentioned to me that I should Join SPAH and attend a SPAH convention if I ever got the chance. SPAH stands for Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica. Well, thirty years have passed since then and I finally was able to attend my first SPAH convention. The SPAH Convention is the largest society of musicians who gather together to share camaraderie for any one instrument in the world. The full gamut of Harmonica players were in attendance accompanied by there harmonica’s of choice. There were Chromatics, 2-foot long Chord Harmonicas, Bass Harmonicas, Tremolos, and my favorite, the 10-hole diatonic harp. Seydel, Hohner, & Suzuki were all there with the latest greatest harmonica models on display. Every genre of music ever played on a harmonica, was being played all day and most of the night throughout the Westin Hotel in Arlington Tx; Jazz, Blues, old standards, Classical, Polka, Cajun, Country, Celtic, Bluegrass, etc.
During the five convention days, there were jams, seminars, teach-ins, both scheduled and my favorite was the unscheduled ones. Often I would run into a celebrity harmonica player and ask questions – Each and every one of them were there with attitudes to give back what the instrument has given to them. I received some memorable lessons during quaint discussions in the halls of the hotel.
Each night there were great performances and on the fifth and final night there was an award dinner with amazing entertainment. The performances the night of the dinner included; Stan Harper, Jia-Yi He, The Sgro Brothers. The coolest part of that evening was that I was a table away from James Cotton, and Charlie Musslewhite – These guys are legends. If you wish to read more about the SPAH convention, I suggest reading the article on the SPAH page titled Harmonica Players Share The Heart of Their Music.
This post is full of links for the celebrity names mentioned. Please click a few and get a feel for the talent that graced the Hotel halls.
As always, thanks for reading and hope you enjoy the pics.
Here is yours truly playing my rendition of Shakey Blues
James Cotton & Charlie Musslewhite and some crazy fan.
Will Scarlet famous for his work with Hot Tuna back in the day.
Winslow Yerxa — SPAH President
Todd Parrot – Giving lessons on a cool country lick he picked up from Charley McCoy
Joe Spiers(Below) – An in-demand harmonica Customizer with a 6 month order lead time. I spent some time talking with Joe, a great guy by-the-way. Joe gave me some vague leads on how to make my harps better. It really is an art that takes years of experience to learn accurately.
Me with Charlie Musslewhite
Grant Dermody Grant Tours with Eric Bibb and is a growing name as an amazing harp player. Grant is a purist. I was able to sit at a table with him during the convention – a great and brilliant musician. He has a love for old time violin tunes.
Dave Barret (Below)- Transposer, writer, harmonica player/teacher extraordinaire
Joe Filisko – below, is playing guitar for a late night blues jam. Joe Filisko is the most renowned name in Harmonica Customization. His harps start at about $250.00 or so. He builds for the pros. He is also an amazing blues harp player – a purist who is true to form.
This jam was a bit spiritual as we sat in a circle and took a bar to solo by. As the night grew old, there were a hand full of pros left and me. It was great being able to hear all the different styles and talent levels
When it was all over, silence was golden, if I could only eat a meal without hearing a harmonica, there was a sense of heavenly peace. The biggest lesson I learned was to be patient, gracious, practice and enjoy…Practice makes perfect and I was mingling with perfectionists that made something great and amazing of a unique obsession – playing that silly little instrument that offers so much with so very little.