Re: SPAH COnvention

I've been on the road and have had computer problems--which still aren't
resolved--so I hadn't seen the harp list in a couple of weeks until
yesterday. I enjoyed reading others' impressions of the SPAH convention
and thought I'd add a few thoughts of my own.

I basically floated down Highway 40 to Memphis in the dead of night on
the 13th direct from a bookstore appearance in support of my book at
the Davis-Kidd store in Nashville, still high as a kite from putting on
a show with the one and only Charlie McCoy and Kirk Johnson, a great session
harp player who's recorded with the likes of Randy Travis and the Judds.
Charlie McCoy may be the world's busiest human--he had just flown in the
night before from Denmark--but he not only played a typically fiery version
of "Orange Blossom Special" but hung around the bookstore for an hour signing
books (including my own) and visiting with his many fans who had shown up.
I'm here to tell the harp listers who haven't been lucky enough to meet
Charlie that he's a very down home, humble genius who never misses a chance
to promote the harp. And Kirk Johnson is a wonderful player who spent a
lot of time helping me set up the show, despite the fact that we'd never met.

No offense to fans of the Motor City, but Memphis beat the hell out of
Detroit as a convention site. The synergy offered by the Holy Trinity of
the SPAH convention programs, the city's annual Music and Heritage Festival,
and the clubs on Beale Street added up to a series of difficult decisions
each day about what to do and see. Pete Pedersen deserves a lot of credit
for putting it all together, and I hope SPAH heads down South again soon.

I also felt the influence of Bob Williams, SPAH's new vice president, in
the selection of seminars, panels, and performances at the SPAH convention.
Bob is the youngest member to join the SPAH board in a long time, and the
convention program seemed more varied and interesting.

You can count on hearing some of the best chromatic players at the SPAH
conventions, and this year was no exception. The cosmically beautiful playing
of Charlie Leighton was missing this year due to his wife's recent illness,
but hearing Pete Pedersen play the competition piece he wrote for the
last international festival at the Saturday night gala was worth the trip
down for me. Pete is a marvelously fluid and totally musical player. Stan
Harper once again reveled in ranting about blues harp to the local newspaper,
but he balanced his calculated crankiness with some great classical
harmonica. Pedersen and Fuzzy Feldman did a great vaudeville turn at the
Saturday show; it's been a long time since I enjoyed hearing "Ghost Riders
in the Sky."

But the diatonic contingent was in good form down in Memphis. Winslow Yerxa,
the Conscience of the Harp List, showed that we're not all musical dummies
by giving very impressive and helpful seminars on both the diatonic and
chromatic. Even to those of us who know him, Winslow continues to surprise,
and in Memphis he offered up a pretty sexy blues number at the blues harp
jam, some better-than-decent boogalooing in the Beale Street clubs, and
an eye-opening display of physical bravery when he charged the stage during
the last sad moments of Danny Welton's "performance." (Sorry Winslow, but
Buzz told me that he was getting ready to tackle you, not Danny.)

I hate to even talk about Joe Filisko, because I'm in love with his custom
instruments and feel queasy about too many people beating a path to his door,
but Joe's phenomenal knowledge of the diatonic harmonica coupled with his
skill as a player turned a lot of heads at the convention, especially among
the older players. Joe has freed the great Howard Levy from the shackles of 
the dreaded Golden Melodys with his custom Marine Bands, and his latest
passion--resurrecting the melodic tongue blocking techniques of the great
diatonic players who recorded between the wars like Rhythm Willie--might be
an even bigger contribution. Joe gave a great seminar on this style of playing
at the convention, and he gave no quarter. Feeble comments from the audience
about whether the ability to tongue block was determined by genetics were
quickly dismissed by Filisko, who got where he's at as a player the way most
great players got there: hard work. He even plays great guitar; he backed
me up for a set at the Music and Heritage Festival.

I had a hard time tearing myself away from wandering through the Festival
so I could catch the SPAH events. Lonnie Glosson, who sold more than
5,000,000 harmonicas during the 1940s and 50s through his syndicated radio
program, appeared for three days running at the festival. Lonnie is 86
years old and still regaling audiences with hilarious stories and great tunes
on guitar and rack harmonica. He closed his shows by putting down the guitar
and running through his vast repertoire of classic harmonica stunts: the
train, the steamboat, the baby crying for its mama, and so on.

Then there were the nights club-hopping on Beale Street, a street that
Buzz Krantz quickly tamed. For those of you who haven't met him, Buzz
is an impressive physical specimen and very snappy dresser who has the
ability to completely charm most humans, especially the doormen at clubs.
We basically roamed the nightspots in a pack, and with Buzz in the bow
we sailed through dozens of doorways without ever paying a cover charge.
The man blows a mean blues harp, too. Those of us in his entourage had the
thrill of being there when he (or so he claims) sang in public for the first

The last thing I remember before the trip to the airport was showing
Chris Michalek some first position licks in the lobby of the hotel at
4:30 in the morning while Bev O'Connor and Winslow played four-handed
piano in C. I haven't even mentioned the diatonic tips that Don Les
gave Winslow and I at the bar in the Peabody Hotel or getting to know
John Murphy, an Irish player whose speciality is Irish reels on the
tremolo harmonica, but you'll have to show up at SPAH some year yourself.
Memphis will be hard to beat, though.

--Kim Field

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