Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers
Since I joined the Harp List a few weeks ago, I've received many e-mailies
inquiries from Harp Listers who asked for more information about my book,
Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers, which was published last November.
After conferring with Chris Pierce about commercial abuse of the Internet,
I'm posting this brief description of the book for the archives.
The book grew out of a proposed magazine article, which in turn grew out of
a search for a good excuse to talk to all my favorite harmonica players.
I discovered that there never had been a general source book on the harmonica.
Although I'm basically a blues harp player myself, my goal throughout the
project was to put together a book that would recount the great contributions
that the harmonica has made to ALL forms of music--a book that would putt
players like Little Walter, Larry Adler, Stevie Wonder, Charlie McCoy,
Jerry Murad, and Toots Thielemans all between a single pair of covers.
Whenever possible, I interviewed the players themselves and included
edited versions of these interviews in the book so that they could tell
their own stories.
The book begins with a chapter of how the concept of the free reed was
developed about 3,000 years ago in Asia, how it made its way to Europe,
and how the instrument that we know as the diatonic harmonica was developed
in Europe in the early 1800s. The next chapter recounts how the instrument
came to America following the Civil War.
The vast majority of the book are chapters discussing the contributions that
harmonica players have made to all forms of American music. There a
"The Bands"--the great harmonica bands, from vaudeville's Harmonica Rascals
to Jerry Murad and the Harmonicats.
"The Soloists"--Larry Adler, Leo Diamind, Pete Pedersen, Richard Hayman,
and Blackie Schackner, among others.
"Folk Music"--includes players like Sonny Terry, Harmonica Frank Floyd,
Peg Leg Sam, Mel Lyman, Mark Graham, and Phil Wiggins.
"Country Music"--among others, profiles the great DeFord Bailey (a phenomenal
black player who was one of the most popular performers on the Grand Ole
Opry broadcasts of the 1920s), Wayne Raney, Lonnie Glosson, Jimmie Riddle,
Charlie McCoy, and Mickey Raphael.
"The Blues"--here you'll find profiles of Jaybird Coleman (one of the earliest
blues harpists to record), the great Memphis jug band players like Will Shade,
Noah Lewis, and Jed Davenport, the Chicago greats (including both Sonny Boys
Williamsons, Little Walter, Walter Horton, James Cotton, Jimmy Reed, and
Jr. Wells and Charlie Musselwhite), the southern players like Slim Harpo,
and the younger white players.
"Rock and Roll"--opens with an account of how the harp was introduced
to rock and roll by the British bands of the 1960s, discusses the influence
of Bob Dylan, and profiles Paul Butterfield, Lee Oskar, Magic Dick, and
"Soul Music"--the great Stevie Wonder has this chapter all to himself.
"Jazz"--profiles of the first great jazz soloist, Charles Leighton, as well
as Don Les, Toots Thielemans, and Howard Levy.
"Hollywood"--discusses the great studio players who do the harmonica work
on the soundtracks of movies and television, including George Fields and
"Classical Music"--John Sebastian (the first full-time classical harmonicist
and the father of the Lovin' Spoonful's John B. Sebastian), Cham-Ber Huang,
Stan Harper, Tommy Reilly, and Robert Bonfiglio.
The book also has a select discography of recommended harmonica recordings
and tips on how to find them.
Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers is published by Fireside/Simon and
Schuster. If your local bookstore doesn't have a copy, they can order it
for you. You can also order the book through the Farrell Company, Kevin's
Harps, and the Hohner Company (see the most recent issue of Easy Reeding for
details). The book sells for $14.00.
If any of you have doubts about the existence of a true harmonica fraternity,
I can testify that it exists. Many top harp players have helped me promote
the book. I kicked it off with a bookstore appearance in Boston that included
playing by Norm Dobson's Harmonichords, Magic Dick, Jerry Portnoy, Mike Turk,
Annie Raines, and the fabulous Cambridge Harmonica Orchestra. In Seattle I
Mark Graham made an appearance with me. On July 8 I'll be at the Tattered
Cover in Denver, and on July 13 I'll be at the Davis-Kidd Bookstore in
Nashville with Charlie McCoy and Kirk "Jelly Roll" Johnson. The next day I'll
show up at the SPAH convention in Memphis, where I'll do book signings at
the convention and at the Music and Heritage Festival. Simon and Schuster is
not exactly pouring money behind the book, so the help of so many great
musicians has been critical and very much appreciated.
If anyone has comments on the book--whether positive or negative--I'd
appreciate the feedback.
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