RE: Confessions of a Gusser
- Subject: RE: Confessions of a Gusser
- From: "Michelle LeFree" <mlefree@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 22 Sep 2003 11:49:53 -0600
Ok, it's time for a confession.
I know that a "Gusser" is the anathema of blues harp players. I've heard
many a horror story about Gussers, not unlike the one just related to us by
MN. But, I want to tell you that there is ~another~ side to Gussing. I
myself am an inveterate Gusser. Cain't he'p it. I've always been an
"active" listener to music that moves me. And blues music MOVES me. I find
myself stomping, whistling, singing, clapping and various other modes of
expressing the musicality inside me that is evoked by a good tune, even if
I'm just listening to the radio.
So, how did I fall into my evil ways and get started Gussing? It was when I
first met my recently relocated blues harp teacher, Harry Harpoon. He plays
a killer blues harp and accompanies himself with slide guitar and a bass
drum. Since I had figured out that he didn't already have a web site, I
approached him at one of his gigs and offered to trade him a web site for
some harp lessons (www.harryharpoon.com). It was a deal for both of us as
we were both broke (and still are). Life on the western slope of Colorado
is highly polarized between the trophy ranches and movie star mansions in
the ski areas and the ~rest~ of us regular po' folk. Anyway, Harry, being
self-taught was not a great educator in the classic sense. He had a lot of
trouble articulating answers to my questions, "how ~did~ you do dat?", when
he would execute some neat riff or effect during my "lessons". So, the best
way I found to learn from him was playing alongside him and asking him to
slow down and repeat when he got to a passage I couldn't duplicate or
understand. It was a natural progression from playing alongside him during
my pivate lessons to playing alongside him during his gigs. I asked him if
he minded me doing that. He said without hesitation, "that's a great idea",
and that was that. Evidently he wasn't bothered by the idea of me sitting
somewhere off to the side of the stage playing an unamplified harp while he
was going full blast with his amplified setup. Plus, as you may know, the
bond between "harp buddies" runs deep. [You should know that I was a fairly
competent harp player at that point, at least in terms of my mechanical
ability to play the instrument. I wasn't out there trying to learn how to
hit single notes or bend, by any means. Fitting in musically was my biggest
challenge back then.]
That's how my career as a Gusser got started. At first, I was super-self
conscious about it. I was most worried about interfering with the listening
pleasure of the other audience members. That's why I would find a spot off
to the side of the stage and be relatively quiet with my playing. But, in
spite of my fears of offending, some interesting things began to happen.
People in the audience would come sit by me or ask me to come sit by them so
they could hear me. To my great surprise, everyone from Harry on down was
very supportive of my Gussing. Go figure. I still wonder about it. After
a few months of this, several things happened. I'll speak to the advances
it afforded me as a harp player in a minute. Right now I am speaking of the
reaction of the audience members. Recall that Harry thought this was a
great idea all along. Believe it or not, I began to develop a little
"following" of audience members who ~liked~ to hear my playing. Folks would
see me and come sit down next to me to hear better. At the end of a tune,
they would applaud not only Harry, but... me! I was astonished and still
am. It was a very interesting social dynamic the likes of which I haven't
So, what payoff did this have for me as a player? I can't begin to describe
it. The scenario provided me with an excellent opportunity for "OJT", at
the same time as minimizing the "risk" on my part. It was a gradual entry
into a performer's mentality as opposed to the "trial by fire" of getting on
stage cold, the first time ever. What terrific experience! Here are just a
few of the things that I learned:
1) How to determine the key of a song being played (before it's over ;^).
2) How to "blend in" musically with another musician in a live setting.
3) How to comp to different rhythms.
4) How to be an accompanist; in other words, how and when to avoid stepping
on the main performer.
5) How to anticipate chord changes and be ready for and able to execute
6) Overcoming the fear of playing in public.
7) The rudiments of business and etiquette for a gigging performer.
In short, I became a blues harp player!
The point, I suppose, is that Gussing ~can~ be a positive experience (and
not only for the Gusser) if done in a measured, respectful way.
Of course, I was never drunk and I never forced my way onto any stage. I
had the full permission and even the blessing of the performer. Never
played amplified. Well, that's not completely true. After a while,
audience members began to get more and more insistant that I get on stage in
front of a mic'. And, kind and generous as he is, Harry let this happen
too, from time to time. Now that he has moved to California I am actively
seeking a local blues guitar player so I can set up some gigs! I'm ready,
thanks in no small part to my Gussing! Several of the managers at Harry's
venues have asked me to do that, so I have the contacts, too.
There--I said it. Now I feel better. Beat me up if you have to.
Just don't start calling it "Michelling". :^)
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