RE: Confessions of a Gusser

Hi Michelle,

          You've said some things in your post that have really helped me to
better understand your motivation in doing what you did. I want to publicly
apologize to you for having come down so hard on you in my earlier response
to your "Confession".

         However, I do disagree with on several things you stated. For the
most part, I think your playing in a corner of the club with the live band
isn't much different then playing along with a recording. There are definite
dangers in that kind of practice unless you are very careful. I've had
students play along with a CD, and they get the false impression that they
are playing on a level equal to that of the artist they are playing along
with. In some cases I've had them turn down the volume of the CD, and then
recorded them playing along with the recorded accompaniment. When I played
it back so they could get a better Idea of how they actually sounded they
were very surprised at what they heard. Yes, that is a hard lesson to learn,
but an important one if you want to improve.

        You mention things like "blending in, and how and when to avoid
stepping on the main performer", but I don't think playing off-stage like
you did in a live venue is the best route to gaining skill in those things.
This is because you are not really "playing off of" the other band members.
In other words no one in the band was following you in terms of your timing
and phrasing, and you were not affecting the timing of the band or a soloist
at any time. You need that instant feedback you get when actually playing
with a live band to really gain those skills.

  I would also suggest that you have to be careful about the kind of
audience feedback you got. Yes, it might build your confidence, and that is
positive, but I don't think it's a really good source of feedback on your
technique or performance.

        Michelle, do take that next step, and find some people you can
actually play with. Continued success,


- -----Original Message-----
From: owner-harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx [mailto:owner-harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx]On Behalf
Of Michelle LeFree
Sent: Wednesday, September 24, 2003 12:03 PM
To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
Subject: RE: Confessions of a Gusser

I suspected that relating my apparently uniquely positive experience of
playing quietly in the corner while my harmonica teacher gigged would draw
some vitriol from this group.  However, y'all should know that I've received
a number of off-list comments which didn't coincide with the public
"lynching" some have seemed to want to subject me to.  I have come to think
that there is an effort on the part of some in this group to maintain a
certain "appearance".  I'm here to learn and share what I've learned about
all aspects of owning and playing harmonicas, period.  I have no other
agendas.  What you read is what you get with me.

The reason I posted my "Confession" was to show that, contrary to popular
opinion in a supportive environment, the experience of playing quietly in
the corner of a gig where the performer willingly encourages this activity
can be a terrific learning experience.  That is exactly what I was
doing--learning, not attempting to grab some of Harry's well-deserved
"limelight".  In an unexpected way, my playing quietly in the corner of the
room behind Harry's amp and PA evoked a curiosity on the part of the
audience that lead ~them~ to want to find out more about this lady harp
player hiding quietly in the corner.  Please recall that was ~they~ who came
to sit by me to hear me better.  That lead to a number of audience members
routinely asking ~me~ to sit by ~them~, since there isn't much room in the
back corner of the typical small venue we have around here.

There's one thing that you may not know or understand about the people
living in remote sections of the West.  It's still a hard life for most all
of us.  Many have lived here for generations that take them back to the days
not too long ago when it was extraordinarily difficult to impossible to
carve out a living here.  This has spawned a universally supportive attitude
on the parts of the folks who live here.  They actually band together to
support each other!  That's one of the great things about living here.  I
guess this was their way of supporting my efforts to learn from a great and
well-loved musician.  I wouldn't expect that to happen in Denver.  Or
Chicago, etc.  I can see from the more vocal members of this list that this
kind of supportive attitude may not exist on harp-l, either.  Why is that?
With the wide-spread recognition of the difficulties blues players in
general and blues harp players specifically face in today's MTV world it
seems like we would do well to support each other any way we can rather than
look for opportunities to tear each other down.  Or maybe I'm wrong...

In any event, I gained the kind of experience that could only be had though
many years of trying to make inroads into the live music business.  Where I
live, this would be far more difficult, if possible at all, than if I lived
in a big city with many venues and a strong community of blues musicians.
There just ain't many blues players where I live.  A virtuoso harmonica
player was a totally unexpected find on my part.  I am forever grateful to
Harry Harpoon for allowing me this golden opportunity.  He's clearly not
threatened by a student who tries to emulate his every move and lick in an
attempt to learn how to be a small fraction of the harp player he is.  In
fact, if anything, his supportiveness and generosity towards my
"apprenticeship" endeared him even more to his strong following in these

Now on to some of the comments from the latest digest:

The Iceman wrote about "Introverted Gussing"
> In my formative years, I was an Introverted Gusser.
> At a show, like a Siegal-Schwall concert, I would pull out the correct
> harmonica and play along with the band. However, as an Introverted Gusser,
I never
> tried to be heard. I would play quiet enough so as not to interfere with
> enjoyment of those around me, oftentimes with one finger in my ear to
> hear myself. I would never push to the front of the crowd to play up at
the band.
> My purpose was in learning - not to draw attention to myself.
> The Iceman

Good term for it, Larry--"Introverted Gussing".  As I said at the outset, my
main concern was interfering with the enjoyment of the audience.
Apparently, in this unusual environment, audiences here appreciated and
supported what I was trying to do.  I have attested to the value of
Introverted Gussing, and I suspect you can, too, Larry.  You certainly are
one of the great players on this list.

And, M. N. commented:
> Michelle wrote:
> "Seems like its a bit different if the performer grants you permission
> of time... As I said in my 'confession', Harry encouraged my 'Gussing'.
> Neither he nor anyone else ever voiced a complaint or gave me a crooked
> look."
> ==============================
> Perhaps not. Not that you know of anyway.
> I am a nice guy, often times too nice. If I were a member of the audience
> when someone was gussing the band, I'd probably not have the nerve to walk
> over and tell them to stick it. That does not mean, however, that that
> person didn't ruin the evening for me (and likely for others as well).

M.N., it appears that you are conjecturing here.  I am relating what
actually happened to me, over a period of a year or so, at ~dozens~ of
Harry's gigs.

> I don't want to offend you, Michelle. I enjoy your enthusiasm and read all
> of your posts with interest.

Thanks for noticing, M.N.  And, for the record, I'm not offended.  I just
think you don't understand the circumstances surrounding my experience.

> And maybe you indeed have that very very rare
> situation where gussing is sanctioned and accepted by everyone there. But
> every club or bar I've ever been in, it's just rude -- rude as hell -- to
> the other folks who are trying to enjoy the show.

M.N., I thought from your previous comment that you hadn't been subjected to
Gussing as an audience member or a performer.  Now you seem to expound on
some actual experience with it.  Why not wait until it actually happens to
you before condemning me?  Is it possible that it is you who are wrong and
not me?  After all, I don't recall meeting you at one of Harry's gigs.  Or
perhaps you are one of the "appearance maintainers" I mentioned...

fmeek added his comments:
> Subject: Re: Introverted Gussing
> Ear of the beholder, I suppose.
> I was recently at a large and well-known harmonica event which
> hosted several nights of harmonica music.  A gentleman in the
> audience repeatedly pulled out his chromatic to figure out the
> key of songs being played.  He was attempting to play very
> quietly, I guess, but he was still heard several feet away, even
> over the amplified sound.  I'm a pretty easy going guy, but I
> kept getting distracted from the musical event by this man's note
> sampling and I kept hoping that he would stop.  His enjoyment of
> the event might have been increased but mine was decreased
> (others' too, based on the glances being shot at him).

Then you would have been doing everyone, including the Gusser, a favor by
gently suggesting to him that his activity was bothering you.  Since you
were but a few feet away, I assume you were within his earshot.

> It seems that out-of-place notes travel over air much better than
> correct ones.

Agreed.  Is it ~possible~ that ~my~ notes ~weren't~ out of place?

> Perhaps a good rule-of-thumb would be "when in doubt, lay out--
> or at least step out of audible range for others who might not
> enjoy your activity".

Well put.  And I agree completely.  That's why I didn't Gus during Mojo
Red's fine performance.

> Having said that, I describe myself as an out-of-earshot gusser.
> I step away and really smother the harp in my hands to keep the
> sound to myself and not attract notice.  I hope I'm accurate in
> my assessment.
> Regards,
> Frank

I wonder how many of us, if we were perfectly honest and forthright, would
echo the experience of Frank and the Iceman--on-list?

Finally, Scorcher can always be counted upon to voice his experience and
> Michelle,
> FWIW, I think some here have been too harsh in their criticism.

Thanks, Scorcher!

> Your story was clearly about a different "time & place" than most of
> your critics cited, and you did say you had permission, consent,
> cooperation AND your own following - not just once, but apparently
> time & time again.


> It would be interesting to hear if you encourage this kind of thing
> when you have your OWN gig.

I tell you what, Scorch.  If and when I am fortunate enough to have a
student who is as enthusastic and respectful towards me, my instrument, and
my playing as I am about Harry's, I'd consider it an honor to help them in
any way I could.  This is even more true since I have found out what Harry's
brand of generosity and supportiveness have done for me as a musician.
Maybe there would be more accomplished harp players out there if we all took
Harry's attitude...

Thanks for all the input, folks--I've learned some things from this thread.

And, so far no one has called it "Michelling", at least on-list!


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