[Harp-L] RE: Harp-L Digest, Vol 89, Issue 35

My friend Cousin Al has been the King of Bluegrass Radio since the early/mid-70's; first on KFAT radio in Gilroy, CA ("Garlic Capitol of the World") and now for over twenty years on KPIG radio in Freedom, CA. Every Sunday evening w/o fail on 107 oink 5.If you live in the Santa Cruz/Monterey/Salinas area, you know what I mean.  And everybody who records and performs bluegrass nationally knows Cousin Al. And nobody knows bluegrass music like Cousin Al, that's what they say.  
I didn't play harp unitl about ten years ago, and it was a couple years after that when I dropped by "the Sty" during his show. Hadn't seen Al for many years; had my harps w/ me and played along to some of the songs he was spinning (ok, they're on CD now, so DJ's don't actually "spin" anything anymore). Finally I had to ask: "Hey Cousin Al, who is the best harmonica player in bluegrass music?" With a sad and sympathetic look at me he said: "Steve, there is no harmonica in bluegrass music."
And I realized that in all the years I'd listened to Cousin Al's show, I couldn't recall ever hearing any harmonica. Oh, well.
 JWilliam Thompson <landcommentary@xxxxxxxxx>
Subject: [Harp-L] Bluegrass
To: harp-l@xxxxxxxxxx
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I play bluegrass harmonica at jams in my area and have been following
the recent bluegrass thread. I agree with almost everything that has
been said so far.

True, the harmonica has failed to make any significant inroads into
bluegrass. Why is that? Someone said that the harmonica can't play
bluegrass with the same expressiveness as the fiddle. While true, that
is not the main problem. The main problem is that only a tiny handful
of harmonica players have taken the trouble to figure out what makes
bluegrass music unique and to undertake the long learning curve of
playing fiddle tunes and other bluegrass music in first, second, or
third position as needed.

Bluegrass musicians often don't like harmonica players, as someone
pointed out. One reason for that is that over the years harmonica
players have wandered into bluegrass jams and tried to "wing it"
without bothering to learn the melodies of bluegrass songs and all the
other nuances of bluegrass. That is the total experience of harmonica
to most bluegrassers. Can you blame them for being aversive?

As to whether harmonica "sounds right" in a bluegrass context, I would
suggest that you listen to the Maine band Evergreen, in which
harmonica has been gracefully integrated into the mix. Bluegrass is a
tremendous opportunity for harmonica players who are willing to spend
the necessary time in the woodshed to learn this challenging art form.

Bill in DC

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