[Harp-L] Les Paul the harmonica player

   Just started Mary Shaughnessy's excellent biography of guitarist Les
Paul and was surprised to find that Les was also an accomplished harmonica
   Apparently Les was eight years old when a guy digging a sewer line in
front of the boy's house broke out a harmonica and started playing.  Les,
mesmerized, camped out in front of the laborer and showed such interest
that the ditch digger gave him the instrument.  His mother insisted on
boiling the harp in water and her "attempt to sterilize the instrument
helped initiate the first of many sound experiments her son would conduct
over the years.  Les found that the waterlogged harmonica gave him a
bubbling, bluesy sound that made him different from all the other kids in
town.  From that day forward, he got into the habit of soaking his mouth
organ in a pail of water for a few hours before playing.  Little did he
know that this was a standard practice among veteran blues
performers........"Les almost broke me buying harmonicas," his mother later
recalled, "and he insisted on having the best, not the ones from the dime
   "One of his favorite musicians was Deford Bailey, Grand Ole Opry's first
black star, famed for his smoky, bluesy harmonica sound.  Les tuned in the
Opry broadcast every Saturday night so he could study the veteran
entertainer's soulful style of blowing."
   There are a couple of photos in the book showing Les blowing a
double-sided harmonica.  One of them shows the harp in a rack, circa 1930.
Les claimed that he invented the rack and could flip the harp with his
chin, going from a C to a G grid.  According to the author, however, Les
stole this idea from a radio entertainer named "Pie Plant Pete," who he
idolized.  Pete "held his double-reed mouth harp in place with a U-shaped
shoulder brace fashioned from a piece of No. 9 wire.  As far as Pie Plant
Pete knew, his harmonica holder 'was original and the only one of its kind
in the world.'"  This would be mid-1920's.
   Anyway, interesting stuff.  The ditchdigger who introduced Les Paul to
the harmonica had asked the boy to play it.  When Les said he couldn't, the
man said something that Les insisted became a governing principle his life
from that day on: "Don't SAY you can't until you've PROVED you can't."
   Though Les did a ton of live and radio performing under the name
"Rhubarb Red" with his guitar and racked harp, I don't know if any examples
of this exists.

Mick Zaklan

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