[Harp-L] What first attracted you to harmonica? Why did you learn to play it?

Michelle LeFree mlefree@xxxxx
Sat Mar 4 11:51:57 EST 2017

Peter Madcat Ruth wrote:

>In 1964 I heard Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry on the radio and I was hooked.

I saw Sonny and Brownie 7 years later. Sat in the front row of a small 
venue. I was riveted. Changed my life! But instead of deciding to try to 
play them at the time I became a blues aficionado and a bit of a blues 

I was taken back to 1971 later on when I lived in Ann Arbor for 20 years 
and had the extreme pleasure of seeing Madcat & Kane perform on many 
occasions. Again, I was riveted. But I was so busy raising my kids, 
working the University of Michigan and starting a company that my 
enjoyment of the blues was limited to listening while I worked. I still 
kick myself, though, for not hooking up with Peter when I had the 
chance. We even had the same dentist and chatted blues in the waiting 
room on several occasions. As Maxwell Smart used to say, "Missed it by 
~that~ much!"

It wasn't until I moved back to Colorado 17 years ago that I picked up a 
harmonica. I decided that instead of hooking my TV up to cable I'd put 
my money and time to much more productive use. I really only wanted to 
play songs around the campfire or while taking a break from fishing, 
etc. and I loved the idea of a pocket-sized instrument that I could take 
anywhere. So I bought a Special 20. It wasn't until I tried to play 
along with some of my favorite songs that it dawned on me that I'd need 
more than one harp. Then I broke a reed. I couldn't afford to just toss 
the harp so I bought Blackie Shackner's book, a Lee Oskar tool kit and a 
few homemade tools and replaced the reed.

I tried every learning resource I could find (this was pre-Youtube) and 
Harp-L was my oasis. But it was Jerry Portnoy's Masterclass CDs when 
they first came out that set me free and gave me a fingernail hold start 
to my lifelong learning pursuit of the little tin sandwich instrument I 

Now I have dozens of harmonicas of various sizes and descriptions, 
hundreds of dollars in repair/customization tools, literature and videos 
(Richard Sleigh's are tops!).

And along the way I've made dozens of great "HarpBuddy" friends as I 
call them from around the world and several inspirational teachers, many 
of whom are on Harp-L. My harmonic playing and repairing was a doorway 
into the rich social life that I enjoy now that I most likely wouldn't 
otherwise have had.

What a wonderful little instrument!


More information about the Harp-L mailing list