[Harp-L] Strange Harpists of Yesteryear

Mick Zaklan mzaklan@xxxxx
Fri Jun 29 11:41:28 EDT 2018

   The recent 1st position/jug band thread jogged my memory a bit.  Back
when I was young, in the 60's and early 70's, there was a bit of a jug band
revival going on.  Leading the charge in this country was the Jim Kweskin
Jug Band.  The group sold a fair amount of records and occasionally showed
up on network television.  They carried a mysterious and charismatic harp
player named Mel Lyman.  Some of his harp work and spoken word has found
its way onto YouTube.  I never had a chance to check out the guy before so
I gave it a quick listen.  Distinctive style with close cupped hands and a
nervous, quick vibrato/tremolo.  Reminded me of a bird warbling, at times
even a bunch of caged pigeons.  I recall at the time that some people were
extremely impressed with his playing but by today's harmonica standards I'm
not sure Mel would rate anything more than a good player in the SPAH blues
jam circle.  But there definitely is some craftsmanship, intellect, and
expressiveness in what I heard.
   However, it would have been extremely dangerous to have the late Mel
Lyman roaming around a harmonica convention.  Apparently the man's powers
of persuasion were considerable enough that he was able to assemble an
armed cult around himself and be worshiped as God by these folks.  Rolling
Stone magazine did a lengthy piece on the Lyman cult many years ago.  You
can still find it online.  Kim Fields did a nice little piece on Mel in his
"Harmonicas, Harps and Heavy Breathers" book.  I particularly like Mel's
response when Kweskin asked him why he only listened to Ray Charles
records.  "Ray Charles contains all music", Mel replied.
   Spoken like a guru, eh?

Mick Zaklan

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