Monday, August 20, 2007
Society for the Advancement and Preservation of the Harmonica
Yes, there is actually a national organization dedicated to harmonicas, once again proving that the United States is home to an infinite number of odd sub-cultures that lurk below the radar. And I attended the national convention of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (aka "SPAH") from Tuesday through Saturday. A couple hundred harmonica nuts assembled in a Sheraton in suburban Milwaukee to ponder the mysteries of the instrument - rapid tongue switching, over-blows, pros/cons of alternative tunings and dozens of other obscure topics. It was a true geek-fest, and I fit right in.
There were very many awesome harmonica players at the conference, ranging from the great jazz musician Howard Levy (he just stopped in to play at the jazz jam) to Charlie Musslewhite, the legendary bluesman (headliner for the Friday night concert). In the crowd were fantastic players like my teacher, Joe Filisko, Irish harmonica God James Conway, New York Bluesman/college professor Adam Gussow, jam band rock star Jason Ricci, elderly ass-kicking classical chromatic players like Stan Harper, the legendary Milwaukee blues harp stars Steve Cohen and Jim Liban, 13-year old harmonica phenom L.D. Miller and the larger-than-life Superman of the Blues, Buzz Krantz. I connected with one terrific player that I have heard about for years, Rosco Selley, who plays harmonica for a fabulous alternative rock band called Maybe August. Here is a picture of Rosco, rocking out:
Rosco combines blazing technique with a high level of musicianship - a combination rarely seen in a harmonica player. He lives in Bay City MI and he operates a small business to pay the bills (harmonica honking is generally not a high-paying profession). Pick up a copy of the Maybe August CD - it is great stuff.
The one really strange aspect of the SPAH convention was the lack of African American harmonica players. Some of the best players around are black, particularly blues players like James Cotton, Billy Branch, Sugar Blue and the rest of the "real deal" guys. It would be great if they would join the geeky world of SPAH - we need them.