Short Stories

Harmonica visitors submit fiction or non-fiction short stories based on experiences that involve the harmonica or harmonica playing. If you would like to have a short story included in our collection, please note the procedures for submission in the bullet points on the Short Stories main page.

Steve Bryan

I'm 40 years old, and I've had a love/hate relationship with the harmonica for about thirty years now. I dearly love the music, but hated the fact that I couldn't play the darn thing. I'd pick one up every few years, and try it for about a week, quickly giving up in disgust. Oh, I could honk out the notes, inhale and exhale, and I could pick out the notes of most songs I wanted. But it always sounded like I was tooting on a toy. That soulful, crying, moaning sound made by bending notes has always eluded me. I'd listen to the harp on Willie Nelson songs, and just ache to play like that. I found a few books on the subject, and none of them really made much sense. I'm relatively musical - I taught myself banjo and guitar, but the idea of bending a note on a harmonica was a complete mystery to me.

This past December, while looking for harp info and tabs on the net, I found the Harmonica Lessons website and the technical info on bending. It finally made sense to me, and within half an hour, I was bending away! Sure is hard to play when you're grinning ear to ear and giggling like a kid, but I managed. I immediately taught my 14 year old son, and he's picked it up pretty well, and is much further down the road than I was at his age. He'd just landed a part in the musical Tommy, here at our local college, and was beginning the rehearsals around January. One day he pops the Tommy CD into my player, and tells me there's a harmonica solo on one of the songs ("Eyesight to the Blind") and could I play it? I had just learned to bend a week or so earlier, so naturally that made me an expert as far as he was concerned. To my great surprise, I was able to figure it out and play it almost note for note within the first couple of plays. I started teaching him, and we talked with the director about letting him play it onstage. The director shook his head and told me that my son would be in the dressing room during that song, changing for the "Pinball Wizard" scene, so he couldn't play it - but would I mind doing it?

Now, I did magic and clown shows when I was back in college, and I have no trouble getting in front of an audience, but I wasn't sure I wanted to get up on stage and play my harmonica after so recently learning how. I hadn't even really learned any new songs, just bending notes. Luckily, this harmonica solo on "Eyesight to the Blind" was almost all bending, and I could do that. I ended up using three different harmonicas - A, D & F (A and F for the main stuff, and D for some extras I threw in - hey, I only had two and a half minutes onstage, I might as well get in as many licks as I can). I made a holster for them clipped to my belt, and I'd throw back my jacket and whip 'em out like a gunfighter. It made it easier to keep track of them too, since I had to handle each of them twice during the song. I practiced in the car during my half hour drive to work, and another half hour back home. That's really the only practicing I get so far, and for that reason, I still haven't learned how to hold a harp with two hands.

In the show, the Pimp (aka the Hawker) and I saunter out onstage. He sits on a bench, and I prop one foot on the bench, and stand behind him, leaning over his shoulder, where the microphone is clipped on his lapel. I'm dressed like a bum, and my makeup makes me look like a pretty rough dude. I guess I'm the Assistant to the Pimp (Vice Pimp?) He plays the guitar and sings the song, a standard twelve bar blues progression, and I wail over his shoulder. In the middle, I get a nice long solo, which in 3rd Position is pretty much all inhale. I counted it up, and out of around 216 eighth notes, only five of them are blow. It took a big exhale before starting, and some creative breathing during some parts, but it was a blast! We ended up doing eight shows to mostly sell-out crowds, and I got lots of compliments on my one-handed harping. One lady said she'd thought it was a recording, which I took as a great compliment. It just goes to show, that you never know. One day, you finally learn to bend notes, and the next thing you know, you're onstage playing in a musical. Who would've believed it?

I'm now listening to a lot more harmonica - in the car, of course - and practicing my grinning, one-handed wailing all the way to and from work. Right now I'm working on Charlie McCoy's "Orange Blossom Special", and Magic Dick's "Whammer Jammer". Both are extremely ambitious endeavors, but, hey, I've got time.

Steve Bryan
Corpus Christi, Texas

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