Harmonica Lessons.com 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
I don't know why I ended up on Beal Street that night. I can't remember how
I even got to Memphis. I was cold, drunk and contemplating suicide. My life
was not a life at all. Sure from the outside looking in it may have seemed
like I had everything. A big house, sure, but empty rooms in a broken home.
Lots of stuff, yeah, but little peace and no time to enjoy them. Plenty of
gadgets and toys, obviously, but they complicated my life not simplified it.
I was tired of walking in a world of wealthy giants with small moralities. I
was tired of growing my financial portfolio while destroying friendships
along the way.
I don't know why I was on Beal Street but the sound of a harmonica drew me in
like a rat in the old Fable drawn out of the village. Only, this time the
rat was drawn into the village. The village of Black man's rock and roll and
blues. A place where legends stayed true to their character and craft while
my craft and character sank under the desire for material gain. I stumbled
through the night in search of the harmonica that sought my soul.
Sun Records, I smiled as I read the sign above the old studio door. Sun
Records, I smiled as I remember the great rocking blues of the fifties that
Sun Records produced. Music that wasn't fit for a white boy, so I was told.
Oh sure, Elvis cut a record out of this studio but there were so many great
black men before him. Great black men true to their craft but not easily
sold to white men controlled radio stations. Black men that were lost in
time but knew always who they were. I walked on toward the sound of the
harmonica. I walked on, lost in time not knowing who I was.
I walked on with each step leaving a piece of my desire to continue etched
into the concrete sidewalk. Each exhale leaving a part of my soul
evaporating into the cool night air. Each beat of my heart pounding upon my
head begging for me to collapse on the curb in despair. I could have
collapsed but the harmonica kept calling me closer.
That was when I saw the man who saved my life. He sat in a small park off
Beal Street, W. C. Handy Park. The park had more statues of blues legends
then it did trees but it was a park just the same. His harmonica called out
in loneliness for a friend in the dark void of night that sank deep into my
soul. I sat on a park bench and looked deep into his haunting eyes and
listened to his mournful song.
When he finished, he turned my way, looked me in the eyes and smiled. Before
I could applaud his playing he said, "You kind of feel it in your gut don't
you?" I nodded, before I could open my mouth to say anything he put the
harmonica back in his mouth and played but one note, I was marveling at how
he could hold that note so long. Then using his hands he made that thing
warble like a butterfly, I just sat there totally mesmerized by this gentle
giant of a black man who was playing for me alone. He held that note, adding
wobbles and flutters, for what seemed an hour. When he finished I couldn't
find the words to my questions. He looked at me and a smile lit his face
asking, "You new in town, huh?"
"Yes, sir," was all that managed to pass my lips.
"Well be careful 'round here, there's many tough guys here. But you'll be
all right with me." He declared, and I believed him. "Why don't you sit
And I did. And for the next two hours he put on a show, and I mean A SHOW.
He didn't stand, without an amplifier, guitar, or anything else he blew my
blues away. At one brief break in his playing I asked him, "Where did you
learn to play harmonica like that?"
"We call it Harp. I guess I been playing since I'm a child." And he lit
into another number. I guess he played all night, I remember falling asleep
to a song he called "Easy." And that's the way he made it look, sitting
there under the trees.
The next morning I woke, alone, on a park bench. I vaguely remembered the
previous night and it all seemed more of a dream. As I walked from the park
toward the street I looked at one of the statues. I looked at a face that
seemed all too familiar. The plate at the base of the statue read; Walter,
Shakey, Horton, Easy. I smiled at my friend cast in bronze. The greatest
Harmonica player and pioneer of the Memphis blues sound. I thanked him for
his visit and for saving my life. It was time to go back home. After a
brief good-bye to the statue, I pulled up my collar against the brisk wind
and threw my hands into my pockets. A smile jumped to my face beneath eyes
of surprise as I felt a Harp resting in the pocket of my denim blues.
The Walter Horton in this story is a real life Blues Harp giant. He was
later called Big Walter. He made a famous recording of Easy at Sun Studios,
I've heard that there is a statue of him in that park, but don't know if
that's what it says.
"I've been actively playing Harp for five years. Like most kids, my Dad bought me a
Marine Band Harmonica that sat in a drawer for years."