For some time now I have been observing the importance of the harmonica on the world stage. I think this small instrument may, in fact, hold the key (no pun intended) to human survival on earth.
But more on that later. In the meantime, I’d like to reflect on what really matters in the short term, which is my career as a harmonica player. The world will little note (no pun intended), nor long remember what we play here, but the other night I played a solo with the San Francisco band I play with at El Rio every second Tuesday of the month, Los Train Wreck, that really impressed me. I don’t want to get to technical here, but it was smokin’ hot—so smokin’, in fact, that it literally burned the “g” off the word smokin’.
I don’t like to brag about myself, because my parents taught me that bragging was inappropriate, but at my age you have to start boasting or no one will take notice. Which may, under some circumstances, be a good thing. Actually, even if you do brag no one will notice. And because I am a harmonica player, the situation is that much more grim. Talk about an obscure and misunderstood area of expertise. Harmonica players have to fight for attention. We are the podiatrists of musicians. Our role is not always clear, or is so stereotyped that we are forced to wear a uniform such as the one worn by Dan Aykroyd in “The Blues Brothers.”
On top of that, there are a lot of harmonica players wandering around with chips on their shoulders. I don’t know if this is because they are mad because they aren’t getting the respect they feel they deserve or they are embarrassed by their small instrument, but they leave behind a trail of bad impression that reflects poorly on really great harmonica players such as myself, not that I am bragging about how good I am. Over the years I have repeatedly had to overcome other musicians’ prejudice against harmonica players and prove I was a real musician with mad skills. And by the way, I also play the piano, one of the largest instruments there is.
I chose the harmonica and the piano because of their similarities:
- The notes get higher as you move left to right, unless you have had one too many beers.
- They never need tuning—you just throw them away and buy new ones.
I also chose these two instruments—in case you have forgotten, I am referring to the piano and the harmonica—because they attract women. Not that I need help—plenty of women clamor for my attention. There are several banging on my door right now. They are wearing really cute police uniforms, with Tasers drawn, handcuffs, and everything. What fun!
The piano has always been a very sexy instrument. Think of Chopin, Duke Ellington, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber (maybe I should change my name to Bieber?), Liberace, or Schroeder. When you play piano, women just want you to touch them. Unless they are lesbians, in which case they want a woman piano player to touch them. They want you to poke them all over their “keyboard," running scales and arpeggios, stepping on their “pedals,” practicing hour after hour until you have mastered the piece. And when you are done they want you to carefully close their “lid” and push their “bench” back in. Then they want you to put out the garbage.
If the piano is hot, the harmonica is a furnace of love. Maybe it’s the drool, but I think it’s what it does for the tongue. A harmonica player’s tongue is astonishingly strong, sensitive, flexible, and aware. It has great stamina. It has a mind of its own. It knows where to go and what to do to achieve the optimal effect.
The piano and the harmonica. Pretty sexy instruments. And I play both, making me the sexiest harmonica player alive, according to a recent Pew Research poll.
You can read more about my technique and views on the harmonica in my book How to Play the Harmonica and Other Life Lessons. In that book, which I wrote in a feverish bout of genius similar to Beethoven composing his Ninth Symphony, I explain all this and more. I would definitely recommend it. In fact, I will do that right now:
“I highly recommend How to Play the Harmonica and Other Life Lessons.”—Sam Barry