One of my go to guys to hear great blues harp tone has always been Mark Hummel. He's one of those cats like Rod Piazza, Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin,RJ Mischo, (and a few others that are on the tip of my tongue, but not at the tip of my typing fingers)who fell under the spell of the sound of the blues harp as teenagers and devoted most of their waking hours (and hours that they shouldn't have been awake) picking out licks by the masters. Now that they've all entering different stages of middle age, they have become the masters that they set out to emulate back in the day. In other words, he and they pretty much have it down pat.
Hummel has superbly showcased his peers on the instruments by releasing a series of his Blues Harmonica Blowouts, dating back to 1993. In between those great discs, he's put out new releases and combed his audio (and in some cases video) archives for stuff that he's never released. Retro-Active combines some of both. He dips back as far as 1995 for a couple of the cuts and includes sessions from 2000, 2005, 2006,and 2009 employing 18 different musicians. Some, such as Charlie Musselwhite, appear on a single tune (Charlie's playing his acoustic guitar and not harp, by the way).
One might think that combining a disc from a myriad of sessions and musicians might prove a little discombobulating, but they would be mistaken. The reason being that there's nary a musician on the disc not steeped in as much blues lore as Mark Hummel. They know what he wants and they deliver. Doesn't hurt that one of my favorite blues guitarists, Rusty Zinn, glues things down on 12 of the 15 cuts, beginning with Funky Way on which he demonstrates his expertise for laying back and playing nothing but rhythm guitar--no lead guitar at all on this tune. Chris Burns' Booker T type organ swirls drive this tune with backing vocal chorus' that echo Hummel's lyrics. The tune exemplifies Zinn's versatility and Hummel's penchant for mixing the vibe up with a tune that's definitely a bit more funky r&b than blues. Good vocal job from him. I wouldn't not have recognized this as being Mark Hummel if it had just popped up on satellite radio. He plays no harp until just a little after the 3 minute mark, but then he rides the song on home with fatback notes and oozing tone.
From there, the disc swings through West Coast Jump on tunes such as Never No More, with a horn section supplied by Johnny Bones (sax) and Lech Wierzynski (trumpet), Little Walter's classic Roller Coaster (which he's covered before), and the deep Delta Mud of the acoustic Can't Be Successful, with the aforementioned Musselwhite picking cotton on the guitar. Hummel can always be counted on to throw down a Rhumba, such as on Highway Rhumba, and adding some tasty third position minor keyed stuff with Steve Freund picking out some Peter Green sort of licks on Before The Beginning. He even shares guitar credits with my new favorite guitar guru, Kid Anderson, (who, by the way, mixed and matched this cd at his Greaseland Studios) on the Jimmy Reed groove of My Baby's So Sweet. There are no song credit notes, so I have little to go on as far as authorship to the songs here. I do love what he does with I'm Shorty, whoever wrote it.
So, what you have here is basically Mark Hummel doing what he's best at doing and doing it well. I could describe the blow by blow lick action, but why? If you've heard Mark Hummel, then you know to expect top notch, quality harp blowing. If you haven't then Retro-Active is a darned good place to start. 'Nuff for now.
Okay, once more with feeling...this should be EVERYTHING that anyone should need to get exited about the Texas Down Home Blues Harmonica Festival.
Texas Down Home Blues Harmonica Festival & Clinic By Ida Mae McClemore
When people think of blues harmonica, they most likely don’t think of Houston – a blues boomtown that is more known for producing electric guitar innovators like Gatemouth Brown, Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Joe Guitar Hughes and especially Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins.
They probably think of Chicago blues, more so because artists like Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Walter, James Cotton, Junior Wells lowdown amplified blues harp became synonymous with Chicago’s raw urban electric blues of the post WWII war era. And deservedly so.
But along the Texas gulf coast (including Louisiana) and throughout the state, the blues harmonica has its own unique history. From Bellville, TX and known as the “ghetto poet” Weldon “Juke Boy Bonner’s hard livin’ troubadour sound on harmonica and guitar captured the poverty of Houston’s 5th Ward in the sixties.
Lightnin’ Hopkins’ cousin harmonica Billy Bizor was well documented in the Les Blank documentary The Blues According to Lightnin’. He also participated on several Lightnin’ Hopkins recordings as well as his own exceptional albeit obscure, often nefariously bootlegged solo offerings.
Not to mention famed blues artist Junior Parker sang like Sam Cooke and played a mean harmonica flawlessly blended with the brassy uptown production values during the Duke Peacock Records heyday as the world’s largest blues label, based out of Houston. Another Houston resident and a true world-famous blues legend, Big Mama Thornton played an excellent blues harmonica, making any head cutting contest with her male counterparts one to remember.
In recent years, during the roots music boom in the eighties, white-hot Austin bluesman like The Fabulous Thunderbirds front man Kim Wilson or Gary Primich with The Mannish Boys ruled stages while legend Sam Myers, who was living in Dallas, was knocking blues lovers out with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets. Harp players and blue-eyed soul singers like Delbert McClinton were performing on Saturday Night Live as Fort Worth natives Darrell Nulisch and Hash Brown were clawing their way to notoriety. All the while, harp cats Tommy Dar Dar, Rich Layton, and Sonny Boy Terry were paying dues in Houston’s massive metroplex.
Texas has a way of adopting most any kind of blues/roots music into its own independent style. In Texas, it’s like we don’t care where you are from, but we prefer you have your own musical path. We’re not culturally isolated so it’s almost as if we encapsulate all that is American music. If you hear a bit of twang in those guitar licks, a groovin’ latin rumba, urban brass on top of a western swing and a Jimmy Reed shuffle spiced up with some Cajun gumbo and howlin’ Mississippi Hoo Doo, you are probably hearing Texas blues.
On Saturday, July 31st at Dan Electro’s Guitar Bar at 1031 E. 24th Street in the Houston Heights. The Down Home Texas Blues Harmonica Festival and Clinic will be born. The event is really about blues with the emphasis on harmonica--a fine, organized event with a healthy dose of local regional and national talent.
It’s an all day harmonica affair beginning at 3PM and going until last call. Tickets are modestly priced. Doors open at 2:30PM. It costs 25 dollars for Adam Gussow’s Modern Blues Harmonica Clinic from 4PM-6PM. You may purchase the whole day for 35 dollars that included Pocket Full of Soul: The Harmonica Documentary and all the featured artists. There is food and drink to purchase on site for those who want to stay all day. It costs 12 dollars for the Texas Blues Harmonica showcase and the movie. You are able to buy tickets online at www.houstonharmonicalessons.com or at www.houstonharmonicalessons.eventbrite.com
At 3PM things get started right away with the H-Town Jukes featuring Larry Bernal (former Sonny Boy Terry student and protégé) on the blues harp and vocals. The H-Town Jukes are out there doing it on the Houston scene with a highly recommended sweet new album titled Long Time Comin’. Advertised as an “old school” blues band, expect them to show off great harp tone and traditional Chicago tongue block playing technique.
A modern day bluesman and harmonica guru, the internationally renowned Adam Gussow will then share his wealth of traditional as well as progressive blues harp insights during his two-hour lecture/performance, the Modern Blues Harmonica clinic, which is designed to assist enthusiasts in reaching the next plateau in their quest in mastering the instrument. This is an entirely interactive class for harmonica players, so everyone needs to bring their set of harps. It’s also great entertainment for anyone just wanting to see a true master. Adam will lecture on everything from traditional Hill Country harmonica techniques to contemporary styles such as overblowing, amplification, effects, and microphones. But Adam is not only a wonderfully innovative harmonica player; perhaps from his experience as an English professor at University of Mississippi, he truly knows how to help others understand how to do it and what it takes for someone to reach their goals. What truly brings Adam’s teaching skills to life is his true-life experience performing on the streets and genuine blues passion blended with a professor’s intellect.
Gussow gained international recognition as one half of the Satan and Adam duo, as they applied their gritty brand of street blues to several highly acclaimed recordings, beginning with Harlem Blues, released in 1991. That experience led to his well received book detailing their musical journey, Mister Satan’s Apprentice. After bit of a break spent nurturing his career as a university professor, Gussow re-emerged on YouTube videos literally going viral with a series of excellent lessons on playing the harmonica. He then created his popular www.modernbluesharmonica.com website offering up all things harmonica.
Adam Gussow has picked up gigging more frequently, performing at the Chicago Blues Festival in 2010 as a one man band (which he’ll put on display in a mid-evening set). His involvement in workshops and clinics all over America led to the overwhelming success of his first annual Hill Country Harmonica festival/clinic conducted this past May in Mississippi.
Texas Harp fest producer Sonny Boy Terry said he feels that getting Adam Gussow to come down to Texas and share his wealth of expertise and talent will be a very special treat for blues harmonica fans.
“I learned a lot by attending Adam’s Hill Country Harmonica camp, soaking in everything I could,” Terry said. “Adam is a great harmonica instructor and everyone can gain something from him, regardless of their experience. Plus, he is just flat out entertaining to boot.” Coming from a seasoned blues harmonica professional like Sonny Boy Terry, that is indeed a great testimonial.
Whether it’s harmonica rumbles or guitar competitions, activities like this are for all lovers of their instrument. This event obviously designed for all blues lovers, but these type of shows are great for networking, a chance opportunity to get on stage and perform, learn about new gear, make new friends and just sharing the general camaraderie of all things harmonica.
Following Adam’s clinic, the plan is too take in a short dinner break from 6-7 PM, eating on site or checking out one of the Houston Heights’ superb Mexican restaurants before the evening festivities. So come hungry. This is a great time to ask questions and get to know everyone.
At 7PM, IT’S MOVIE TIME! Pocket Full of Soul: The Harmonica Documentary on a big screen. Can a passion for an instrument that fits in your pocket change lives? See, and better yet, hear for yourself as you explore the myths surrounding the harmonica as never before--in its evolution from toy to bona fide musical instrument--from some of the greatest harmonica players in the world. PFOS was produced and directed by Houstonians Marc Lempert and Todd Slobin. This great salute to harmonica features Jason Ricci, Huey Lewis, Clint Black, Magic Dick, Mark Hummel, Jon Popper and many others.
Galveston, TX blues harp stalwart, Dave Nevling and the Blues Kats will represent the south coast, kicking off the evening in style for the harmonica showcase lineup. Dave’s been a part of the Gulf Coast blues scene for quite some time, going back to his stints with Bert Wills and Mark May and the Agitators. From there he ventured off on his own in 1997 in order to share his vocal, harp, and writing talents with the rest of the world. A trio of solo recordings reflects the quality of this triple threat bluesman, as he moves from smooth jazzy interludes and Gulf Coast rock to lowdown gutbucket blues, proving his mettle as a solid blues harp technician and a dynamic performer. Dave is a righteous blues harmonica player with a warm amplified tone, a clever songwriter, and a fine singer to go with being a really accessible musician who is always open to answer anyone’s questions about blues or harmonica--in short, a great seasoned blues performer and all around great guy.
Rob Roy Parnell grew up in a musical family, along with his famous older brother Lee Roy Parnell, whom he shared stages with for a number of years as Lee Roy established himself within the country music market. A longtime Austin resident, Parnell regularly performed with Texas artists as diverse as Flaco Jimenez, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Mueller, Rob Roy blends Texas’ many sounds to create his own version of Texas roadhouse music. And it is the real deal! He swings from rootsy Americana, old-time rock and roll, swampy ballads, to straight-up blues. Parnell never fails to get a joint hopping and bopping when he blows the reeds out of his harp. It’s high time for Rob Roy Parnell to have a higher profile in Houston. What makes Rob Roy Parnell special is he has developed his own thing – his own unique presentation with a gritty Texas landscape as his backdrop to go with all those crazy blues harp chops.
The Sonny Boy Terry Band is the host band and will provide the finale in the last, but certainly not the least, blues harp showcase. Sonny Boy Terry, who is serving double duty on this day as producer and performer, has become synonymous with Houston blues, and after moving to the city for tutelage from legendary veterans, such as Joe Guitar Hughes, Jimmy Dotson, Johnny Copeland, and Jimmy T-99 Nelson, he has definitely stepped into their footprints and become the veteran on the scene. He picked up the challenge to carry the blues torch forward with the same dignity as his predecessors, and his music reflects the rich gumbo of influences that make up blues music from the Texas Gulf Coast and notably Houston. Sonny Boy Terry has two well received and internationally distributed solo albums on the Austin based boutique blues label Doc Blues Records and has played on over twenty albums, including records by Roy Head, Joe Hughes, Calvin Owens, Rich Delgrosso, and Johnny Copeland. Terry continues to gain recognition, showing the worldwide blues community what that was all about when he represented the Houston Blues Society in Memphis at the 2010 International Blues Challenge.
This is the first try on the Texas Harmonica Festival and one thing we do know is a blues jam is altogether fitting and proper--there are many players to want to sit in with a cool band. Helping out as the house rhythm section is past IBC Albert King Award winner Jonn Richardson on guitar and vocals, Lenny Fatigati on bass and JD Ditulio on drums. This is a world class blues band indeed.
Houston blues harmonica doctor Steve “Fess” Schneider will orchestrate the After Midnight Blues Jam to close out the evening, with an open invitation to all blues performers in attendance. It’s a two hour continuous jam, so please make yourself known and get on the list. Bring your own guitar, harps or sticks, as all blues players are welcome, not just harmonica players. There will be seasoned players plus a few newbies chompin’ at the bit to get up on stage. Fess’s even handed approach will help make it fun for everybody until last call. 2PM – Last call. Complete details can be found at www.houstonharmonicalessons.com or www.sonnyboyterry.com
ADAM GUSSOW comes at the contemporary blues world with a singular combination of talents--an ability to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. An award-winning scholar and memoirist, associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, Gussow spent more than a decade working the streets of Harlem and the international club and festival circuit with Mississippi-born bluesman Sterling Magee as the duo Satan and Adam. He currently performs with both Satan and Adam (recently reformed as a trio) and the guitarist Charlie Hilbert. According to a reviewer for American Harmonica Newsletter, Gussow's harmonica playing is characterized by "technical mastery and innovative brilliance that comes along but once in a generation." When Satan and Adam were honored with a cover story in Living Blues magazine in 1996, Gussow was, according to editor David Nelson, "the first white blues musician to be so prominently spotlighted in the magazine's 26-year history." Raised in suburban Congers, NY, educated at Princeton and Columbia, Gussow has an unusual pedigree for a blues performer. in Mister Satan's Apprentice: A Blues Memoir (1998), he credits his career to the mentorship of two older African American bluesmen: Nat Riddles, a Bronx-born harmonica player who had worked with Odetta, Larry Johnson, and others; and Magee, a guitarist-percussionist with whom Gussow teamed up after a chance afternoon jam session on Harlem's 125th Street. As Satan and Adam, Magee and Gussow have released four albums: Harlem Blues (1991), which was nominated for a W. C. Handy Award as "Traditional Blues Album of the Year"; Mother Mojo (1993); Living on the River (1996); and Word On the Street: Harlem Recordings, 1989 (2008). A brief extract of Magee and Gussow performing on 125th Street was included in U2's Rattle & Hum documentary. Gussow's other musical credits include a stint with the bus-and-truck tour of Big River; several decades as a blues harmonica instructor at The Guitar Study Center in New York and in private practice; and an eight-time coach at Jon Gindick's Blues Harmonica Jam Camps. He's also headlined the Mundharmonika-Live festival in Klingenthal, Germany (2008) and has taught at Blues Week in the UK (2008). Long an advocate for the New York City blues scene, Gussow has jammed and gigged with many of the city's national touring acts, including Shemekia Copeland, The Holmes Brothers, Michael Hill and the Blues Mob, Bill Perry, and Popa Chubby. Most recently, Gussow's ongoing series of instructional videos posted at YouTube--the "dirty-South blues harp channel"--has drawn international acclaim from players and bloggers alike. In addition to Mister Satan's Apprentice, which received the Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Literature from the Blues Foundation in Memphis and is being republished by the University of Minnesota Press in 2009, Gussow is the author of Seems Like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition (2002), which won the annual C. Hugh Holman Award given by the Society for the Study of Southern Literature as the best book of scholarship in the area, and Journeyman's Road: Modern Blues Lives From Faulkner's Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York (2007). Gussow's essays and reviews have appeared in Southern Cultures, African American Review, Harper's, The Village Voice, American Literature, and many other publications. He is the founder and chair of Blues Today, an annual symposium on the blues held at the University of Mississippi and sponsored by Living Blues magazine.
As of May 30, 2008, I retired as a high school teacher with 29 years of sharing my knowledge of journalism, English, and world geography with Texas teenagers and eventually some of their kids (including three of my own).
This blog will provide a piece of the answer to the question I've been asked for the millionth time, "Well, what are you going to do now?"
#1 Son, John Bush, designed the title artwork several years ago and it is remarkably appropriate for this blog. Try this as a contact e-mail: rkbush51 at att dot net.