Blues Access Fall 2000
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Dear Dr. Harpo

Harpo revels in the idleness of the moment. After returning from the fire sale at Sidís House of Used Fruit, he whiles away the passing day by eating bing cherries and expelling the pits into the hatband of his upturned homburg in the middle of the shag carpet in Casa díHarpo. Lucky for that poncho on the floor, the pits clash with the chartreuse in the shag. He switches to peaches and careens a two-cushion shot off the Hummels cabinet, neatly kissing the tag marked "size 5-1/4" as it sinks home. Momentarily stymied by a brace of coconuts, he strategizes as the parquet feels the leafy cascade of todayís mail from a world in need. A world in need is a world indeed, he waxes philosophically, buffing the coconut to a spit-shine. Hmm, ripe avocados Ö

Dear Dr. Harpo,

Iím using a Shure model 52 and a í50s Gibson Skylark amp. The tone is killer, but the volume bites. Is there an amp that will reproduce my tone and squeal like an Arkansas razorback with a hot pepper enema, and make me sell my í59 Edsel to afford it? Also, do you know someone who works on chromatic harps? I sent my Super 64 to a big-time tech in Indiana to have a reed replaced and a tune-up, and heís had it for a year. My old lady squirted out a kid in less time, and when I call heís always got an excuse, but I donít want to mention his name. I know my harp is sitting on a shelf, and he sure cashed my check fast enough.


Harpo slowly shakes his head in disbelief. As if in sympathy, something mournfully rattles inside his head, in a minor key. Why canít we all live together in peace, he ponders? Because we only have one bathroom, he posits. He tootles through a nose-flute, his "Variations on a Theme for Three Tap-Dancing Nuns and Falling Cookware." Seems to fit. Hmm, this could get interesting Ö

Dear Mike,

I looked through various publications that I have stored in my hole in the ground and seem to remember that interstate commerce, especially mail-order stuff, is very well regulated. Check with the Postmaster/mistress in your burg, they will know the particulars, and then get in touch with the man with your Chro, sharing this information with him. I donít know the fellow in question, but I would suspect that itís a one-person operation, and heís either a disorganized businessperson or his life is in an uproar, or both. None of which is your concern, but I donít think that anyone who plays harp would act maliciously toward you, or toward the harmonica that you kissed so much that you knocked a reed out of it.

As to an alternate source of Chromatic repairs, I would go right to the source and send it back to Hohner. You avoid a lot of hassles when you deal with big established companies, even if it takes some time and costs a few bucks. Hell, you are íway beyond the amount of time that repairs usually take to turn around. Hohner will keep you posted as to what needs to be done and how much it costs, and they do a great job.

Has anyone put your amp up on the bench to see if it is putting out the proper amount of juice? You may have old tubes, or someone could have messed around with switching tubes or other modifications in order to get the killer tone that you have, with a low volume trade-off. It is a small amp, so you might also be getting all that it has to give you. Youíre too far away from where I am writing this for me to tell how loud your amp is, and you might be a former roadie for the MC5, so I donít know how loud you want to get. My favorite for all-time eyebrow-removing volume is a Fender Twin Reverb, or the latter-day version of this, "The Twin." This monster (or its clone, the Dual Showman, which is just a head with no speakers but the same amp inside) is notorious for being too loud for most settings. It was for me, and I needed a hernia repair after toting it around to gigs. It has 2x12s for a pretty bottom-heavy sound, and itís noted for playing really clean until you really open it up. It is a guitar amp, after all. The later models have the option of switching from 25 to 100 watts rms, which keeps your volume down considerably at the lower setting. It will put the hurt on you and your audience, guaranteed, if you do not use your awesome powers for only good. I would try one with a master volume, or if you get real lucky (or wealthy) and find an old pre-CBS one, supplement it with a pre-amp to get an over-driven tone at a lower volume. Last time I knew, Magic Dick used a new red-knob Twin with a stock Blues Blaster, and he sounded Ö well, like Magic Dick, so there you are.

Hope you get your harp back fully repaired, find a used Blackface Twin for $200, and the Edsel dealer gives you an offer that you canít refuse. The Twin was only played by a little old lady who played electric zither in a Loviní Spoonful tribute band on Sundays.

Dear Dr. Harpo,

I always read your column first whenever a new BLUES ACCESS shows up. I have been reading your column for years, and have been, like you, a hard-core lipper/puckerer since teaching myself to play many years ago. On your advice, I followed your example and tried tongue-blocking. I am so goddamned frustrated with it! I get a better tone, granted. Thatís the beauty part. But I sound like Iím trying to talk with my fingers holding onto the end of my tongue, and I feel really spastic. And (I donít think Iím imagining this) my playing sounds like I have some kind of speech impediment! To make matters worse, I canít bend notes anywhere near as well or as consistently as I could when puckering up. Plus, my tongue feels like I have been licking the driveway. Help!

Larry "Lips" Quincy

Taking a break from licking the loose gravel from the driveway, Dr. Tongue decides to vacuum instead. Finding that the long-idle Hoover (since the Hickey Festival of í71) has been taken over by a nest of prolifically-breeding marsupials, he scratches his own pouch and ponders. Itchy ponders have always plagued him, since, well, since the Hickey Festival of í71. Ah, the memories flood back Ö

Dear Lips,

Try licking bridle paths for starters: Youíll build up calluses so that the end of your tongue doesnít look like an aerial view of a pink mushroom farm. Better yet, switch to plastic-combed harps, such as the Special 20. No rough edges, no Cuisinart Syndrome.

About sounding tongue-tied when you play, that comes as a not-undesirable consequence of tongue-blocking. It gives a sloppier tone to your playing, which is a big departure from the dry, clipped sharpness that lipping produces. The trick is to use that to your advantage. If you accept the blurriness that comes with tongue-blocking, it becomes a way to do such neat rhythmic doo-dads as tongue-slapping for percussive effect. Also, the lack of articulation that bothers you now is something that other players use to their advantage as a tone modifier. It is another way to change the color of your sound ó by slithering your tongue around, fattening it, pushing it harder or less firmly against the sound holes, all of which change your sound. I suspect that if you fool around and play sloppily for a while (bring a change of clothes if you get too sloppy), you will come to find that a lot of the effects that you heard on record that you couldnít duplicate are right there for you if you can find them.

Now, about the bending thing. Tongue blocking is a whole different exercise in oral gymnastics, so you have to approach it differently than lipping. I have found that you have to pull harder, not less, when trying to bend notes with tongue-blocking versus lipping. And, I agree, it initially is a bugger to try and get even a half-bend with tongue-blocking at first, even if you could bend #2 draw on a G harp to a tone and a half. Try pushing your tongue harder against the comb as you bend, which gives you a better seal, speeds up the air flow, and also diverts the air stream to the side and down as your tongue plumps up. You will get those Kim Wilson bend-from-your-toes-on-up notes if you try this way.

Remember, too, that it is not all-or-nothing with these two articulative techniques. Mix and match, depending on what you want to accomplish. If you want to pucker when you bend, itís your dime, what the hell. Do what works, and break the rules if you have to.

Putting on a side by Blind Driveway and the Pot Likkers, Harpo practices tying the stem of a maraschino cherry in knots with his tongue. Realizing it would be easier if he removed it from the jar, he pauses and regroups. Maybe Iíll warm up by pitting some olives, or eating a peach. Maybe Iíll try those tongue pushups that Jack Palance does. No, thatís not right Ö

If youíve got a query for our favorite fruit-loop of the fluegelharp, send it along to:

Dr. Harpo
1455 Chestnut Place
Boulder, CO 80304

Including your prized collection of peach pits, tongue depressors or flavored lip gloss will be sure to get you extra credit. If youíre into less prosaic communication, you can email him at:


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