Blues Access Spring 2001
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Dear Dr. Harpo

If cotton can come to Harlem, is it then so very strange that dinner theatre could come to the Ipecac Cafe? So muses the closeted thespian — a playful boy in search of a sharp schtick — as his mind twists and turns with the alacrity of a damp tube sock on a clothesline in a full gale. What to do, what to do?

Here’s the thang: The Ipecac Cafe — you know the place, the local beanery that has 911 on speed-dial, a gastroenterologist on retainer and the motto, "You’ll keep coming back, and so will the food" — is going gentrified. Sort of. Instead of Cats au Gratin (the Broadway show, not the dish that’s a standard menu item there), they decided to host a variety show. You pony up to a sumptuous buffet of various mammals on a stick, Brussels sprouts done to order, and 12, count ’em, 12 varieties of mysterious vegetable vestiges that have been autoclaved especially for tonite’s festivities. Mmmm. Harpo wants a piece of that. No, not the food — he wants a taste of fame, even more than Ipecac Revenge. He’s had a taste of that before, and he’d rather remain tasteless.

Especially as regards his act. He has harbored a secret desire to work with (another) dummy, like his idol, Mortimer Snerd. Technical problems abound. If he talks while the dummy drinks a glass of water, it sounds fine, but the dummy’s leiderhosen get soaked. Mine too, but that’s a medical problem. If he drinks the water himself, the dummy sounds like he’s stuck in the water cooler. Is this how Knucklehead Smith got started? In an attempt to garner technical support, he checks the local Yellow Page (a small town, that) under "Dummies." He is stymied to see a note: "See Presidents." Who’s in charge here?

Dear Dr. Harpo,

I am looking for some information on a harmonica I just acquired. It is a Koch Alpine, over a foot long, and it has four separate keys. I forget what they are now, but they’re stamped into each section of the harmonica. It was given to my grandfather in the late teens or early ’20s. Any information on it, or where to look for more information, would be appreciated.

Damon Nelson

Harpo stretches, then snaps back to his original wizened shape. He, too, has four keys stamped on each section of him, a consequence of napping naked on his harmonica collection. Enjoy the visual image.

Dear Damon,

You have traversed the border crossing into DamnedifIknow Land. Koch was a German company acquired early in the last century by Hohner, and they were innovative in design at a time when harmonicas were all the rage — with marching harmonica bands, inventive designs like player harmonicas, that sort of stuff. Kind of an orally-fixated Renaissance. What you have sounds like a duplicate of, or a close relation to, the Model 53 Tremolo Sextet produced by Hohner, a tremolo harp that looks like the blade on a combine. I would check with Hohner, and don’t be surprised if someone along the line makes a pitch to buy that museum piece of Gramp’s.

This next one is a FYI, which sounded good enough to share with y’all.

Dear Dr. Harpo,

I am a blues guitarist, but being a professional scientist (solid state acoustics and seismology) and an electronics designer, I thought I knew what other guitarists wanted, "live" and in the studio. You must know the problem — the "live" sound engineer wants your beloved tube amp turned down to blend with the stage monitors for a proper monitoring balance, but then the beast sounds thin, weak and lifeless. And back home, if you want to record your new blues tune or just some nice licks with your PC-based "home studio," again it is not possible to crank even a small tube amp, or your wife/girlfriend wouldn’t agree … to say the least.

That is why we have designed and now manufacture a small device (half rack, 1-u height) which is a TubeAmps/cabinets/MicPositions simulator. On the front panel you’ve got an input jack, gain control, cabinet switch (select between stack and combo), amp pot (from JZ through US to BR — doesn’t that say it all?), a mic switch (select between center and off-axis), output level pot and power-on indicator. On the rack panel you have an unbalanced output jack, a balanced XLR output, a ground lift switch, power on/off switch and mains cable.

PS. BZ-Amps uses pure analog technology — no digital crap inside!

Borislav Dimitrov
BZ-Tech Laboratories
Box 69, Sofia 1784, Bulgaria

And now, for something completely different…

Dear Dr. Harpo,

In the interests of accuracy, I am responding to the entries in your Dr. Harpo column in the Winter 2001 issue of BLUES ACCESS. I do like seeing my name and the correct title of my book in print, but I’d like to get the facts straight for the readers.

First of all, Kevin’s Harps is the distributor for only his version of my book, The Quest for Tone in Amplified Blues Harp. (The fact that he has not listed the title correctly in his last two catalogs is another matter, which will not be taken up at this time.) His version (what I shall call the "First Edition") is not presented in my original layout and is not representative of my approach to the material. Not giving me author credit in the catalog may thus be a blessing.

Secondly, Tom Ellis is entitled to his opinions, but I’m not sure he has all the facts. I have attempted to rectify what he perceives as my errors in the "Third Edition" (see below). I don’t really know where he got the information that I base my opinions on "one vintage mic," but one never knows, do one? Perhaps I have been misquoted and/or typos in your column have reared their ugly heads. It appears that his objections are to certain things he has read therein.

At any rate, as I have no desire to engage in a "battle of words" via your column, I am corresponding with him directly to discuss our differing outlooks. All I ask is that you deliver my message to the public about the availability of the "Third Edition," which is not available from Kevin’s Harps.

The "Third Edition" of the book is available only directly from me or from Angela Instruments, with whom I have a distribution agreement. Available after March 1, 2001, this is a completely reformatted publication, with twice the number of pages of my own "Second Edition" (previously published subsequent to Kevin’s version), and includes several appendices with professionally-taken photos of mics, amps, and effects shot specifically for this occasion. The price is $22 plus shipping & handling: $3 for locations in the USA, $8 for anywhere outside the States.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter. Hopefully we can all reach some sort of understanding with each other, and I look forward to your reply.

Pete Sheridan
Box 33, State College, PA 16804

Dear Pete,

Thanks for your letter. I’m sure fans of your other editions will appreciate the info on how to snag the latest edition of your book. Plenty of interest was generated the last time you were mentioned, which sparked this spicy little exchange.

Unfortunately, Tom Ellis — although ready to respond to the publication of his letter in the last issue of Harpo Talks to Teens — has made it abundantly clear that his most recent letter is not to be published, so his thoughts will have to remain a mystery. Tom took great and emphatic issue with my publishing of his previous letter (to a column which consists of letters) without getting his permission, and has insisted upon a written apology. Here goes: I am very sorry I ever printed your letter, and I promise that it will never happen again. Even if you ask me real nice.

Tom Ellis
Tom’s Mics

The gregarious shyster ducks his head while he reads ’em and weeps. These firefights in the perpetual battle for perfect tone can get mighty vicious. All in all, the doophie Doc thinks he’d rather be in Philadelphia, chowing down on a Chunderburger.

Send your harpological (or harp-illogical) questions to:

Dr. Harpo
1455 Chestnut Place
Boulder, CO 80304

Or you can find his distorted wavelength in the electronic ethers at:


©2001 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA