Update from Lowboy on the Blues Journey

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
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  • #7746
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hello Fellow Melodicans,

    I have been running silent and deep for some time now, but I am still working pretty intensely when I can on developing my approach to blues melodica. (I often call the instrument a keyboard harmonica.) It looks like I have finally found a group of good players to play classic blues songs in the style of the masters (Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Slim Harpo, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimmy Reed). The members want to perform electric, but it will be a subdued electric sound, not blues-rock, so my melodica should have a chance. Plus, we are thinking of keeping it a quartet with bass, drums, guitar/singer, and keyboard harmonica. This means I will have a big role to play soloing and comping and providing some deep background. I basically am working towards playing the role of the harmonica in this music, and I still believe (on most days) that the keyboard harmonica can be every bit as soulful and expressive as the mouth harmonica.

    Hopefully, I will have some recordings soon of the group and some solo pieces showing my particular approach and the potential of the keyboard harmonica in the blues. For those of you interested in hearing what the keyboard harmonica can do in the blues, I have had a few tracks posted on my SoundCloud page for some time. Some tracks are studies and some are performances. Go to SoundCloud and search on Lowboy Bootay.

    Most of the equipment issues and “getting my sound” issues have been solved and now I am going to focus more on the techniques. There is a lifetime of learning there.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #7750
    Avatarleo
    Participant

    I want to honor a friend’s dying wish that I learn and perform a Canned Heat song, “On The Road Again” In you opinion what melodica sounds most like a blues harp?

    #7756
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi Leo,

    At the risk of sounding too absolute, no melodica sounds like a harp. You have to make them sound like a harp.

    My favorite keyboard harmonica these days is an out-of-production Hohner Piano 26/27/32 series melodica with the sound holes on the back side. A Piano 26 works very well. They sound a bit dark. You will have to read my old posts to learn how I manipulate the instrument and amplification equipment to get a harp sound and modulations.

    You should read the the notes that accompany my tracks on SoundCloud. Some of the technical information is described there.

    Great song by Canned Heat. I have tried to get that harp sound myself.

    Regards,

    Lowboy Bootay

    #7760
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Sounds great, Lowboy. I’ll be anxiously awaiting further updates and sound clips.

    I always loved the Canned Heat recording of Going Up The Country and have thought of it in connection with your Hohner models, especially the cassottos.

    #7775
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    First an audio clip below, and then some keyboard harmonica modification tips in a future post.

    Here is a 45 second clip of a keyboard harmonica blues solo using a slightly modified Hohner Piano 26 and a special trick I will reveal later in an upcoming post. Not quite a harmonica, but very expressive and I think just as cool.

    CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

    The old Hohner cassottos have a characteristic sound with harmonica overtones, and they have their place, but I have found over the last year that they are not as expressive nor as powerful as the regular Hohner Piano 26/27/32 series of melodicas, at least plying them the way I play them.

    By the way, the recording was just an informal pocket recorder recording of me and two band mates rehearsing last week.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

    #7777
    AvatarAlan Brinton
    Participant

    Did you mean to say “plying,” Lowboy, as opposed to “playing”?

    This clip is fantastic. I think anyone who didn’t know about melodicas would swear that’s a harmonica.

    I have been finding that it’s trickier tuning and gapping one of these cassottos than it is with almost any of the other melodicas I’ve worked on — mainly Yamahas and Suzukis. The reeds are more fragile and bend out of shape and alignment easily.

    #7779
    Avatarjazzman1945
    Participant

    Sounds wonderful! Now the question is: how instrument holds the tuning ?

    #7780
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Yes, playing not plying. Typo. Lowboy

    #7781
    AvatarLowboy
    Participant

    Hi Jazzman 1945. I do not have problems with tuning and reed damage for several reasons.

    First, the Hohner Piano 26 is a soprano-range instrument. Hence, while the small reeds make it harder to bend notes and get modulations, the small reeds are far less susceptible to permanent damage than the large reeds found on lower-range instruments.

    Second, the techniques I use to get some bending and modulations (or to accentuate the bending from regular “hard blowing”) do not hurt the reeds as much compared to just blowing really hard to get a bend or modulation. Blowing hard alone to get bends can damage reeds pretty quickly, particularly on low notes.

    And then there is this point. I don’t care that much about the tuning of the instrument anymore, at least for playing the blues. I have come full circle on this. I used to think a beat up instrument with poor tuning sounded best in the blues. Then I started playing in non-blues setting and thought that precise tuning was important for any music making, even the blues. But after a year of that thinking–and now being focused on the blues–I am back to thinking that slightly rough tuning sounds best for the blues. Horrible tuning no. But slight tuning variations sound good in this music.

    I also have a couple of non-soprano instruments where the low E and low G and a few other notes have damaged reeds. These damaged reeds bend very easily. At first I thought I would need to tune these instruments or throw them out. Now I realize I can use these instruments to my advantage for songs in specific keys to get significant bends.

    Over the next day or so I will reveal some of my tricks and techniques for getting expressiveness out of these Hohner instruments. I think people will be surprised at one or two of these techniques.

    Regards,

    Lowboy

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