THIS APPEARS IN THE LATEST EDITION OF AUSTRALIAN MUSICIAN MAGAZINE.
Death by Harmonica.
I was doin'’ a gig deep in the hills. A modern day gig which means it was pretty primitive. I mean not much thought went into the situation. Nowadays, people have watched so much music on tv and youtube that they think it just “happens”. There is not a lot of empathy with the players in most areas music. I mean look at the critiques. its all about the business (and don’t they know it all) or about the medias perception or recognition of something. They don’t know shit. The public like to think they know whats goin on too. Have you ever wondered why everybody thinks they’re cool now? Its because they know the tempo. Because most of the music allowed in public is OLD. Because people HATE new stuff. The clubs are definitely on that beat. They treat the players like bums. You have to go into these joints like a commando.
Anyway. This little joint was a resonant , hard surfaced cube. Even talking in the room was hard. Three people talking made a real racket. The reverberant sound blew it all up into a major squall. Made it sound busy and exciting I guess. I could deal with that.
(I must say, there's a whole new business out there to be made in dealing with sound in places like gyms. People don't understand it at all. They only know volume).
Had to take my own sound in etc. I could do that. I was by myself with a great amp with a twelve string guitar and a mic pumping through it. Times like that, you dig in and open fire. I pumped out two sets of about an hour each of my own songs. I was a machine.
After the second set I was packing up and a fellow approached me with a beer in his hand, aussie young man style. He asked did I want to have a “jam” with his friend. Turned out his friend played the harmonica. He was “real good” I was told. I’d had to get into a certain mode of defiant hardness to do the gig and was still coasting on that plane. I said, “ I bet he’s real good, I bet he tells you too!”. The kid nodded. I asked if he played anything. He said he mucked around on the guitar. I was feeling like I could give a fuck so I told him. “Cos thats a real instrument. A harmonica is like a sad bike thats left outside a supermarket that everybody gets on and goes for a ride!” He still didn’t seem to get my evil drift and I went on ( and on) that an instrument like a guitar or a set of drums or a sax or a piano is something you never really get to the end of and is also really hard to get a note out of at the beginning. You have to dive into it and get humiliated at first and that feeling of humility never really leaves you when you get down to it.
I was feeling a bit silly and felt I was owed something and that he wasn’t really going to respond so I turned it up a notch . I said “ I see your mate over there. He looks real confident and I bet he is. Harp players are like that because anybody can get a note out of those damn things. They march into your dressing room and light up a fag like they’re a brother and everybodys into getting fucked up and they’re too loud and they never fucking stop. They slobber all over every part of every goddam song if you let them! I have just played for two hours, songs I have written over a couple of decades. From my mind and my life and you are asking me to stand here and comp a twelve bar while this dribbler in high waisted stretch acid washed jeans blows some crummy licks from a fuckin’ toy at me? No I think I’ll pass on that. Stick to the guitar!”
I was being reasonable and unreasonable. Rude and stupid. Sometimes you find yourself, as a player, a musician, in a world of pain. Painful, yabbering, swaying, wall eyed t shirted , gelled, bunged up drunks. And they get stuck in a loop and try to drag you into it. If you’re a player, you still have your legs and you know the room, you feel the need to take something back from this world. Perhaps your own dignity. For a moment. You get over it and then wake up to a new day. Its not always that way. Can be if you let it.
The next week I did a gig and I had my band with me so I was happier. In firefights, its best to have some light artillery on your side. At this gig I saw and heard Matt Walker and Broderick Smith playing together. Both can make the harmonica do things that the crude archetype I was mocking above could never do. Matt was playing guitar this time and Broderick was singing and playing the harp. What a master! He concentrates on that little thing and gets melodies out of it. Its there to sing as well as him. Supreme players , performers and writers.
Mike Rudd from Spectrum also has a distinctive tone and grasp of the harmonica. He gets it to do stuff for him and doesn't just bring it in for a melancholy wail here and there.
Other harp players I love on records would be Norton Buffalo who played a lot with the Steve Miller band, Lee Oskar from the amazing r&b/funk/soul band WAR and Magic Dick from the J Geils Band. Stevie Wonder hit it and made it dance but he can do that with any instrument. The classic Little Walter and Howling Wolf put sounds and licks together for everybody else to copy for several generations. And, of course, Toots Thielmans. Any of his albums.
So, I’m trying to take back some of that slack I stole when I was abusing some hardnut harp player who must have upset me somewhere along the way. Blow that thing, its easy!
- dave graney
- WORKSHY - 2017 memoir out on Affirm Press. Let's get Tight - 2017 CD with Clare Moore. Moodists - Coral Snakes - mistLY. I don’t know what I am and don’t want to know any more than I already know. I aspire, in my music , to 40s B Movie (voice and presence) and wish I could play guitar like Charlie Christian or Grant Green -but not in this lifetime, I know.
2014 solo album from Dave Graney. *****"If I've learnt anything in my years of writing about music it's that if you are going to do anything of worth in this tough game, you better have your own thing. Today's generic is easily replaced by tomorrow's. And yet you need to be flexible, to follow wherever the songs demand. In the case of this, only the second credited as a solo album among 30 or so Graney releases, it's a curious yet welcoming lane he walks you down, with acoustic guitars, not much percussion, vibes, smooth sounds. At the end of it you feel like you've awoken from a strange yet pleasant summer's dream. As shot by Luis Bunuel. It ranges from off-kilter reveries (A Woman Skinnies Up a Man, The Old Docklands Wheel) through to the softly seductive (How Can You Get Out of London) and the downright arch (Look Into My Shades, Everything Is Great In The Beginning.) This is music that is neither folk, nor blues, nor country, but it's all Graney, somewhere out to the left field beyond Lee Hazlewood's raised eyebrow. It's astringent on the tongue but sweetens in the telling." Noel Mengel Brisbane Courier Mail
you've been in my mind
June 2012 super high energy pop rock album - blazing electric 12 strings - total 70s rock drive. Greatest yet! available via paypal - $20 pp
SUPERMODIFIED - August 2010 remixed/re-sung/re-strung//remastered/replayed comp via PAYPAL
also available as a digital album
Knock yourself (2009)-first ever dg solo set-filthy electro r&b-available via Paypal- $20
available as a digital album too
We Wuz Curious (2008)-blazing R&B jazz pop album available via paypal-$20
UNAVAILABLE-COMPLETELY SOLD OUT!!!
AVAILABLE AS A DIGITAL album
Hashish and Liquor (2005 double disc by Dave Graney and Clare Moore) available via Paypal $25
UNAVAILABLE-COMPLETELY SOLD OUT!!!
Single album HASHISH available as a digital release