April 22, 2010
President Abraham Lincoln played one. The black migrants of the 1950s who traveled north to Chicago, Detroit, and New York, and south to St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans played them. Today, there are some who consider the harmonica to be more of a toy than a professional instrument.
But on a Thursday night in late April 2010, in a venue created for such a showcase of talent, the Infinity Music Hall & Bistro in Norfolk, CT hosted what’s come to be known as “The Blues Harmonica Blowout ” featuring old school blues aficionados: Mark Hummel, James Montgomery, Magic Dick, and Sugar Ray Norcia.
Mark Hummel hosted a series of festivals focusing on the great sound produced by the harmonica, thus “The Blues Harmonica Blowout” was founded.
Hummel’s website states: ”The Blues Harmonica Blowout™ has grown to become an internationally recognized event, with performances at the Nottoden Blues Fest in Norway, the San Francisco Blues Fest, the Chicago Blues Fest, Mississippi Valley Blues Fest, BB King's, Monterrey Jazz Festival, Poconos Blues Fest, American Music Festival, and the Heritage Blues Festival, to name a few.”
It goes on to explain “A list of performers that have played would take many pages but the short list is: John Mayall, John Hammond, Sugar Ray Norcia, Kenny Neal, Fingers Taylor, James Cotton, Snooky Pryor, Charlie Musselwhite, Kim Wilson, Huey Lewis, Dave Earl, Rod Piazza, William Clarke, Rick Estrin, Paul DeLay, Billy Branch, Lazy Lester, Carey Bell, Little Sonny, Paul Osher, Cephas and Wiggins, Gary Primich, Paul Rischell and Annie Raines, Carlos Del Junco, Norton Buffalo, Sam Myers and many more!” For more information visit: http://www.markhummel.com/index.html
Just who are these masters of this instrument: (from their websites)
Mark Hummel has crafted his own trademark harmonica sound - a subtle combination of tone, phrasing and attack combined with a strong sense of swing. Hummel is the founder of Blues Harmonica Blowout™ series. Born in New Haven, Connecticut and raised in Los Angeles, California, Mark absorbed the music of such Chicago based harp blowers as Little Walter, James Cotton, and Sonny Boy Williamson, before settling in Berkeley, California in 1972. There he played with local bluesmen such as Cool Papa, Boogie Jake, Mississippi Johnny Waters and Sonny Lane. In 1980, he took the helm to lead the popular Blues Survivors Band.
James Montgomery "brings it on home" when he blows the harp. Whether it's recording with Kid Rock, sitting in with Gregg Allman, or fronting his hot band of thirty years, Montgomery plays with authority. In 1970, while attending Boston University, Montgomery formed the James Montgomery Band. His inimitable (oh yeah, he majored in English) harmonica playing combined with his incredibly energetic live shows led to the band's quick ascension on the New England music scene. Within two years, the James Montgomery band was among the hottest acts in Boston along with J. Geils and Aerosmith, and they were quickly signed to a multi-album deal with Capricorn Records.
Magic Dick, originally from New London, Connecticut, picked up the harmonica in his sophomore year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts where he met J. Geils and Danny Klein and became a founding member of the J. Geils Blues Band in 1968. J. Geils Band, had many hits in the 1970s and 1980s. Chart-toppers like "FreezeFrame", "Centerfold", "First I Look At The Purse", "Must a Got Lost", "Give It To Me" and Magic Dick's own "Wammer Jammer" were in the Top Ten off and on for 20 years and made them one of the few top bands (other then WAR) that featured a harmonica prominently in the frontline. Dick went on to start "Bluestime" with J. Geils after the original band broke up, making two CDs for Rounder Records. The J. Geils Band will open for Aerosmith, August 14, 2010 at Fenway Park, Boston, MA.
Sugar Ray Norcia has been recording since 1979; he cut his first album “Sugar Ray and the Bluetones” on Baron Records. In the 1980s he hooked up with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters and had a number of hit albums. In the 1990s he was the frontman for Roomful of Blues for six years. In 1996, “Turn It On, Turn It Up” was nominated for a Grammy Award in Best Traditional Blues Category.
Following the introduction of the “house” band, James Montgomery took the stage and performed songs includeing Junior Wells’ “Messin with the Kid”, which Montgomery described as a “nod to Junior, “Messing Whiff the Kid”. He sang, blew the harp and high-kicked through his set.
Hummel was up next announcing his new CD Retro-Active is out and available downstairs. His set included some songs from Retro-Active: The classic Muddy Waters “I Want to Be Loved”; Jimmy Reed’s “My Baby’s So Sweet”; and Percy Mayfield’s “Never No More” which he introduced by saying “I have to mention people’s names so maybe you’ll get turned (by their music), you won’t hear them mentioned on TV.” He closed his set with “a little tune I call Harpo Ventilator.”
Following a short break for the band to head downstairs to sign CDs and greet fans, Sugar Ray Norica burst onto the stage. He opened with J.J Barnes’ “Baby Please Come Back Home” followed by one of his own “Rockin Sugar Daddy” and closed his set with T. Bone Walker’s “Evening.” As he walked off stage there were shouts from the crowd for one more song. Hummel came out and said “Don’t worry, Sugar Ray will be back in a bit.”
Magic Dick (MD), the man I’d been waiting to see, came out and arranged the stage to his liking; he wasted no time jumping into Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Pontiac Blues”; Little Walter’s “I Got To Find My Baby” and T. Bone Walker’s “No Sleepin’est Woman” which he dedicated to Miss Bluesy who won the “Wang Dang Doodle” contest on a recent Blues Cruise. He asked the band and audience to “Continue down the scale of semi-tones” and started to blow Little Walter’s “Tell Me Mama.” As he said, “if this was a rock show you’d already be into this one” but he took a “pause for the cause ‘cuz this one kills me…” And in one note, the audience was screaming “WAMMA JAMMA”
After MD caught his breath, he was joined on stage by the Hummel, Montgomery and Norcia for not one but two songs. They had planned on one song but after they left the stage the crowd was yelling for more! They all returned and treated the fans with “Early In the Morning Blues.”
This was a memorable show, one I’m glad I got to experience and very worth the five hour round trip drive (thanks Jay.)
To view more photos from the show please visit: http://www.photosbynanci.com/bluesharmonica.html