My sister Jenny is a real musician. From an early age, she could make the guitar do whatever she asked of it. I coveted the attention she was getting from her ability to play, so I picked it up too. I quickly put it down. The shape of the instrument never felt right in my grip. It told me so. It said, "Put me down, you're hurting me".
Yeah, well you don't feel so hot to me either, brontosaurus neck.
Well, I needed to play something. Besides a recorder, that is. Past the fourth grade, my spot-on MASH theme instrumental just wasn't bringing home the decibels.
I decided to be a harmonica player. My Uncle Tom gave me some lessons. He showed me how to bend notes, how to sway while you play (an audience loves that), how to sound like a train, and all the rest. Tom even made me a ninety-minute tape loaded with great harmonica songs and the keys they were in. That's the biggest joke of all on the harmonica player. You need to get one in almost every key if you planned to play in a band. (You can actually hit every note on a Chromatic harp but I recommend passing the MENSA before you fork out the $135 for one).
By the time Jenny went to college, I was getting pretty decent with the harp. Playing along to my mixed tape that is. I even looked like a musician with hair that would make Farrah jealous. I guess I was confident rather than competent.
When Jenny invited me up to U.C.S.B. to play a folk gig with her, I said, "Hell yes! I'm ready!"
Let me cut right to it. I was horrible. You see, when I played along to those harmonica songs, I knew when the harp solo would start and finish. I had them memorized and mastered. I wish I still had that tape, I'd show you all!
The gig was in a little coffeehouse in Isla Vista. Jenny played for coffee, scones and tips. She had hip fans. Before Jenny started her first song, she called me up to the stage. She told me she would nod at me when it was time for my "solo". The problem was, she assumed I would know when and where to STOP the solo. I didn't. I performed a 23.63 bar harmonica solo that lasted approximately an hour and fourteen minutes. Who was I, Pigpen? I may as well have been playing the intro to "Dark Star".
I was clueless about how bad it was until I saw a videotape of the gig. I probably should have tossed the dozen harps I had into the trash at that point but I stuck with it.
I was later adopted by the Long Beach band Soupline and they gave me the nickname Harmonica Mike. My solos got a little tighter and I didn't need a "nod" to get one underway. More importantly, I learned how to end a solo.
Want to know the trick to ending a solo?
Listen for the trombone.
Hall of Fame