I’ve performed in bar/weekend/pickup bands for many years, singing and playing one of the world’s most annoying instruments, the harmonica. I also play mandolin and guitar on a much more casual basis; I play guitar the way most guitarists play harmonica, but my mandolin playing is actually coming along and I’ll occasionally use a bit of it on stage. Finally, I play a wide swath of shaky rhythm instruments.
For now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am not playing shows. I look forward to the day I can return to active gigging.
Here are just some of the bands in which I’ve played over the years:
The Tone Popes
Nun of the Above (not these guys)
I’m most active these days with Hypnotic Willie, which is a rootsy/funky/alt-whateverish band. We’ve got lots of stuff on YouTube that should amuse you the way it’s amused so many of my current/former/potential day job colleagues. Here are a couple:
And below are some MP3 music clips. They are of varying recording quality, with some nice studio cuts, some clean “board mixes” from gigs and some clips that were just recorded with a cheap portable recorder. Still, I sing on all of these and play harp on most of them:
Castanets (Hypnotic Willie)
I Wish You Would (The Joe Chiocca Band)
You Belong To Me (The Joe Chiocca Band)
Super 8 (Hypnotic Willie)
Judge A Book (The Tone Popes)
Chicken Shack Boogie (The Joe Chiocca Band)
Too Many Cooks (The Tone Popes)
Ridin’ in the Moonlight (JohnDC AllStars)
Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White (The Confabulators)
Mama, Talk to Your Daughter (The Confabulators)
Want to book me or any of the bands in which I play? Write me.
This section is for harp geeks. The rest of you have been warned:
People think I just stroll into gigs with a single harmonica in my pocket and no other equipment.
My gigging harp case contains twenty-six harmonicas — 10 diatonics, 10 backup diatonics (harps can and do blow up at the most inopportune times, so you need backups), four chromatics and two tremolo harps. At most gigs, I will use about 15 of these — honest.
I usually play into an Astatic T-3 or Astatic JT-30 mic. They’re wired with non-original Shure dynamic microphone elements — the same element used in the older-model Shure Green Bullets. Usually I run the harp mic into a Mooer Reecho or Memphis Mini delay pedal and then into the amp. For vocals and acoustic sounds, I usually go through an Audix OM3 into the PA.
I have used all sorts of amps over the years, but here’s what I own now: Teresita, a Fender Tweed Deluxe clone I built with a Ceriatone chassis, JJ and Philips tubes and a Ted Weber cabinet and speaker; a Lone Wolf Harp Train 10; an amazing 1966 blackface Fender Champ that I use for a surprising number of gigs and a classic Pignose practice amp. I also use a Joyo American Sound pedal for practice and some small gigs; it claims to emulate classic Fender tube amps and although the signal does not have the ‘cut’ of the real thing, it sounds shockingly good and cost all of $40.
I also bring a good-quality tambourine and various shaky-sounding things to gigs. Unlike a lot of harp players, I can actually play these things. I’m actually quite proud of what I can do with a tambo; it’s really a great rhythm instrument if you use it correctly.
Up-and-coming harp players ask me about gear all of the time. They’re all looking for that Holy Grail combination to make them sound like their heroes, but I always tell them it’s not about the gear. The right equipment can make a decent player sound better but it will not create good amplified tone out of poor acoustic tone. You’ve got to put in the practice time to get the result you want.