I once played only the blues. That was in the early and mid-1990s, when there was a blues revival going on, and I played in a jump blues band with the occasionally side gig with serious gutbucket blues guys. I knew most of the local big players, I was active in the local blues society, I’d earned my creds in the South and I was in the group of harp players who weren’t considered “Hohner owners.” That’s the derisive term slapped on the poor bastards who purchased a bunch of harmonicas but couldn’t really play them. They caught the blues bug, looked for the easiest way to get into a band and decided playing the harmonica would fit that bill. It often worked out about as well as you might suspect.
There were harp players everywhere when I moved to town in 1990. I’d go to an open mic and sometimes there’d be a dozen of them. And honestly, at the time, there were probably 20 or so in the area who were pretty good — a number not so impressive when stacked up against the dozens of hot-shit guitarists you could find around, but way more than I ran across when I lived in Little Rock or Memphis.
Now: Not so much. The blues has faded and the harp has faded even more. There are maybe half a dozen folks I know about in the area whose harp playing I respect now. Most of them don’t know me because I moved away from the blues and more into the roots rock/Americana arena, and in a lot of cases, my vocals became more useful than my harp to bands.
I write about all of this now because I recently caught a couple of fill-in gigs with Bad Influence, a band that’s been at the top of the local blues scene for almost as long as I’ve been around here. And it’s reminded me of how much I miss the blues and miss playing in places where the audience is connected to blues music. The blues has faded and bloomed and faded and bloomed, but this particular fade has been going on for a while now, and I’m not particularly confident we’ll ever see the bloom return around here. So when I get chances like these, especially with a band that carries the chops these guys do, I treasure the opportunity. And I’m reminded about why I still love this music in the first place.