I have 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. Finally, I play a wide swath of shaky rhythm instruments.
The COVID-19 pandemic basically ended decades of steady playing out for me and wiped out the two bands of which I was a member. I’m currently trying to reassemble the pieces. Following are some of the bands in which I’ve played over the years:
The Tone Popes
Nun of the Above (not these guys)
I was most active in recent years with Hypnotic Willie, which was a rootsy/funky/alt-whateverish band. We decided to move on after seven years together, but we’ve still got lots of clips on YouTube that should amuse you the way they’ve 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)
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-four harmonicas — 12 diatonics, 10 backup diatonics (harps can and do blow up at the most inopportune times, so you need backups), a chromatic and a double-sided tremolo harp. At most gigs, I will use about 15 of these — honest.
I usually play into an Astatic T-3 mic (I have a pair of them). 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 TC Electronics Flashback Mini delay pedal and then into the amp. For vocals and acoustic sounds, I usually go through an Audix OM3 or a 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 Fender ’65 Princeton Reverb limited edition; an amazing 1966 blackface Fender Champ that I use for a surprising number of gigs; a Quilter 101 head and a classic Pignose practice amp.
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.