Blues Harmonica Jam Tracks, Vol. 1.zip
For the beginning and intermediate blues harmonica player: 10 jam tracks in the "music-minus-one" format, featuring Charlie Hilbert on guitar and vocals, plus instrumental versions of two tracks, "Sweet Home Chicago" and "Mojo," to facilitate your growth as a harp player who also sings a little.
Mp3's for instant download. 12 tracks, 47 minutes, 50 mb.
Below are the complete liner notes, which are also included as a PDF in the zip file you'll download.
When I was teaching myself how to play blues harmonica, back in the mid-1970s, we didnt have jam tracks. We didnt have CDs, much less DVDs. We barely had cassettes. We had records: Paul Butterfield, Little Walter, Sonny Terry, Muddy Waters. We replayed vinyl obsessively in the privacy of our bedrooms. We stole licks, tricks, rhythms, blues. It was painstaking work. But the jamming-along part was fun.
Certain cuts had good, bouncy beats, a contagious sense of urgency. With luck, we had the right harp; if not, we made emergency trips to the music store in the local mall. Best of all, our improvised jam tracks were endlessly repeatable. Kids these days miss out on the sound of a carelessly lifted needle scraaaaaaughing across grooved vinyl. But that was our occupational hazard: you finished a three-and-a-half minute blowing session and went back for sloppy seconds, or fifths, or tenths. Jam along with Butterfield, or Cotton, or Paul Oscher, or Magic Dick. Jam along with Cream (Jack Bruce on Traintime) or The Allman Brothers (Thom Doucette on Musta Done Somebody Wrong) or King Biscuit Boy (Canadas gift to the blues harp, according to his liner notes). On instrumental tracks, you doubled the harp part, or tried to. Maybe you just caught the beat and wailed, hoping for a contact high. When there were vocals, you stepped on them. Waaaaaugh! It was all about the harp. It took me a decade of wailing and several angry exchanges with singers before I realized that it wasnt all about the harp.
As I write, in the spring of 2008, students of blues harmonica are sitting pretty. The CD revolution, which brought decades worth of recordings back into circulation, has been supercharged, then superseded, by the internet revolution. A student in Dubuque, or Vilnius, or Hong Kong, can use iTunes and YouTube to access a wealth of music and instructional material that would have been inconceivable thirty years ago. So what does the world need with another album of harmonica jam tracks?
Heres the deal: virtually every jam-tracks CD on the market features a small blues combo in the music-minus-one format. Bass, drums, guitar, maybe piano. A developing harp player certainly needs to learn how to work with an ensemble, especially since most blues-bar jam sessions are configured this way. Back in the mid-1980s, I disciplined my raw talent at the Sunday jams hosted by the Holmes Brothers at Dan Lynch, an East Village juke joint. But when I actually began to make my way in the blues world as a street musician, ensemble playing was only half the story. The other half of the story was guitar-men. I went through a lot of guitar-men. Bill Taft, Bill Collins, Ted Horowitz (Popa Chubby), Abraham Yameogo, Bill Sims, Jr., Irving Louis Lattin, Bob Malenky, Brian Kramer. And of course Sterling Mr. Satan Magee. He was my main gig for a long time, and still is.
Learning how to work one-on-one with a guitar-man IS the blues, if youre a harp player. Its about finding the right tempo, relaxing as you kick it along, falling into the pocket, then holding it there. Its about leaving space. Listening to each other. Feeling each other. Once things start to click, you can always add a rhythm section and play band gigs. But the guitar-harp dialogue, and the vocal-harp dialogue that it accompanies, is where the blues begin.
My first exposure to this sort of thing came in the summer of 1985, when I followed around my teacher, Nat Riddles, as he worked the streets of New York with his guitar-man, Charlie Hilbert. Later, after Nat had died, Charlie and I teamed up. My education deepened. Charlie isnt perfect (none of us are) but hes almost perfect, and hes real. Part of working with a real guitar-man is attuning yourself to subtle tempo shifts and rhythmic emphases, all the things that cant be notated but that collectively mean the difference between formulaic guitarism and soulful blues playing.
Weve all had the experience, at one time or another, of finding ourselves trying to jam with a rock-trained guitar guy whose flailing blues rhythms just dont make our harp https://www.tradebit.comesy. I suspect that this is a suburban phenomenon, the result of too much Aerosmith and not enough Muddy. So imagine if you could team up, any time you wanted to, with a guitar-man whose stuff had precisely the opposite effect? You can. His name is Charlie Hilbert. When Charlie plays a blues (Checkin On My Baby, for example, or Sweet Home Chicago) he doesnt just play the changes: he plays the song. He effortlessly folds in all of the bass-note riffs, ascending and descending cadences, and syncopations that the rock guys leave out. This makes every note you play sound good.
What will you find in this collection of jam tracks? Charlie and I knew that Vol. 1 needed to give developing harp players some basic tools of the trade, Common-stock tunes and grooves that show up repeatedly when youre making your way in the blues world. Shuffles, slow blues, two-beat stomps, plus an 8-bar blues and a swingy blues with a straight-four feel. Nothing fancy. (Actually, Messin With the Kid is a little fancy. Dont mess with it until youre ready!) When Charlie and I play gigs, most of these songs are part of our set list; please check out our Modern Blues Harmonica release, Blues Classics, if you want to know what we do with them. Video tutorials and tab sheets for a handful of these tunes are also available at MBH.
Youll notice that two selections, Mojo and Sweet Home Chicago, appear in two different versions: one with vocals, one without. Here, too, were trying to prepare you for the real blues world. As any harp player knows, the guy who sings the song gets to command the stage. This is particularly true at jam sessions. If youre just a harp player, the singer decides when, or if, you solo. Sometimes he gives the guitar-player the nod and you get shut out. If youre a harp player who sings, on the other hand, youre in charge. You get to blow the intro, the fills, and a two-, or three-, or even four-chorus solo. You can blow two solos, if you want. I usually do. Nice work if you can get it! But you CAN get it, the moment you take a step towards blues singing.
Weve made it easy for you. Start by working with the vocal version of either song. Sing a verse or two along with Charlie. Write down the lyrics, or just learn them by ear. Then, when youre ready to make the leap, switch to the instrumental version and sing. Repeat one verse all the way through the cut, alternating with harp fills.
Harp fills? Ah. Thats a whole other area of harp playing, and a crucial one. Call and response; statement and counter-statement. Figure it out for yourself. We all did. Fills are short, punchy melodic lines, a bar or two long. Fills are two-thirds of what youll be playing when you play along with the ten vocal tracks in this collection. Solos are the other third. Listen to Blues Classics and copy what I do; thats a start.
One set of jam tracks cant possibly teach you everything, nor can a set of liner notes. If Ive raised more questions here than Ive answered, thats okay. Ultimately, learning to play the blues is a journey that you need to take for yourself. All Charlie and I can do is give you the tools. And we have.
Trust me: in the bad old days of the blues, the head-cutting days when everybody carried guns, nobody held your hand or sold you jam tracks with guidelines. Blues people guarded their secrets, kicked your ass on the bandstand, and left the learning process up to you. If youre serious about mastering this music, youve got to develop some toughness, and do the work. Charlie and I are pussycats compared with that. Were Mother Teresa with a few bent notes.
Youll need five harps in different keys (A, B-flat, C, D, and F) in order to play along with all the cuts. Please make this investment in your future. Youre worth it.
Oh: one more thing. If you want to treat this album like a trampoline and step all over Charlies vocals, thats okay.....for a while. Have a good time. Solo for days. But after a while, when youre sounding pretty good on harp, take a deep breath and re-boot. Start listening for the spaces between Charlies words. Those are your spaces. Fill them with good, bluesy stuff. But back off a little when your guitar-man is singing. Then, when he calls for your solo, let it rip. Youll be blowing some serious harp.
INDEX TO TRACKS / TIME/ HARP KEY/ GUITAR KEY
1. Sweet Home Chicago 4:03 A E
2. Sweet Home Chicago (instr.) 4:03 A E
3. Checkin' Up on My Baby 3:16 D A
4. Muddy Waters Thing 4:21 B-flat F
5. Swing Blues in G 3:25 C G
6. Key to the Highway 4:02 D A
7. Stormy Monday 6:01 C G
8. Messin' With the Kid 2:59 F C
9. Good Morning Little School Girl 3:22 D A
10. Easy 4:16 A E
11. Mojo 3:36 A E
12. Mojo (instr.) 3:36 A E
Another Modern Blues Harmonica production (https://www.tradebit.com)