“I suck at this style of harp I play,” Piedmont blues great Phil Wiggins said recently at a kids harmonica workshop at the National Folk Festival. Wiggins’ remark had his tongue firmly in-cheek, referring to his cross-harp style involving drawing in more than blowing out. But if you’re one of the gazillions of frustrated would-be harpists who truly suck at it, huffing and puffing but getting nothing but noise and drool, help is on the way.
Steve Cohen’s 100 Authentic Blues Harmonica Licks can get you from a 97 pound musical weakling to a strapping hunk of man or woman who can conquer the world with a stick of wood and a few reeds blown in the proper fashion.
Even if you don’t read music, you can teach yourself following Cohen’s notation in the book while listening to the enclosed audio CD. It’s like the Rosetta Stone for music, helping you speak the language that Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and James Cotton were fluent in.
What’s cool about Cohen’s approach is that on many of the licks he offers a guitar accompaniment you can play along with as well as his solo harp tracks. Another plus is that they’re done slow enough to allow you to catch on without blowing your brains out trying to go full tilt boogie from the get-go.
Cohen also gives you a list of songs you can fit the various licks and variations to so you don‘t drive your loved ones absolutely nuts sucking and blowing through all your dusty vinyl to find something you can blow over.
He doesn’t talk down to you either, so it’s suitable for beginners or advanced students. Draw and blow notations as well as the numbered holes are underneath the musical notes for each lick. He also has a schematic of the C harp in the back of the book with all the notes listed over the corresponding holes as well as explanations for tongue blocking, bending, slurring and vibrato.
Cohen doesn’t sugar coat it or mislead you. It’s just a straight-up, easy to follow guide to go from couch tater to juke joint blowdown God with a little patience and a lot of work.