Reprinted by Permission
MONTH'S GUEST: STEVE
Haggard lives in Nashville, where he records
produces for the fine indie, Wild Oats Records.
talented singer and songwriter who tours Europe
Haggard has been playing harp since his
and can play the hell out of a harmonica. He
his own style, which I asked him about when I
him in Nashville not long ago.
TALK: The first thing that strikes me when I
to your harp playing is that you've got your
style. Which is great, since too many players
to be generic and not very original sounding.
HAGGARD: Thanks. I think there are really
reasons for that. The first is that whether it's
or writing or playing, I've always liked to
styles together, and not just be predictable
limited to one genre. The second reason is
while I consider myself a blues harp player,
was primarily influenced by country blues, not
blues. I've never used a bullet mic, for
or gone for a heavy, amplified sound.
in that way, my playing might seem different
people who expect the harmonica to sound a
When did you first pick up the harp?
SH: I started playing
when I was 15, which was
a year or two before
I began writing songs, or
singing, or learning
to play guitar. I loved the
sound of the harp, so
I bought myself a Hohner
Marine Band, which cost
something like $3.98
back then, and became
one of those annoying
guys who always carried
one around, playing
while walking down the
street, or at the beach,
or at parties. (Laughs.)
So harmonica was really
my first musical love,
and all these years later,
I still love playing
Tell me about a bit your early influences, and
you first came to want to play harmonica.
Well, I probably first became aware of the
through Bob Dylan and the folk guys
played harp in a holder. I liked that sound,
although that wasn't really the style that I
to play, it did motivate me and lead me
learn more about the harp and listen to other
of harp playing... At the time, I didn't play
yet, so there was no reason for me to use
Who were those first players who made you
to learn harp, and how did you hear them?
Listening to Dylan led me to other singers
musicians in the folk/blues vein, including
blues guys like Koerner, Ray and Glover,
Hammond, and so on. Tony Glover wrote
book around that time called "Blues Harp", it
kind of a combination instruction book and
of blues harmonica. It opened me up to
whole world of music that I'd known nothing
Which was blues. I was 14 at the time,
this was pretty heavy stuff to me. Actually,
still is. (Laughs.)
What was next?
Through this Tony Glover book, I started to
to Sonny Boy Williamson. To both Sonny
Williamsons, although Sonny Boy 1 really
my playing more than Sonny Boy 2.
Terry, who is much maligned because
wasn't much of a technical player, but who
something in his sound that I really liked.
Walter, probably the greatest of them all.
loved his playing right away. What he chose
play, and the sounds he got out of the harp
me, although again I was playing
country blues than what he was doing.
Wolf, I've always loved his stuff.
Who were the harp players you got to see
live in those days?
Well, being 14 and 15, I couldn't really
in the car and go to Chicago! (Laughs.)
the country blues was kind of over, in
case. I did see Sonny Terry one time.
this time, though, the Blues Revival
happening, which was great, as you
see a lot of blues in clubs. I'd go see
Musselwhite, who I've always liked.
Hammond. Junior Wells. James Cotton,
wasn't my favorite stylistically, but who
an excellent band. I saw Walter Horton
and his playing was really something.
You opened for Junior Wells at one time,
Yeah, back in the early '80s, the band
had at that time opened for Buddy Guy &
Wells. Two nights, two shows each
And we also shared a dressing room
them, which was quite an experience.
(Laughs.) Junior was
really nice to me, and
stood at the bar and
watched a whole set.
That was a little nerve-wracking
for me at
first, but he was really
HT: Any other favorite
SH: In 2002, I did a two-week
tour in Sweden,
and Lazy Lester was touring
at the same time
for the same booking
agent, and we crossed
paths a lot. Lester,
of course, was on Excello
back in the old days,
with Lightnin' Slim and
Slim Harpo. Great stuff.
Anyway, we got to
hang out quite a bit
on this Swedish tour...
Lester is a very nice
guy. One night, he got
up with us, but he didn't
want to play harp
or sing much blues. He
loved country music,
and sang all these old
Hank Williams songs.
I played harp and sang
harmony with him.
It was great, and the
audience loved it.
HT: You mentioned a
Marine Band earlier. Is
that still the kind
of harmonica you play?
SH: I never really stick
with one type of harp.
At any one time, I'll
have some Lee Oskars, a
few Marine Bands, a couple
of Hohner Blues
Harps... I like different
harps in different keys,
and sometimes it'll just
come down to what's
available when I need
one. For instance, I'll
blow out a reed on an
A harp, and I'll need
one for a session the
next day. In that case,
I'll just go to the music
store and see what's
in stock. Overall, I
probably use Lee Oskars
a bit more than the others.
I particularly like
their High G harp, which
I usually use along
with a regular G on the
HT: Other than those
players you spoke about,
are there any other,
maybe newer, harmonica
players you listen
to or admire?
SH: Well, I don't really
follow the harp scene
or blues scene as much
as I used to, so there
are probably some excellent
players I haven't
heard. By far the best
bluesy player I've heard
in recent years is a
guy named Paco Shipp. I
saw him play live here
in Nashville a couple
of times, and he's a
with a rare
combination of feel,
originality and technique.
Howard Levy is pretty
amazing, too, although
I haven't heard him play
much blues stuff.
HT: Thanks for an informative
SH: My pleasure.