How do you like and what style do you play

I’ve become a great fan of Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter type of Blues. If you read the history of these two guys they were at the genesis of American Blues as we know it. Their times included such great Blues players as Howlin’ Wolf, James Cotton, BB King and many others. Their Blues did not seem to follow the structured I, IV V cord Blues, rather they appear to play more improvisational harmonica, especially Sonny Boy. I sit and listen to their recordings and you can hear and feel the Blues and them telling stories of their lives down in the Mississippi, Alabama Deltas. Their harmonica playing seems to offer a feeling that I think is at the core of The Blues. I have adapted a style of playing the harmonic in their style of improvisation and just play. I don’t play structured songs because if I know the song others will know it as well and they’ll also know that I don’t play well. How about you guys, what do you play and who do you like or emulate?


Hey Barry,

I also love Sonny Boy 2 and Little Walter.

I also love Sonny Boy 1 and find both of the Sonny Boys fantastic to listen to. (Yes. There were two Sonny Boys. Sonny Boy 2’s real name was Rice Miller. That was an old blues trick to give yourself the name of someone who is already famous…)

Here are the harmonica players I listen to the most:
Little Walter (Jacobs)
Rev. Dan Smith
Big Walter (Horton)
David Barrett
Peter Madcat Ruth
James Cotton
John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson (aka, Sonny Boy I)
Rice Miller (aka Sonny Boy Williamson, Sonny Boy II)
Jon Gindick
Sonny Terry
Junior Wells
Kim Wilson
Jimmy Reed
Carey Bell
Magic Dick
Howlin’ Wolf
Paul Butterfield
George “Harmonica” Smith
Sugar Blue
Paul deLay
DeFord Bailey
Charlie Musselwhite
Billy Branch
Terry McMillan
John Popper
Bob Dylan
Neil Young
Guy Forsythe
Hal Walker

Gosh the list goes and I’m sure I’m forgetting some of my favorites…

Here’s a bit of a tangent to your question…

I used to love to listen to the early blues guys (i.e. Reverend Gary Davis, Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy I…) because they tend not to use distortion. And that made it easier for me as a beginner to cop their licks.

What I’m trying to say is when I was a beginner, because I hadn’t yet used and amp, I couldn’t decipher which sounds were coming from the distortion in the amp and which sounds were coming from from the harmonica player’s raw technique.

So there’s two advantages to listening to the old classic harmonica players.

  1. There playing tended to be slower and more simple (yet very soulful)
  2. No distortion (which I love but used to confuse me as a beginner)

I’m curious about some of the other harmonica players that others listen to.

Chime in if you feel inspired.

JP Allen

OMG! Barry/Grampa/Grandpa!

I was working on this very topic last night, but eventually was too tired to go on. Gotta be some sort of syzygy going on somewhere! I know exactly what you’re saying! Here goes:

Play These Tunes and You’ll Be Golden!

It’s interesting to hear and read about other harp players from the world-wide famous to those in bands big and small to those in the living room or on their porch – they all had influence from somewhere/somebody else.

I think the harmonica is about the only instrument that has such an impact. It’s rare that anybody hears another musician play and says to themselves: I want to be just like oh say Liberace, Gershwin, Oscar Levant, and so on. Although I must admit that when I was younger, although never playing a piano or taking any lessons – if I had I wanted to tickle the ivories, I would have liked to have done so in the manners of Chico Marx, Jimmy Durante and Fats Waller. But those ideas never manifested.

Yet in harmonica, even Howard Levy and Jason Ricci still had their influences. The late great Paul Butterfield, for instance, who both mention amongst their inspirations.

Both Tom Ball and Peter ‘Madcat’ Ruth proclaim their inspirations from Sonny Terry. Ball was born on Sonny’s birthday, October 24. And Madcat wanted to learn to ‘whoop, whoop’ like Sonny did when Sonny played.

For myself, I can honestly say I actually didn’t have any real influences except for my dad when I was younger. He taught himself to play guitar, harmonica and the accordion. He’d entertain family and friends alike whenever the occasions called for it. However, he never lived long enough to pass down what he knew to his son. Be that as it may…

I picked up harmonica to just learn tunes. And I’ve struggled with and became a frustrated player for longer than I care to remember. It was only late last year, due to my accident that I decided to pursue harmonica more fervently and passionately again.

I believe most of us have similar-type stories and reasons as to how we found the harmonica, or rather the harmonica found us. Nevertheless…

I started picking up Sonny Terry, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson from Amazon. And just like you I listen to them constantly. Here’s the thing and spoiler alert of one of my Aha-Eureka moments.

I read all the books, watch all the DVDs, listen to all the cds – And try to get down what’s being given. As I say and say again, everything comes in little bits & pieces, little installments. So for me, it can be a struggle getting from point A to B to C and so forth.

But am I discouraged? No! Why? Because albeit challenging at times, whatever I can do and accomplish is rewarding and fun to say the least.

Here’s the good part about it:

David Harp mentions that every harmonica player is different, that’s a given. Yet because of this many try to be the same. Meaning, they want to play like or as Sonny Terry or Little Walter. He says that’s all well and good, however, one should strive to play like themselves.

No matter what style or type of music you want to play – blues, rock, country and so forth – you can surely play Sonny Terry and Little Walter tunes, but the harder you try to be like them the farther away you might find yourself. Meaning, most certainly you can play them note for note and so forth. But it’s more important to find your own voice, your own expressions, your own interpretations of somebody else’s music. Because after all, music is universal.

Case in point: I was listening to Pandora radio one day, and a harmonica tune came on. It sounded just like Sonny Boy Williamson. Figuring as it was one of his songs, and all the styling and phrasing was there – this was just a different recording. I thought cool! Yet when I went to look who was playing – it was somebody I had never heard of before.

Yeah, okay, the guy played the song good. But it wasn’t SBW. At that moment, the bell went off and I understood what Dave was talking about. But that’s not the best part…

I play my harmonicas everywhere; literally out on the street as I’m walking along. I also ride a bike, and believe it or not, I hold it with one hand, steer with the other and play as I go along. Those in hearing range always turn their heads and smile. I do it for me though! It’s fun!!

Here’s the thing: Anyone who picks up a harmonica, even if they start with the ins and outs to get the breathing part of it down, will eventually drift into “something.” I put something in quotes because that “something” is – drum roll please: The Tunes in Their Head!

Yes, check it out!

We all play a little bit differently. We all take our own approaches to the harmonica. What the harmonica does and as our reward for picking it up is it allows us to express what’s inside of us already to begin with!

One of the reasons I like/enjoy harmonica so much is the fact that whatever I hear in my head, in silence, as it were - I can translate and play on the harmonica to hear aloud and out in the open!

It’s sounds self-evident, but really it’s not!

I firmly believe that if we ever met in person, you wouldn’t necessarily introduce yourself with a Sonny Terry or SBW song. No, you’d introduce yourself with your own tune, your own riff, your own music of what you’ve played and played and played in your own head! And surely, I’d be doing the same thing!

Case in point: In the bank last week, I was the only one in line waiting to cash my check. I was standing askew of the rail at the little desk there; then a guy walks in and steps right in front of me. At first glance, I thought him rude. I said I was in line waiting and he apologized. I picked up my Piedmont Bb and walked to the counter playing some of my own riffs.

From behind me, I hear a harmonica playing. Turn around and it was the guy! He was embarrassed; I was ecstatic! We quickly chatted, and the one thing that stood out from our conversation was when he said, “I don’t play songs or anything, I only play what I feel!”

Exacta-mundo! Harpsters and Harpsterettes!!

We exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch.

The point being and putting the finger on it is: What he does, what you do, what we all do is we play what we feel! Yet those “feelings” are also coming from The Tunes We Hear in Our Head!

And his tunes, your tunes, my tunes, everybody tunes are different! That’s the beauty of harmonica! So play those tunes anytime anywhere and sure as the sun will come out tomorrow – You’ll be golden!

Keep on smiling!

Keep on harpin’!

Thanks for reading!

This is a great thread, and what I was also going to ask you guys is what make harmonicas do you have and your favorite key. Let me say again thanks JP for offering this forum!!! When I started with JP’s home course I purchased a entire set of harmonicas from him (all Special 20’s) and since then I have acquired a Honer Crossover, a Suzuki Pro-Master MR 350 and a Pro-Master Mr 350 valved, a Suzuke Manji. It’s my opinion that these are all great harmonicas, but the Special 20 is as good as it gets for the money right out of the box.

I have recently started to customize all of my Special 20’s by opening the backs up and curving the 1 through 4 reeds and this modification has made a major difference in these harmonicas.

The great thing about the harmonica is without being able to read music if you play enough each day your ability improves and most if not all of the great players JP mentioned, as well as JP, all in a way taught themselves. That’s the great gift of the harmonica in that anyone can play if they so desire and with a little help from people like JP can achieve a level beyond expecatation.


Howdy Barry (gawd I like the ring to that! :D)

Well I started a harmonica review thread, so hopefully we’ll be adding to the list of what everybody likes/doesn’t like and so forth.!/some-harmonica-reviews!/

But can you please explain more how you curved the reeds? Are you following Richard Sleigh’s techniques or what?

And improved the sound and playing how, if I may ask?

Once my TurboHarps get here, and I get caught up on a few things - I’m going to start delving into various tunings and customizations - Probably starting with my Mojos and Piedmonts first so I don’t break or ruin anything! hee-hee!!

See ya!

[quote author=Street Player Dude link=topic=23.msg74#msg74 date=1283119059]
Howdy Barry (gawd I like the ring to that! :D)

Well I started a harmonica review thread, so hopefully we’ll be adding to the list of what everybody likes/doesn’t like and so forth.!/some-harmonica-reviews!/

But can you please explain more how you curved the reeds? Are you following Richard Sleigh’s techniques or what?

And improved the sound and playing how, if I may ask?

Once my TurboHarps get here, and I get caught up on a few things - I’m going to start delving into various tunings and customizations - Probably starting with my Mojos and Piedmonts first so I don’t break or ruin anything! hee-hee!!

See ya!
Street Player go to, click on Harp Modification, click Arcing. This will give you some idea of arcing. It’s difficult to explain. On the Special 20’ I use a very fine hack saw and saw a slice at both ends inside where the outside supports are and then very carefully using a small hammer I tap the remaining inside the harmonica. This opens up the back by close to 1/4 inch total.

Okay, I got you on the arcing…Looks a lot like what Richard Sleigh refers to as checking the Curve and then Offset of the reeds.

As far as the rest of your modifying goes, you’re opening up the back of the harp wider, correct?

Yeah, Jason Ricci, Joe Filisko and all the good customizers do this.

But take a gander here at a Harrison, and let me know if you’re drooling too! :o

See ya!

Hey Street Player, to be honest I don’t know how much more harmonica $160.00 +buys you over a $30.00+ Special 20! Especially if you can custonize yourself.



Hi Barry,

I listen to a lot of players, both from the pre-war and post-war era. Like JP, I started off by listening to pre-war players a lot. For some reason I didn’t like the sound of amplified harmonica very much when I started. :slight_smile: I don’t know, it didn’t sound natural to me. Now it’s a different story though…I love the sound of amplified harmonica! However, I still don’t have a lot of experience playing amplified. I’m always put off by how how expensive it is to get a good harmonica amp and mic (especially where I live). >:(

Anyway, here’s my list of favorite harmonica players:

Rice Miller
DeFord Bailey
Peter Madcat Ruth
Sonny Terry
Walter Horton
Freeman Stowers
Henry Whitter
Rhythm Willie (thanks to Street… :slight_smile: He told me about him yesterday!)
Lonnnie Glosson
Noah Lewis
Palmer McAbee
Chuck Darling
Gwen Foster
William McCoy
Joe Filisko
Tom Cocks
Wade Schuman
Howard Levy
Rick Epping
James Conway
Adam Gussow

I’m probably forgetting several names…but anyway. :slight_smile:

I play Hohner Special 20s, Lee Oskars, GMs and Hering harmonicas. I customize all my harmonicas myself to suit my playing. I set them up to facilitate overblows on holes 4, 5, and 6…and also adjust holes 2 and 3 to be very responsive. This helps me in doing tongue-blocked bends on those holes. I really want to try a harmonica customized by a reputed customizer…but unfortunately I’m living on a tight budget. All I can afford at the moment are my own self-customized harps. :slight_smile:


I’ve got egg on my face.

I new I was going to forget some of my favorite harmonica players.

I saw Ashish’s list and I much say…I LOVE LOVE LOVE

Howard Levy and Adam Gussow.

I’m sure I will remember a few more…

Oh what about Ronnie Shellist… Love his playing too…

jp allen

Hi Ashish, I’m still not a fan of amped harmonica. I seems like noise after a while. Just recently James Cotton was here in Albany and I went to see and hear him. Well, let me tell you it was nothing but noise, his harmonica and everything was amped including the drums. He really can’t sing anymore but when he spoke you could not hear him because of the apmlification. I’ve learned a lot watching the old guys on You Tube and you can actually pick up every little nuance and riff because of a lack of amps, and no distortion to the actual sound of the harmonica. I feel that amplification changes the sound I love, which is the harmonica.

And JP, I think your list of players will go on and on and on because I think you just like to hear people playing the harmonica

“And JP, I think your list of players will go on and on and on because I think you just like to hear people playing the harmonica!”


Barry, you reminded me of this:

When I was in military journalism school, and the other students had run out to do their assignments whenever, I was still sitting there pounding away at my craft.

Teacher walks over, takes a look down and says: “Seaman, be honest with me here - The reason you’re so prolific in your writing is because you like to hear the sound of your own fingers on the typewriter keys?!”

Well, be that as it may - he was as proud as I was when I passed the top of his class!

Hey Street Player, to be honest I don't know how much more harmonica $160.00 +buys you over a $30.00+ Special 20! Especially if you can customize yourself.


I do agree with you, Barry. And yet since getting my Elk River C harp from Dave Payne, seen here with Jason Ricci:

I’m on the other side of this too now.

I’m either crazy, or a real harp enthusiast - Or both! :-*

It’s all good! It’s all fun!

See ya!

I knew I was going to forget some of my favorite harmonica players.

Anybody besides me hear of this little guy Alan Wilson from that 60s Hippie band “Canned Heat”?!

Yes, well, in my neck of the woods, one of his most famous/greatest riffs of all time is being played on Midas Muffler radio commercials.

Pat Missin also discusses his findings here:


To be honest with you St Player, I want to own every harmonica I see!


Well Barry, hope you’ll read my topic on the worst harmonicas ever. Then by all means get back to me on it! :wink:

I play irish folk music. Some one here, who also does?

Hoi All,

Before I tell you about myself I like to thank JP for all his effort to help us harmonica addicts to learn to play better and better. When I started I purchased his set of DVD’s and CD and started off. It’s my basic from where I’am developing further. So thank you JP ;D

I like to listen to Pre war blues, but also to the skills of Jason Ricci. I started playing Blues myself but at this moment I only play Irish Tunes and some Fiddle Tunes. I study with the Harmonica Academy from Tony Eyers and use the book “Play Irish music on the Diatonic Harmonica” from Brendan Power to get better. I left the blues at the moment and have a lot of fun playing Tunes. I use Suzuki Pro Masters, retuned to Paddy Richter for it.

For now, have fun,

Okay, learning to play harp was a summer project of mine after visiting my son who had been between jobs and learned to play with all his time (he’s working now, thank goodness). He showed me a couple of things and i was hooked. I came home and bought a set of cheap Piedmonts in 7 different keys and worked through them in no time. Now I have some Lee Oskars.

I started learning mostly online via Adam Gussows and Jason Ricci’s You Tube vids and then got on JP’s course. Now all I want to do is play. I play guitar too so have included harp with my repertoire of instruments and am jamming with some other guys.

I listen to a lot of old style blues from Sonny Williamson II and Jimmy Reed, Walter Horton. I just created a Pandora station and can listen all day long.
But I also have a Jason Ricci station and which exposed me to even more who I see on the lists. But I really like Rick Estrin from Little Charlie and the Night Cats and now just Rick Estrin and the Night Cats since Charlie retired from touring.

I just love listening and playing. And I can’t believe how steep the learning curve is. I feel like I just started and I can hold my own no problem. I’m just trying to diversify and change up licks to stay out of a rut.

Stay harpin’