I am so proud and excited that the article I wrote about my first SPAH convention was just published today in the fall issue of Harmonica Happenings.
Here is what I wrote:
MY FIRST SPAH CONVENTION
By Steve P Klein
I just attended my first SPAH convention.
In order to give you insight into my perspective, first I will tell you about my harmonica journey, and then I will tell you about my experience at the convention.
MY HARMONICA BACKGROUND
I’ve been playing harmonica since June 1969. I first learned from the book "How to play Blues harp ", by Tony “Little Son” Glover, and a Marine Band harmonica using the Key of A.
Following his instruction, I listened to, and tried to mimic, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson 2. I also listened to Paul Butterfield and.John Mayall.
Fourteen years later, I picked up the Chromatic. My first one was the Hohner CBH 2016. It forced me to totally change my basic technique. When I tried blowing into it, I couldn’t get a single note to sound. In desperation, I read the instructions. (Typical male, I only read instructions if forced to.) I was a pucker player. It explained that instead of blowing from the front of my mouth, I needed to direct air from the very back of my throat. To locate the spot, I cleared my throat to find where the air should be coming from. Eureka!
I now use this technique on my diatonics too. I gapped them to make them air tight. Over the years, I have had complete sets of many different makes of harp: Marine Band, Blues Harp, Golden Melody, Lee Oskar, Manji and a few of each (too many to remember how many others I tried). My wife may not know the make, but probably knows the number bought“[Is that another harmonica in the mail!] For the last 9 years, I use Bluemoon Harmonicas recessed brass combs with Hohner Special 20 reed plates. It is easy to get them air tight. You just drop the Reed plate into the comb and screw them in. Gap as needed. Now my harmonicas last much longer and I play with more control and finesse.
My first time performing out was when I sat in with a 60s Rock cover band, at a music festival in Israel in 1970. It was such a high, playing
for thousands of people, as they screamed for more. I have played in a number of bands(3, 4, 5 and 6 piece) and duos over the years.
I attended a John Gindick seminar to meet with Dennis Gruenling. I gave my multi-genre autobiographical original album “Babyboomer-angst.com” to him. https://youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_mIe5Haj6nL1Ujqf4F3j3tshTLmAfFYyMk
He loved it and passed it on to Rick Estrin, who also loved it. When he came to my area, Rick invited me to his show. It was unreal how he and the band knew all the lyrics to my songs and were asking me the meaning of some lyrics. I was surprised when Nic Clark approached me and told me how much he appreciated that album, having been turned on to it by Kid Andersen
I set up a YouTube page which consists mostly of my musical diary, along with performances of great artists from shows I attended: https://youtube.com/@steveklein3186
This being my very first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I checked the SPAH website. Based on the menu of options available at the same time, I made a schedule for the week. The cool thing about this conference is that there so many varieties of music and seminars available, that each person can create their own ideal experience for their taste, needs and wants. I purposely attended seminars and performances, different from my main love, blues (although I attended them too).I hoped to get inspiration from different genres and styles of playing. Mission accomplished!
Regarding the variety of music, I was not disappointed. I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the Irish playing of James Conway; jazz from Chris Bauer’s Harmonikings; Tom Stryker and guests;Jason Keene ;the 65 Harmonica band, St. Louis gateway Harmonica club; the American songbook; rock and country. There were harmonica players from 50 different countries. I particularly enjoyed Il harmonica Trio, from Argentina and Dov Hammer, from Israel, for his authentic downhome blues playing.
The other highlight performances for me were Joe Filisko and Eric Noden, who demonstrated the full capability of the harmonica, in such an eloquent way.
Although Jason Ricci, Richard Sleigh and Joe Filisko were each amazing in their own right, Nic Clark stood out amongst them with his Exquisite full tone.
The youth scholars were a joy to listen to. I was especially impressed with Sally Ma, whose virtuosity on the chromatic took my breath away.
Will Wilde rocked the house with his Super charged performance, attacking the harp with his fierce playing. I was surprised when Will introduced his song “Paranoid” referencing a conversation and offer I made before he went on to perform.
Todd Parrott amazed everyone with his unexpected (because he’s a gospel artist) version of Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein.
Jason Ricci brought his new sound with a singing partner. Not only was Jason’s virtuosity on harmonica on full display, but he has become an accomplished singer, performing music that was fresh and interesting.
Jason Keene skillfully demonstrated the many sounds he could obtain from his MIDI harmonica, that he invented. It was beyond cool, seeing him switch between different horn sounds. He was a big band all by himself.
For me, the Highlight of the conference was experiencing the Mind-blowing performance of Indian psychedelic blues music from Madcat’s C.O.R.A. band. Madcat started with a jaws harp, which sounded like something from outer space. The band and the audience, blasted off from there.
Here is a link to many of these great performances on YouTube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4dKJ_ZgXdpOkOOfDsK9AlzAWjGNJBj0j
I loved the different opportunities to jam in all styles of music, country, rock, gospel, jazz, blues and old timey. There were impromptu jams in the lobby and halls. From the positive reactions. I got to my playing, from the young scholars to the 60 year veterans and professionals, I appreciated how far I have come in my playing.
The seminars were excellent, being very informative and helpful. Having a chance to hear demonstrations, learn new techniques and a chance to practice them, were a great benefit. I will use what I have learned to expand my tool kit and continue to develop my playing in new and exciting ways.
The Filisko run teach ins were extremely valuable. Each master performer and instructor had a separate table to speak to them about your specific issues and receive personal instruction.
I loved Madcat Ruth and C.O.R.A.band’s seminar, which was part discussion, and a lot of performance.
Joe Filsko’s “Roots and blues grooves for diatonic harmonica”(with guitar assistance from Eric Noden) was filled with demonstrations of every facet of playing harp. I will be working on the exercises for a long time. Joe’s playing is something I will learn from and try to emulate.
Ronnie Shellist’s “Blues Improvisation: Getting out of a rut” was jampacked with comprehensive information that addressed all facets of playing.
James Conway’s “All things tongue” seminar was comprehensive and enlightening.
Todd Parrott’s “Checkerboard blues” was fun and showed how to put together a song, from beginning to end.
John Frazer’s “Making different positions more accessible” expanded my knowledge and inspired me.
Dave Kachalon’s “Tongue blocking advantages for blues playing” focused on exercises to work your tongue to achieve a fuller and bluesier sound.
Fellow Philadelphian, Boaz Kim, seemed to be everywhere, playing outstanding Bass Harmonica to a variety of other acts in many different genres- classical, jazz, blues and standards.
The Major harmonica manufacturers were there, with discounts. I bought a Seydel Will Wilde tuned Harp.
I also bought a set of major tuned Kongsheng Baby Fat 7 hole harmonicas. They had great tone and fit easily in my hands.
I tried out pedals from Lone Wolf. Gregg Heumann , let me borrow a Bulletini, to try out the pedals, since that is the mic I use for my small tube amps.
Hohner did free repairs. I lost a nut and bolt to the cover plate, which was instantly replaced.
There was a stack of other harmonicas waiting to be fixed.
The Convention ended with a delicious banquet and a variety of acts and guest players. At the end was a raffle to help support the young scholars. A Bulletini microphone and a variety of harmonicas and other Harp related stuff was given away.
I learned so much about the many possibilities of the harmonica from this convention. It is a little daunting to decide on what to pick to work on, but there are exercises that I will practice, especially in tongue blocking.
I felt a true fellowship with everyone here, including the stars that performed. Everyone was open to talk, help me at workshops and have their picture taken with me.
I don’t know why it took me 54 years to attend my first SPAH convention, but I guarantee you, this won’t be my last.