2002 P.Missin - Details

What are the mistakes in Tony Glover's book?

(Copyright 1967 by Oak Publications
a Division of Music Sales Corporation, New York, NY
Used with permission)

Tony Glover's book "Blues Harp" (Oak Publications 1965) was for many years the only book available on how to play blues-style harmonica. It got many people started on the instrument, it's probably the world's best selling blues harp book and I have nothing but respect for Tony Glover as a player and as an enthusiastic fan of the music. Because it is such a seminal book (and one well worth ordering from Amazon.com by clicking here, or from Amazon.co.uk by clicking here), I feel that some of the mistakes in it deserve to be corrected.

It really wouldn't be fair to call the positional system he uses a mistake - he used the traditional method of numbering them in the order in which he learned them. This is fine, but is nowhere near as logical as the circle of fifths system which has since become the standard system for numbering the positions.

Going through the book page by page, the first thing I would like to state is that back in the early 60s, there were nowhere near as many reissue programs and reliable discographies as there are now. So when Tony says (Chapter 3) that the first recorded evidence he had heard of blues harp on record was by Bullet Williams in the late 20s, it is quite easy for me to say that in fact, the earliest cross harp recordings were done by Henry Whitter in 1923, whilst the earliest African-American harp blowers appeared on record in 1924 (see FFAQ5). Likewise, the story about Bullet Williams being related to Booker (he didn't like the spelling "Bukka") White is very interesting, but probably completely fictitious. Again, not so much a mistake, but we have more information available these days.

Likewise not really a mistake is his description of bending, in particular when he merely says that blow reeds are harder to bend than draw reeds. However, this is one huge over-simplification. It would have been nice to have been told that you can only bend the higher note in each channel, to a pitch just above the lower one.

In Chapter 10, he mentions what he calls "fourth position", which would be fifth, going by the cycle of 5ths method. It would be nice to have been told what this mystery tune was.

Chapter 11, mentions that the reeds on a chromatic are harder to bend, because they are "stiffer". Again, it would have been nice to have been told that the notes bend *differently* on a chrom because the reeds are valved, preventing the interaction that allows blues harp style bends to work.

In Chapter 12, he goes to some length to explain how to tell that SBW I played "Sloppy Drunk Blues" in first position on a C harp. Some sound reasoning, but unfortunately wrong - it's definitely an F harp played in second position! In Tony's defence, he later tabbed out the tune for his "Blues Harp Songbook" (also from Oak Publications) and correctly identified it as being played on an F harp.

Moving on to SBW II, he says that "Dissatisfied" is played either on chrom, or "fourth position" (meaning what I would term 5th position). It's actually played on a Koch chromatic - a ten hole unvalved chromatic in Richter tuning. By holding in the button for most of the tune, he plays it crossed like a Db harp. (See FFAQ21)

The Little Walter section is also a bit flakey. There are no chromatic numbers on side one of the album in question and the key of harp for track 6 ("Can't Hold Out Much Longer") should be D, instead of G. Side 2, track 2 ("Mean Old World") is played on a Bb Marine Band, as is side 2 track 4 ("You Better Watch Yourself"). Track 5 ("Blue Lights") is the one where he had been told that LW had used a specially tuned harp, possibly the Marine Band Soloist. I've never heard any recordings of LW using this harp, although Walter Horton used one several times on disc (see FFAQ20). Little Walter himself claimed (in a Living Blues interview) that he had used four different harps on this track, but Walter often lied his face off, especially to other harp players. On this track, he swaps between a G Marine Band and a 64 chrom. Track 6 ("Tell Me Mama"), is also NOT played on chrom, but on a regular C harp in 2nd pos.

Finally, the chapter on harp care involves some less-than-informed information, although in Tony's defence once again, this subject was simply unknown by everyone back then, except for a few harmonica technicians. These days, plenty of information on this subject is available at the click of a mouse.

Tony also wrote a follow-up book called the Blues Harp Songbook, with various blues harp classics (from jug band to Chicago style and all points in between) presented with the same indiosyncratic notation used in Blues Harp. Click here for more details from Amazon.com.

Blues harp fans should also be sure to check out Tony's new book (co-written with Scott Dirks and Ward Gaines) called Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story. Click here to get your copy from Amazon.com, or click here for more details from Amazon.co.uk. (For more information about the Amazon.com links on this page, please read this.)


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