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Playing unaccompanied

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Jun 17, 2009 4:37 PM GMT

So what tunes do you play to an audience when you've got nobody/nothing else to play with? There are people who have a whole act with just vocal and blues harp - could you put a solo hour together? Would you sing, or play an hour's breakdown?

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Comments (18)

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Jun 18, 2009 12:07 AM GMT
Kingobad Replied:

Unless you make people crap their pants when you play, you better sing too.

Jun 18, 2009 3:27 AM GMT
Bluesie Replied:

I would sing too and maybe feet percussion would be an asset.

Jun 18, 2009 1:59 PM GMT
Sarge Replied:

Do what's comfortable for you. Play, sing, dance, tell a few jokes; just be entertaining.

Jun 18, 2009 4:17 PM GMT
BlowsMeAwy Greg Replied:

I don't know anyone who does a solo hour with just harp and vocals. Can you post some links?

Solo self-accompaniment must be the most demanding act there is for a harp player. There is someone who really, truly pulls it off - although I don't think even he would attempt an hour. (And if he can't do it, I can't imagine ANYONE good enough to keep an audience engaged for an hour of solo harp/vocals.) But he does insert it in his shows, to great effect.

Listen to Rick Estrin play "Gettin' Out Of Town" - it is a msterpiece. You can find a live version of it onMark Hummel's Blues Harmonica Blowouts, and a studio version on his new "On The Harp Side" which I highly recommend.

Jun 18, 2009 7:26 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

Greg; you're probably right, there aren't any who do an hour - I've managed about five minutes! - but doesn't that spell an opportunity? This guy does some, though he's not my cup of herbal tea:

I guess you'd need minimum 15 numbers - Orange Blossom Special for one, Stone Fox Chase... I doubt you could do an hour of cross harp without boring yourself to death though. Any other suggestions?

Jun 20, 2009 6:41 AM GMT
HarpMan Freeman Replied:

Check out this foot percussion instrument. It is absolutely genius.

Jun 20, 2009 10:10 AM GMT
blogward Replied:

Fantastic! I'm going to buy a shaker!

Jun 20, 2009 2:46 PM GMT
BluEyes Replied:

instead of a solo act, how about two harp players....

but not for an hour... just two or three sets.....

At open mic last Wednesday., We did Train, Train by Blackfoot. One harp player on an RP 200

I played clean..and our guitarist... who is now on vacation whicn leaves just us two.

any advice.

Jun 20, 2009 3:47 PM GMT
Boris Plotnikov Replied:

Richard Hunter makes solo acts. Son of Dave sings and uses loop pedals.

Try more different styles, famous melodies, especially uptempo.

Jun 20, 2009 6:20 PM GMT
Barbeque Bob M Replied:

Solo acts can be fun, but two players can be a royal hit or miss because many harp players absolutely cannot back another player and wind up stepping all over each other because of poor rhythm and 'comping technique, and when you got 2 or more trying to play solos over each other and someone not willing to do the proper rhythm parts, it sounds like crap.

Jun 20, 2009 7:17 PM GMT
jawbone s Replied:

Mike Stevens does an incredible solo act. He sometimes uses a looping rig. Then again, he's Mike Stevens. I saw him keep a folk music audience spellbound for an hour, they wouldn't let him off the stage.

Jun 20, 2009 9:43 PM GMT
Brandon B Replied:

Hi guys. Last year, I did a solo street performance for 3 hours. YES 3 HOURS. I just played songs that I had learned and improvised over them for about 5 minutes per song. I will do it again in September. Of course that was a gig were most of the audience were passers by, but I was right in front of a restarunt padio were people set for almost the whole time. I have also done solo gigs for 1 hour, and also some 30 minute ones. YES, it's hard, but can be done. OH!. I almost forgot, I DONT SONG. Just harp. I like to swich between songs with different tempos, and between accoustic and amped. The main thing is to follow the Gussow prenciple of keeping the groove steady. People want to have something to lock into. So yes, I can keep an audience entertained for an hour. Just give me about 10 to 15 different songs and it's easy. The key is in streching the song to at leat 4 minutes. you MUST be able to improvise. I will play some blues songs, some country stuff, some rock, and a few old standards. If I know how to play it, then I will play it. Really folks, it's easy to entertain people with a harmonica. Here is an example of what I do. The video was shot the morning of that first 3 hour solo gig( please keep in mind that this video is almost a year old):

<object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value=""></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object>

Jun 20, 2009 9:44 PM GMT
Brandon B Replied:

OOPS! The embed code didnt work. Here is the link:

Jun 21, 2009 9:20 AM GMT
blogward Replied:

Spot on, Brandon - it's the groove that pays off.

Jun 21, 2009 4:48 PM GMT
Jawbone K Replied:

i haven't explored this idea much, but occasionally as Jo and i are busking, she'll need a break. i'll hold our spot at the farmers market doing just solo improv stuff. occasionally sing some. i just ran across an a capella harp/vocal piece i wrote years ago and i have some more someplace, and i am considering dusting that stuff off and trying it out live on the street. that drum thing looks great but i suspect i'll be trying to build my own out of stuff i run across locally. just spent a few hard earned stones getting a harp mic modded so the kitty is empty. i have experimented with wood stomp boxes with keys and washers and stuff loosely mounted underneath a moving top cover, but they are by no means ready for the public yet.

i once did an a capella recording of myself with a pie plate under one foot and an egg shaker duck taped to my other foot. i'll have to dig that up.

have y'all not heard of deak harp? he does a solo harp/foot percussion/vocal thing on the street a lot at festivals in the midwest and south.

Jun 22, 2009 4:44 AM GMT
OrthodoxBlues Replied:

Please forgive what may be a long post, but you have brought me way down memory lane. When I was a senior in high school, I played solo harp and told jokes at the school's talent show. It seems strange to me now, but my distinct memory was that it was an assembly during the day, so the whole school was there. People loved it at the dress rehearsal, but I remember that I was looking mostly at a girl that I liked, and who maybe liked me (I was way too shy, nothing happened). My impression was that I wasn't as big of a hit at the real show, but as I look back, I put too much stock into a few (probably high) guys who yelled stuff at everyone. One yelled, "more jokes" at me when I was playing, which made me think that the harp didn't go over well. I'm now realizing that I did just fine.

My two cents of slightly more practical advice is to echo several previous posts that you've got to get a rhythm going to keep people moving and liking it. Solo means that you have to think about the rhythm aspect. I remember a moment in the talent show when the whole school was stomping to my harp beat.

Well, since my "years wise" is right on the site, I may as well admit it. That talent show was thirty years ago!

Jun 22, 2009 7:00 PM GMT
blogward Replied:

I'm sure it's been done (maybe not on harp too often, apart from the old fox chase act) but it would be fun to build a comic narrative with a background harp groove that you return to, like a standup comedian has a running joke through his act. You could embellish it with train, car, animal and flying saucer sounds (thanks Jason) with a harp, or even musical noises:)

Jun 23, 2009 6:57 AM GMT
OrthodoxBlues Replied:

That comedy act could work. I like it.

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