Worst Harp Player Ever

Raymond O. Varner uncleray@TELEPORT.COM
Sat Jun 29 14:15:02 EDT 1996

There's nothing original about his style.
You can hear a hundred dreadful "note
counters" like him at any harmonica

"Noodle on, John Popper, noodle on!"

        -Uncle Ray

From:   Mike Curtis[SMTP:wd6ehr@KAIWAN009.KAIWAN.COM]
Sent:   Saturday, June 29, 1996 7:36 PM
To:     Multiple recipients of list BLUES-L
Subject:        Re: Worst Harp Player Ever

> I'm venting a little here so forgive me. But...HAS THERE EVER BEEN A MORE
> time I hear that horrific sound that emits from his harmonica I cringe. Maybe
> somebody should introduce this guy to a Sonny Boy Williamson or Walter Horton
> CD. It certainly could not hurt. Otherwise, I fear we will have future
> generations of tonally impaired youngsters taking up harmonica and imitating
> whoever this clown is. HE MUST BE STOPPED!!!

His name is John Popper, and speaking as a professional harmonica player,
he's exceptionally good at what he does.  If you don't like his style, it
can be quite annoying - but I suppose that's true of anyone - Kenny G for
example - you either love his wonderfully sweet, romantic, melodic playing,
or despise his whiney, screechy, boring bilge :-) The band is certainly not
blues, nor is his style of harp, but I don't think they claim to be a blues
band.  Also, Popper will be the first to tell you he doesn't consider
himself to be "the greatest ever", and questions whether theere really can
be such.  Of course, fans have their opinions and devotions :-)

While I play a lot of blues harp (as well as jazz and other genres), and
think the world of Big Walter (who IMAO had the greatest harp tone hands
down), both Sonny Boys, Little Walter, et al, I don't think it's required
that ALL harmonicists learn from them and emulate what they've done,
especially not to the extent that most blues harmonicists try to. The afore-
mentioned players are most notably originators, not copycats.  For example,
Little Walter copped many licks and much of his style from jazz horn
players, something most blues harmonicists today would do well to heed.  All
of these musicians were innovators and refreshingly different.  That's what
made them great.  Of course, being exceptionally skilled and tasteful
doesn't hurt, either :-)

My analysis of his playing, based upon my own experience and knowledge of
harmonica and what I've heard on his records and TV performances, is that
his playing style is largely based upon one particular fast high note lick,
typically played on a high pitched harmonica such as E or F, where fast
notes are much more easily played.  He does this extremely fast, and
extremely cleanly.  His tone is not that good, though.  I've never heard him
make what I'd consider good use of the lower notes, IMHO an important part
of diatonic harmonica - and I say that as a harmonicist who makes good (and
frequent) use of high, fast notes when I play.

Whether you love it or hate it, his style is highly original.  He has
brought a lot of attention to harmonica.  His lyrics are usually amusing and
frequently humorous.  Listen to "But Anyway" sometime.  But that's getting
away from the topic at hand.

Some think he's the fastest harp player around.  This is not true.  There
are plenty of harp players who can match his speed with ease.

All in all, I personally enjoy his playing and his better songs, although I
have a hard time sitting through an entire album.  But that's true of most
artists, unless I _really_ like their material, style, or possibly skill and
technique.  But if he's appearing on Letterman et al (and I'm not gigging,
of course), I won't miss it.

 -- IronMan Mike Curtis

More information about the Blues-l mailing list