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Dylan's harp style

Ken Ficara (ficara@acm.org) Sat, 1 Oct 1994 10:49:49 -0500

I love Bob Dylan, I think he's a fantastic songwriter and singer and a better musician than he's often given credit for.

However, he is a terrible harp player. He's melodically inventive but he has no tone, no technique, and he makes so many amateurish mistakes – drawing the low holes very thinly so they wheeze, for instance – that he often makes me wince. When he plays simple melodic runs, he's good – the solos on "Desolation Row," for instance, are brilliant. But when he tries to play blues, christ, I run for the hills. Check out his version of "Sitting On Top of the World" on GOOD AS I BEEN TO YOU. Great song, but he should have left the harp home.

Ken Ficara

Re: Dylan's harp style

Kevin Patrick (kpatrick@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu) Sat, 1 Oct 1994 08:27:49 -1000

At the risk of initiating a flame war, wasn't Dylan more of an "idea" man than a musician (in the classical sense of that term: i.e., being extremely proficient with your musical instruments)? By that I mean, his singing was not what most would call acceptable then or now, and his guitar playing was not overwhelmingly technical; but he had a firm grip on delivering concepts in a passionate manner. In some ways, audiences overlooked the fact that his singing and harmonica playing were so unusual, because of the concepts he tried to communicate.

As usual IMHO, Kevin

Bob Dylan

Barry Schaede (barrys@convx1.ccit.arizona.edu) Fri, 07 Oct 1994 01:13:25 -0700 (MST)

I like Bob Dylan's harmonica playing. It has a quirky kind of purposeful awkwardness that no one else acheives. It certainly is unique to him. I've said this before but I'll say it again. If a musician communicates an emotion or feeling through their playing then they've succeded. On this level Bob Dylan's playing excels. If you want to hear a good Bob Dylan harmonica solo check out his playing on the Nanci Griffith CD "Other Voices Other Rooms". He plays the accomponiment (sp) on her version of his song "Boots of Spanish Leather". By the way, in general I'm not a major Bob Dylan fan. I could care less if his solos are transcribeable for other instruments. Each thing in its place. FJM time for bed

RE: Bob Dylan

Hugh Messenger (hippo@iquest.com) Fri, 7 Oct 94 14:16 CDT

Hey ho, might as well throw my 2c worth in ...

I never appreciated Dylan's style until I saw him live last year in a smallish (2000 seat) venue. He played the firt set with an 'acoustic' band, various permutations of stand up bass, Dobro, horn, drums, mandolin and violin. The harp was layed right back in the mix, and just acted as kind of punctuation to the poetry.

For someone who can't sing, play harp or play guitar very well, he's done OK!

-- hugh

Re: Bob Dylan on CD-ROM

Tim Moody (timm@sp-eug.com) Fri, 30 Sep 1994 13:59:35

Harp-l'ers, Does Dylan really play the harmonica. I thought that he only gave it a bum rap!

You tell me.


Re: Bob Dylan on CD-ROM

Harvey A. Andruss, III (haandruss@mmm.com) Fri, 30 Sep 94 16:28:06 -0500

> Does Dylan really play the harmonica. I thought that he only gave it a
> bum rap!

Amy Appleby seems to thinks so in her 80 page book of 12 of his songs (don't know which ones) : _The Harp Styles of Bob Dylan_ . It says in a marketing blurb on the book – "Bob Dylan is a master of many harp styles....." A little stretch IMHO, but to each his/her own.

Regards, haandruss@mmm.com Harv *Opinions my own*

Re: Bob Dylan on CD-ROM

Michael Smith (michael@tychonic.antioch.edu) Sat, 1 Oct 1994 17:32:56 -0400

I always thought his playing was great....not on record maybe, but for sure live.

Re: J.Mayall and Bob Dylan

JfGindick@aol.com Fri, 19 Apr 1996 02:39:13 -0400

"IMO, Norton Buffalo's solo on Runaway is the most elegant harmonica solo I've ever heard. The others you mention, while they stand on their own merits, pale in comparison."

Runaway is a great solo, maybe the greatest, but the most elegant harp solo of all time is Dylan's "Just Like A Woman." Or so it seemed at the time. Is it my romantic imagination or wasn't he really, really special during that period? Jon

Re: J.Mayall and Bob Dylan

sprice@inav.net Fri, 19 Apr 1996 10:50:01 -0500 (CDT)

On Fri, 19 Apr 1996 JfGindick@aol.com wrote:

> Runaway is a great solo, maybe the greatest, but the most elegant harp solo
> of all time is Dylan's "Just Like A Woman."
> Or so it seemed at the time. Is it my romantic imagination
> or wasn't he really, really special during that period? Jon

Boy that takes me back about 25 years. I remember getting down that harp solo. I still had a hard time explaining to people who thought of Bob Dylan as the premiere harmonica player extraordinaire what it was I was doing when I played Little Walter licks or Sonny Terry licks. But I DID enjoy some of Dylan's work, that song a case in point, yes, absolutely.

Simple, sweet, affecting. Okay, Jon, if Dylan wants to be join Harp-l, I'll let him.


When Dylan hired Mike Bloomfield to play lead guitar on Blonde on Blonde he said (according one bio), "And none of that BB King sh*t, Mike." Jon

Re: Player's styles

Ted Welter (ted@mn.chey.com) Tue, 10 Oct 95 16:58:12 CDT

In a previous message, Steve Rospo wrote:

> I've seen ads for books to show you how to play "in the style" of
> various players. I'm sure we can all tell Dylan from Little Walter from
> SBW from Neil Young from John Popper. What makes all these people sound
> different? Now that I've been playing a little more I think I have some idea
> of what makes a certain players "sound" but for the most part I can hear
> Bob Dylan and know it's him without knowing why. It just sounds like him.
> Can anyone explain what gives these harpers (using the word loosely here for
> some) their unique sound?

I myself can't tell Dylan from my 4-year-old son's attempts at blowing.

Don't get me wrong; I greatly admire Dylan's songwriting ability; I even like his vocals--but calling his harp playing a "style" would be like calling my attempts to play the violin a "style" (Hint: I can't play the violin).

I don't think he belongs in the same paragraph with Little Walter, when it comes to harmonica. Young is only slightly better on the harp--at least he's generally in the right key; but I find his playing tedious and unimaginative (I don't think I've heard any Niel Young harp since "Harvest," though). I guess you could call it a style, although I could go over to the dorm rooms at the local university and hear a dozen amateurs who sound similar (and it's not because of emulation, it's because they're all playing in the same limited range).

As to what makes a style--you listen to lots of licks at first, emulate the ones you like, mix'em up, add a few of your own, and, after a playing awhile, your phrasing and chops may develop into a recognizeable "style."

My first post here; great list--just had to get my 2 cents in, finally.

-- Ted Welter

Re: Player's styles

Barry B. Bean (bbbean@cris.com) Wed, 11 Oct 95 08:58:55 EDT

On Tue, 10 Oct 95 16:58:12 CDT you wrote:

>I myself can't tell Dylan from my 4-year-old son's attempts at blowing. (snip)

Its nice to see someone else shares my pet peeves. You know, if you couldn't play the piano any better than Neil and Bob play the harp, you wouldn't go on stage. Yet people seem to view the harp as a toy squawk box and step up to the mike even though they have NO conception of how to make MUSIC on the thing. It just makes it harder for those of us who really play to be taken seriously.

On a related note, I was recruited to the band I'm currently working with to play sax and write horn charts. At the first practice, the guitarist pulled out a neck stand and a S20, and proceeded to squawk away for a while.

I mentioned that I played "a little harp" and ran out to the truck to grab my harps and practice amp. One good bend and a few chromatic runs was all it took to send him back to the woodshed. Now, I hate to be mean-spirited about head cuttin', but if you ain't got the chops, stay out of the kitchen.

(Actually thats not true. I really enjoy head cuttin'. I came out of many jams a bloody mess when I was getting started, and it kicked my butt to play better. To this day, I enjoy going on BEFORE another harp player {unless, of course they're better than I am} just to watch him sweat.)


B.B. Bean bbbean@cris.com

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