Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Country Music and Choke Harmonica

I’ve been going through the stacks of 78s from Walt and Wes and must say that I am envious of the collection. This past weekend the temperatures along the Piedmont Breaks in Virginia remained around 105°F (40°C) and while much of the country is floating in unwanted storm waters, we are experiencing another long drought. It was a good weekend to hold up in the air conditioning and transfer some of these 78s.

I have always enjoyed the up-beat sound of the Delmore Brothers. They seldom resorted to the stereotypical themes so popular in country music at the time (unfortunately, many of those corny traps pervade country music to this day.) Their harmonies inspired a whole generation of brother duos and their high energy boogie/blues/country paved the way for rockabilly and rock and roll. The addition of Wayne Raney’s harmonica really set the Delmore Brothers music apart.

Wayne Raney was born in Wolf Bayou, Louisiana in 1920. The story goes that he learned to play “choke” style harmonica from a black blues musician. I was not familiar with choking a harmonica, so I asked a friend who plays what this meant. His explanation was (and any rider on the Bus who has knowledge feel free to enlighten us if I got this wrong as my friend and I discussed this over a few beers) the careful placement of the tongue over a hole on the harmonica and the slow withdraw of the tongue while blowing to cause the reed to flatten, or choke. He likened it to the clutch in a car, releasing the pedal just to the pressure point and holding it there. I can sort of visualize the act, but not being a harmonica player, I’m not sure I could identify the unique sound.

I do know that I like the way Raney played. There is a soulful, bluesy character to his playing that isn’t all that common in country harmonica playing.

Wayne Raney - I'm Square Dab From The Country.mp3

Wayne Raney - Red Ball To Natchez.mp3

Wayne Raney - Lost John Boogie.mp3


Anonymous Dan said...

Hi Ed,
You're right - this is blues-styled harmonica in country music, and it's an acquired taste. But you've cleared up a question for me. I've always wondered where Dylan learned his harmonica style, and now I think I've found the answer. I'm incredibly jealous of this 78 collection, and you've done a fine job of transferring these beauties to mp3 format.

August 29, 2007 6:09 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

This is a wonderful collection. I am grateful that Walt and Wes have shared these gems with everyone on the Bus.

August 29, 2007 10:18 PM  

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