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Blowin’ the blues the way they were meant to be

Alex Close

One of the greats of the blues harmonica world is coming to North Tahoe this week, and he’s bringing his friends with him.Mark Hummel, front man for the Blues Survivors, will be putting on a blues harp blowdown this Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Crystal Bay Club. The show is scheduled for 9 p.m. and is part of Hummel’s 15th anniversary of blues harp blowdown tours.Tagging along with Hummel and The Survivors will be blues harp masters Magic Dick, Lee Oskar and Jerry Portnoy.The blues harp blowdown, which for those who haven’t seen one, is based on a harmonica championship type of setting.Harp blowdowns utilize one backing band and multiple harp players and vocalists. Usually, as will be the case Saturday, there are three harmonica players, giving audience members a full night of diverse blues.

While Hummel didn’t invent the blues harp blowdown, he is the first artist credited with taking the idea on the road.”I’ve done them in a way that no one else has done them, turning them into a tour,” Hummel said.According to Hummel, the blowdown format showcases the many different styles and sounds that can be created on a harmonica by putting multiple artists on the same instrument in front of the same band.With Magic Dick, Oskar and Portnoy, Hummel says the show will feature Chicago style blues as well as a more jazzy sound.”Jerry and Magic Dick tend to be more Chicago blues, Lee is more jazzy and almost a pop kind of groove,” Hummel said.While Hummel sites the likes of James Cotton and Little Walter as influences on his music, he also says that the three artists on this tour were big influences on him when he was just starting out.

“It’s kind of a trip for me, because when I was starting out I was trying to emulate them,” Hummel said of his current tour mates.Having been playing blues harp now for 35 years, Hummel definitely has it down.For fans of the blues, and fans of blues harmonica, this show will be a lesson in everything that is blues harp and then some.According to Hummel, each of the three players, while rooted in the blues, is planning on playing at least one jazz ballad. With four of the best in the business on one stage, blowing all kinds of sounds out of a harp to try and out do each other, one can be sure the show will never lag. Fans of the blues harp will definitely want to take their behinds (ready to shake) down to the Crystal Bay Club on Saturday, Jan. 7 at 9 p.m. You won’t want to miss this show.

The performers:Magic Dick met J. Geils and Danny Klein at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., and became a founding member of the J. Geils Band in 1968. The band showcased Magic Dick’s innovative harmonica playing, which served as a strong distinguishing sound for the band. Subsequent to The J. Geils Band, Magic Dick performed as guest artist harmonica soloist for Patti Smyth, Debbie Harry, Full Circle, The Del Fuegos and Ryuici Sakamota, among others.Lee Oskar is a founding member and former lead harmonica player for the pioneer funk/jazz group WAR. Oskar’s signature harp solos won him international renown for over two and a half decades (1969-1993) and helped to define the WAR sound from the band’s beginning in 1969, and with whom he remained (for) twenty-four years. Jerry Portnoy was born in 1943 and grew up in the blues rich atmosphere of Chicago’s famous Maxwell Street Market during the Golden Age of Chicago Blues. He began his professional career in the late 1960s and spent six years as a member of the fabled Muddy Waters Blues Band; six as leader of the Legendary Blues; four fronting his own band, The Streamliners; and four as a featured member of the Eric Clapton Band. Portnoy has maintained a constant touring schedule that has carried him to every state in the Union and twenty-five foreign countries on five continents. M ark Hummel and the Blues Survivors launched their fall 2005 U.S. Tour in October and has rarely stopped playing since. Hummel was featured on the cover of, and profiled inside, the next-to-last issue of Blues Revue, the world’s largest, most-read blues publication. “Mark Hummel is a harmonica virtuoso,” wrote Blues Revue. “Quite simply, he is one of a handful of the best players ever on the instrument, and he gets better with each new release,” they concluded. Each year Hummel presents his now-famous “Blues Harp Blowdown” concerts featuring famous blues harpists backed by his own accomplished band, the Blues Survivors. Hummel has been playing the harmonica for thirty-three years and making a living at it since 1982.


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