Jon Gindick has written several books on the subject of harmonica and is the founder of Harmonica Jam Camp. He is one of the country’s most recognized harmonica instructors. Jon has a lifetime of harp playing and is always looking to share what he knows with others.
1. I've come across two of your books. One was called, Country & Blues Harmonica for the Musically Hopeless, the other was Rock N' Blues Harmonica: A World of Harp Knowledge, Songs, Stories, Lessons ... Both of these were extreme in their simplicity and very, very thorough. What inspired you to write in this format?
My first book was a little white book called The Natural Blues & Country Western Harmonica. I self-published it in 1977. It used simple explanations, fiction vignettes, and cartoons to get you
playing a few riffs. I was a fiction writer, and a psychologymajor. I was writing short stories, studying writing in school and supporting myself with harmonica lessons and soon writing ad copy. So I naturally wrote a harmonica book and submitted it to Music Sales Corporation. I recall waiting everyday for that letter of acceptance. After about 14 months I contacted them. They had lost the manuscript! That’s when I decided to self publish, like a harp playing Ben Franklin. Great decision.
I learned about type, and book making, and also mixed it with the advertising copywriting skills I was honing at free lance ad agencies. I used books like “Repair of VW’s for Complete Idiots” as a model. My idea is that good writing, like good music, like good teaching, is built on a foundation of simplicity, short sentences, don’t try to say too much at one time, complete one thought before going to the next. I also loved books. The holding of a cool one in your hand, a great physical thing filled with your energy, like a beautifully carved piece of wood.
I also felt that it was the job of each page spread to reach the subconscious, so I used story-telling and cartoons to make the book engage the imagination. It worked. This self-published book was distributed all over the world, advertised with a cassette in Rolling Stone, and was and has been the model of everything that followed. The flow of information, like the flow of music, has to be artful, has to be warm.
2. Did you struggle much when you first started to play?
Yes, and I still struggle sometimes. Struggle with performance, with certain songs, with techniques, with singing, with guitar playing, with my ornery disposition. with all of it. Jam Camp has made me struggle to be a leader as well as a harp player, as well as a writer, as well as a teacher. Each struggle has resulted in wonderful growth.
3. Your famous Harmonica Jam Camp...how did that get started?
My dead Dad gave me the idea when I was desperate for a new gig. I had had some rough knocks, including him dying at age 86. He has a way of showing up in my thoughts and ideas when I need a little courage or imagination. I have a lot to thank him for. Getting that going had a lot to do with confidence. My partner Mark Wilson was very helpful to me as I dealt with my demons it getting it going.
After 25 camps Mark retired and I decided to form a team with Jimi Lee and Cheryl Arena and Brian Purdy. I have a really good thing with each of these people, and they all add something
very unique to the camp. In addition to my team, when we have the attendance, I bring guest coaches like Grant Dermody, Kim Field, Ray Beltran, Joe Filisko, Dale Spalding, Billy Gibson, Adam Gussow, Paul Harrington, Richard Sleigh, Dennis Gruenling, Allen Holmes, MadCat, Gary Allegetto, Johnnie Maestro. You know, Paul Delay was going to coach as Jam Camp, but passed on a couple of months before that camp started. I would have loved to have worked with Paul.
4. What playing habits would you tell a beginner to avoid?
Practicing mistakes. Playing from lips instead of your throat. Playing with too much air. Not articulating and shaping your notes. Not listening. Not playing from the gizzard, if you know what I mean. Closing their mouths around the harmonica. Not fully breathing. Not playing dramatically. Playing complicated. Not playing like a drum. Not playing with vibrato. Not getting feedback from guys and gals who can do it, rather going alone. Not being willing to spend a little money on their passion. Not joining a harmonica community like HOOT and making it about people as well as music.
And that’s the short list!
5. You offer lessons over the phone and e-mail . How effective are these compared to face-to-face lessons?
First, I do not offer e-mail lessons. I do send out a free newsletter with tab and ideas and sales pitches for my books and camps. Sign up at my website at http://www.Gindick.com. I do offer
phone lessons, and they are VERY effective for teaching fundamentals such as embouchure, bending, vibrato, riffs and I-IV-V understanding and playing, and developing a strategy of learning.
The land-line phone is like a microphone plugged right into my ear, and by listening, I can tell if you are playing from your throat or from your lips, and through semi-hypnotic suggestion get you playing from your throat, clicking, and bending in about 30 minutes.
I have given hundreds of these consultations. It’s fun, and productive. I augment them with video lessons from my video harp club.
I am kidding about the hypnotic suggestion, but I do try to create an experience that results in success. The way information is presented totally determines the way it is received, understood and used. An interesting side note is that it can be easier to get raw beginners bending than it is to get experienced players who have cultivated poor habits. The whole thing is to play from your throat, not your lips. Once you play from your throat, bends, tone, vibrato are at your command.
6. Are you ever approached by harp players or fans when you're out and about?
Yes, for years I have had that pleasure. Once I was hiking up a trail in Topanga State Park, here in L.A. A guy coming down stopped said, “Hey, you’re Gindick!.” Stopping on the trail, he pulled the book I was talking about out of his pack, and played me a riff called The Blues Scale Down, with the book open to the page. He had color-coated the page, I recall.
Another time, 25 years ago or more, I was in my house in Ocean Beach San Diego, and I could hear what sounded like me playing in the far distance. I was certain I had finally smoked too much dope as the riffs would not go away. Finally I went outside and followed the sound down the street where some guy was practicing with one of my tapes with the windows open. I thought it was freaky as hell, but he seemed completely nonplussed, like the author of the book you are reading comes walking into your living room everyday.
7. What are some of your favorite microphones/amps?
To the dismay of many, I am not a hardware person. Liking to keep it simple, I stick to stock. (I am not even a fan of the customized harmonica.) For recording in these modern times, I usually use a great vocal mic with a great preamp. For live blues band performance, I play with a Green Bullet into a Fender Deluxe or else my Champ style Harp Gear amp. To me, this Green Bullet with the volume control is like a little amp.
Here’s a tip. Take a Green Bullet to jams, and plug it into the PA. Turn the reverb OFF and accent the lows and mids, highs way down. That Bullet will give you the power you need to carry the day. I have a-b’d it with a lot of mics, and for live performance in a blues band, it always boosts and thickens up the sound in a favorable way. I am very comfortable with The Green Bullet. When I play harp and guitar I use a Strnad microphone in a HH01 rack. Works for me.
8. What is your greatest goal when it comes to music...or have you already achieved it?
I live a life of goals. Without a goal I am miserable and aimless. So having no choice in the matter, I have accomplished many of my goals, and many more spurring me on. One of my first goals was to get a damned single note. Other goals revolved around the books. One arrogant goal I had in the 1970s was to “make harp the national instrument.” It already was the national instrument, I just didn’t know it!
Another goal was to start Jam Camp. Each Jam Camp is a goal. Recent goals have been to up my musicianship so I didn’t get my ass handed to me at every Jam Camp. I think I have accomplished that. Not so long ago I realized I would never, nor would I want to play like the modern pyrotechnical harp players on the scene today, but I could learn from them, and most important, sing better than some of them, so I upped my game on singing. I like singing now. My voice is another instrument.
I also came to realize that I do not hear music the way others do. I decided to play the way I hear, not try to guess what other people would think was good. I nailed that baby. Not so long ago I was a reluctant performer. When I played harp on stage, I felt as though I were in a fishbowl. My goal became to transfer the charisma to performance. I sought this Holy Grail by jamming out as often as possible, and also in the clues other performers left for me. It is funny how, when you are openly seeking an attitude, a way through fear, almost everybody can be your teacher. And I am now really having fun on stage. Mission accomplished! (And the biggest clue of all? Music is about communicating sex. Once you realize that, having fun performing is easy.)
My greatest goal, right NOW, has to do with the fulfillment of me putting it all together-- as a singer/songwriter/ harp player/guitar player (rack), and (gulp) leading an ensemble. I am making a cd of my original songs with producer/genius Ralph Carter. The completion and release of this GREAT CD will be the accomplishment of a lifetime goal, and a merging of writing, harping, guitar playing, singing, and arranging etc.
I am also working with a VERY talented singer band leader called Bobby Hart. This guy is a charismatic vocalist. Truly. Musically, in my opinion, he does everything just right. The proof is in the pudding. People dance at every gig we play. We create a great mood. Bobby and I believe one of the keys to great blues is high intensity, but LOW volume. I am trying to use my marketing skills to get us better gigs and make more money. The name of our band is L.A. Blues Party. Check us out at http://www.labluesparty.com
9. Anything new and exciting coming up?
Yes, many Jam Camps, many personal projects. Many friends to make, notes to play, dollars to spend, places to travel, many guitar players to get to turn their volume down Making music is a passport to adventure.
10. Last words to the members of HOOT?
Let’s jam, baby! Austin Jam Camp, 2009!