Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Harping On: Walter Tore

Walter Tore is the winner of the Bushman World Harmonica Video Contest. His playing method is interesting. In his own words, "I am totally self taught on all instruments.  I have not had a lesson, read a book, watched an instructional video, or attended a seminar.  I enjoy just noddling around on instruments.  I still don't know how to play a scale, or know any keys per say.  I approach music like a little kid.  I also have never sat down to try to learn a certain lick, tone, etc.   When I pick up an instrument, a song alway is busting to come out and that is a lot more exciting to me than sitting down and thinking.  Music, art, and poetry are my great escape from this world.  I am able to travel through time and space with it.  Also, Nigel Price, an author from England, is writing a book on my life." 


1.       How did you first hear about the contest?

I have been a member on the Bushman Harmonica forum for a couple years.  John, the owner does this contest and one for the Ukulele.  Bushman makes harps and ukes.  Here is a link to the forum- http://www.bushmanharmonicas.com/

  1. Did you know right away what video you were going to make?

I never know what I am going to do.  All my words and music are spontaneously created performed and recorded.  So, I had no idea what I was going to do.  I just sat down and recorded 3 songs.  That was the entry limit.  I shipped them off and that was that.  It took about 1/2 hour to do the 3 songs, mix them, and ship them off.

  1. How did you first start doing the one-man-band thing?

When I was a teenager, I was given a harp by my girlfriend.  I use to walk everywhere with it, playing it as I walked.  I was walking down South Orange Ave. in Newark, New Jersey.  I was delivering drugs and collecting money at the bars in the Vailsburg neighborhood.  If you 

ever saw the show, the Soprano's, you get the idea.....    As I was going bar to bar, a purple Cadillac pulled up next to me.  It was driven by Wilbert Harrison. Wilbert had big hits with Kansas City in the late 50's and later as a 1 man band with Let's Work Together.  Canned Heat did a cover of it.  Wilbert had a bunch of women in the car that were dressed like the Supremes, hairdos and all.  He kept yelling for me to get in his car and he was going to make me a star.  They were pretty high and I knew with what I was carrying, it would be gone in a minute if I got in.  I kept walking and he kept following.  He kept screaming that he was a big star and I was going to be in his band.  Finally he jumped the car up on the sidewalk and cornered me.  Then he help up old record cover albums.  I had no idea who he was.  I zipped up my coat that had extra pockets inside it to carry the stuff, and got in.  He was in bad shape and was playing some of 

the worst dives in Newark.  Me being white would never have made it out alive from those clubs and neighborhoods on my own.  Wilbert was doing the one man band thing, with bass drum, high hat, guitar, and harp.  I carried the gear and would blow harp.  He didn't last long onstage and I would jump on the kit and guitar and make noise.  I guess I was so into it, and people were so high, it went over.  Wilbert disappeared and I never saw him again.   This was in the 70's.  I did the 1 man band thing on and off for a year or so, and gave it up to be in regular bands. 

4.       How do you manage to do everything at once?

I don't know.  I started as a harp player, and then went to harp/singing because no one wanted to.  Then I started on the guitar because it was so hard to find guitar players.  When

 we left Austin Texas in 1996 and moved to Sonoma County California, I didn't find any musicians I could groove with.  So, I went back to the 1 man band set up.  I have added a snare via a modified double kick pedal that works the bass drum and snare.  I let go of the high hat for a ride cymbal that works on a kick drum pedal with at stick attached to it.  On the snare  I have designed the beater with a stick on one side, and a brush on the other so depending on the mood, I have options.  

About a year ago, I started playing the keys and added them to setup.  I know if I start thinking, everything falls apart.  When I close my eyes and just let things unfold, it sounds like a real band is behind me.  There are some things that I can't do with the harp and guitar in the 1 man band set up, but it is worth the trade off.  No more band dramas, and scrambling to find musicians for gigs/tours.  Now when I get booked it is just me.  If there are some musicians around that I groove with and they are available, they come by. 

5.       How are you able to get good tone when you play on a rack? I have tough time doing that.

Again, I don't know.  I have been playing on the rack since I first started out for some part of the day.  I wanted to have it sound like it was in my hands and through just wanting to hear that sound, I figured things out inside my mouth to get vibrato and tone.  It was basically just countless hours using it.  I think a lot of harp players think it will be an easy thing.  It is almost like learning all over again.  I spent a lot of time trying to get the harp rack to sit like it was my hands.  I finally gave up and still use the cheapest harp rack out there.  It was like $6 when I started out, and now you can find them for $8.  It is about the only thing connected with harps that hasn't skyrocketed. 

6.       What is your background in harmonica?

My girlfriend bought me one for my birthday.  My parents wouldn't let me play music.  They worried I would become a drug addict like so many did in the 60's-70's.  I would borrow guitars and my father would break them.  That led to no one loaning me anything.  Plus there weren't any people doing blues around where I lived.  So, the harp was a great gift.  I kept it in my pocket and blew it in my pillow at night.  I also had no idea there was such a thing as a guitar pick or harp rack.  I also had no idea the guitar had to be tuned a certain way.  I figured my own tunings and when someone finally put it in standard tuning I was lost! I would wedge the harp into things at eye level on a wall and stick my head way out so the guitar wouldn't hit the wall.  Then I saw a Bob Dylan album cover and saw a harp rack.  I had to have one.  Soon my father found out about the harp, and with all the hassles we were having, I took off.  

For several years I would literally play 10-20 hours a day.  I was so overwhelmed with the world in my head that when I stopped playing I feared I would kill myself or someone.  But once I played, everything felt ok.  I am still sort of that way.  I play 2-4 hours a day(7 days a week) and work a full time job as well.   I was living anywhere I could and one night I was in NYC and saw Louisiana Red perform.  He blew me away.  I went up afterwards and we talked.  He asked if I as a player.  I told him I was a harp player and trying to learn the guitar.  He said I could come by his house anytime.  I said how about now?  He said sure, and off we went.  Red is a great harp player.  I learned a lot from him.  

He turned me onto to Bill Dicey, who was pre Charlie Musselwhite and Butterfield with white guys getting into the Black blues scene.  Bill turned me on to Sonny Terry.  I would help him out at gigs.  He taught me a ton about sounding big and not blowing hard.  I am still learning that lesson!  Other than those 3 guys, I never really fit in the harp community.  I  had my own kind of style and making it all up as I go along, had me always the outsider.   

That has kind of been true with me and most musicians and the music world.  I got a hohner harmonica endorsement when I was living in Austin.  I piloted the Rainbow Harmonica Program in the Austin City Schools.  The rainbow harp was a 4 hole diatonic sized harp that had color coded holes and a color coded songbook to go along with it.  Hohner was hoping to have it replace the recorder in the schools.  It never really went anywhere.  It was the only time I got anything free from hohner!   They sent me hundreds of those  harps, books, patches, hats, posters, etc

  1. Did you really think you would win the contest?

To be honest, yes.  That is my soul speaking.  We all have our own unique gift and if we have enough faith to let it shine, it will always be special.  So, IMO, everyone who plays should feel their music is the best because it is uniquely ours.  But on the other hand, my head doubted I would win and I had been thinking of what I would write to congratulate the winners.  I submitted 3 videos, the limit for the contest.  2 were just me and the harp.  I felt one of those would win, but the 1 man band song I entered won.  That showed me once again, you never know what others will think, so just play for yourself and let the cards fall where they may.

8. So what was the prize?

I got to order $750 of Bushman harps and reed plates.  I could have used the $ for anything they sell.  I also get to go on right before the headliner at the Bean Blossom Blues, Brews, BBQ Festival and get a great cabin to stay in (complete with hot tub), and get paid as well.  The Bean is a harp lovers festival and is a 3 day affair.  I am real excited to be there. 

9. Any gigs, events, etc. you want to tell us about?

I wish I did.  Last year I won the International Blues Challenge for the Columbus Blues Alliance.  That sent me to Memphis for the finals and also came with a lot of festivals around this part of the country.  I am burnt on hustling gigs.  I have no agent, and the established labels so far at least, haven't touched spontobeat.  So, I have only the Bean on my calendar as of now.   I don't hang out in the scene anymore.  

I built my own studio and live there in my free time.   I record about a full length cd a day.  This keeps me satisfied-kind of.   Gigs still trickle in, and I am grateful for that.  Considering I only play when people call and I like the set up, things are good!   I still dream that a promoter will see something in what I do and hook me up with some gigs.  I am now a special education teacher and love it.  I also love all the vacations that come with teaching.  I am available all summer and a bunch during the year. 

  1. Last words to member of HOOT?

I want to thank you for looking me up.  It is very moving to be recognized.  I have had very little of this in my musical career.  It seems to be getting better as I get older.  This is special because I can really appreciate things like this interview.  When you are younger, often you look ahead too much and miss the beauty of the moment.  

Helen Keller said - "life is a daring adventure or nothing at all."  That line has been my life.  Heck, all we are doing is waiting to die, so we might as well do something that inspires us.  Take chances.  Follow your heart.  Ignore your head.  Live life with passion.   That is all from Walter Tore for now-take care. 

Here is the winning video...


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