Monday, July 19, 2010

Harping On: Rick Estrin

You are quite the showman! You have fun introductions to songs, and have gags such as playing the harp while it stick out of your mouth like a cigar. What is it that makes you go that extra mile for the audience?
  I'm from the old school. I believe that when people come out of the house and pay money to be entertained, they deserve to be entertained! Plus, with no skills and no education, I gotta do whatever I can to stay out of the labor pool! 

You have an an instructional video out there, Rick Estrin – Rick Estrin Reveals! Secrets, Subtleties & Tricks of the Blues Harmonica. How did the idea to create this first come about?  I started out with no idea about the content. First, I only had the idea for the title. Next, I thought of the scene with the homeless guy squeaking on the harp in the alley. Then, I thought I should put some good-looking chicks in it, along with a great big plus-size woman and a cute little midget woman. And then I thought, "What can I teach somebody?"
  So I started writing down my opinions about some of the specific things that I believe can make blues harmonica effective, and I realized I had some very important things to communicate. And, they were things that had never been previously addressed in any instructional material that I know of. 
What do you feel makes this video stand out from the rest?
  One principal difference is that there's not one bit of information in my DVD about how to physically operate the harp!
  There's plenty of instructional material covering all that...David Barrett, Jerry Portnoy, Dennis Gruenling...their stuff is available and excellent.
  The things I address in the DVD are concept, timing, groove, phrasing, contrast...all the things that can help someone to play more effectively. It ain't about licks. It's about feel! 

In your eyes (or ears), what makes a good harp player?  The stuff I just mentioned: concept, groove, feeling and tone.
What is your harmonica of choice, and why?  I've always played Marine Bands. The last several years I've played custom harps by Joe Filisko, and before that by Richard Sleigh...Those guys really have me spoiled! I also play the Hohner 270 Super Chromonica, and the 64 chromatic.
  I get those worked on by Steve Malerbi. Dick Gardner used to work on my chromatics but he's always so backed up I started sending stuff to Steve. He actually learned some from Dick and he does great work. I have a vintage 64 that he reconditioned and it's so good, I can't even tell you...I start playing it and I have to watch myself because time ceases to exist...for me...not for the audience...

Do you only like to play blues, or do you enjoy other styles as well?  As a player, I'm strictly a bluesman. I listen to several kinds of music, Soul, Gospel, Honky Tonk Country, Sinatra-type Great American Songbook stuff...all kinds. I have messed around trying to play some jazzy type stuff on the chromatic, and even recorded a couple things like that, but really, I feel like I've still got plenty to learn within the blues. I'm still hearing new nuances in the playing of the great blues harp originators and trying to incorporate these things into my own playing.
What is the key to improvising on the harmonica without being repetetive?  Feel. Feel and an understanding of some of the mechanics that go into making the blues effective.
  Believe it or not, repetition is one of the most important aspects of playing blues harmonica.
It's about repetition and repetition with small variations, and then, departure from that repetition...surprise!
  It's like telling a story. You don't want to be've got use dynamics and imagination to your advantage. 

How did you first start playing the harmonica?My mom gave me one...I think I asked her to get me one, but then an older guy down the street, a guy who had a band gave me another one and told me I ought to learn to play it. I was about 15 and my father had just died. I needed to latch on to something and the harp was it.
There are many things that different players focus on, such as tone, accuracy, speed, etc.
What would you say is most important to learn?  I can only talk about blues harmonica playing. For playing blues the most important things are groove, timing, tone and an understanding of what it is that can make the blues be either moving and exciting, or boring and pedestrian. It ain't about licks, I can tell you that for sure. I almost had a chapter in the DVD called "F#*k A Lick". 
  That's one of my very favorite quotes from a late, great friend of mine named Sonny Lane. He was a blues guitar player who was born in the delta and lived in Oakland CA. As I get older and more experienced as a player, I understand more and more what he meant. It really is not about licks! Listen to Rice Miller, Cotton, Wolf, Sonny Boy, Big Walter, Junior Wells, Junior Parker...not a lot of licks. Really the only guy who had a lot of licks was Little Walter, but it was still his ability to convey deep emotion with his playing that made him so effective.  

Any last words for HOOT?
  Listen to the great traditional players. Study the old recordings. Listen very closely...there's a whole world to be discovered. When you're not!

1 comment:

  1. Cool interview with the Coolest Cat on the planet!


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