Overblowin´ by Jose Luis Naranjo
Steve Baker: New possibilities for the Harp Blues
The harmonica fans are in luck. It has been recently edited (unfortunately I believe that not yet in Spain), the best book, if not the most complete, that about this fascinating instrument has been published. The book in question is called “The Harp Handbook” -Copyright by G & F music Gmgh 1989-. The author, Steve Baker, born in London in 1953, has lived in Hamburg since 1976 and is one of the few Blues-Harp professionals in Europe, whether as a soloist, studio musician or as a companion to people like Louisiana Red, Alexis Korner, among others. Although he usually plays country-blues, he prefers the instrument’s interest to be defined by a specific style. Along with their different bands or formations: Have Mercy, Tough Enough (R & B), the Charly Schreckschuss Band, as well as their usual partner Detler Reimens are already over 20 albums that have appeared with the collaboration of this musician.
Prior to the publication of this book, I published an interesting article as an anticipation of that, in the magazine “Harmonica Revue Harp Review”, published by the Hohner House. Reading this article, change your opinion about the instrument and its technical limitations, including the change of harmonica to play in different tones. Then I already knew the technique “Overblow” or “Supersoplido”, but of course only in three blown tones (get the 3m, 5m and 7m in the tone of the instrument blowing on channels 4, 5 and 6). What really impressed me was discovering that this technique could also be achieved by aspiring, or rather “Superspirant”, in certain channels of the Blues harmonica. Incredibly, this meant having a completely chromatic blues harmonica in my hands without any artificial manipulation or trickery.
It is difficult to summarize the content of the book in a few words. I can tell you that it deals deeply with old and modern techniques of blues harmonica, the different tendencies or styles, advises extensively on possibilities and repair of the instrument and offers a very large record company. In fact there are many other books on blues harmonica techniques before this. Perhaps the best of them is “Jazz Harp” written by Richard Hunter and published only in the US, England, Japan, Germany and Australia, by Oak Publications in 1980, but honestly does not exceed the written by Steve Baker, praised by all the great current Blues-Harp masters from around the world.
I must comment on this great harmonica player, which unfortunately few people will have heard in Spain, who advised in the construction of the two new models of the Pro Harp II (which I do not know if it is already on sale in Spain): “Mayor 7th Diatonic “and” Natural Minor “, both with different tuning than the classic blues harmonicas and is the creator of the great” Steve Baker Special Stimmung (SBS) “, as the 12-channel Marine Band worse with the tuning equal to the normal of 10 with an added octave, all of them from the Hohner house.
When I met Steve Baker personally I could see that despite everything and being an excellent harmonica player with a personal style, he rarely used the “Overblow” technique. However, his work has been fundamental with respect to the technical aspect and field of possibilities of the instrument. The “Overblow” technique is recently discovered (late 70’s) and therefore little studied. Despite this, there are harmonics that dominate her considerably. At least I’ve heard, either live or in really difficult to find recordings, three harmonicas capable of it.
The first one is, of course, that of its creator, Howard Levy. Steve Baker told me once about him that he was originally a Jazz pianist and maybe that’s why he felt very frustrated when he realized that he could not play with the harmonica all the tones he needed and easily obtained with his piano. Since then it has rained a lot since then and now his technique “Overblow” is phenomenal and can play incredibly fast chromatic pieces in all the tones with only a harmonica tuned in a particular tone. Of course you have to make real efforts to hold the lower jaw when you hear it play, for example, a very fast Charlie Parker theme, and in its original time !.
The second harmonica to which I refer is the German Lars Luis Linek, for a time resident in Spain and whom I had the good fortune to meet in Hamburg. He played in his Rock-Soul band, in the wind section along with five blowers, making the voice of the second trumpet. Instead of a trumpet he had, of course, a tiny harmonica. Anyone who dominates this instrument knows the terrible problem of tuning that involves playing with other wind instruments. Excellent musician that ranges from blues, jazz to rock, bossa and classic, Linek is above all, an excellent improviser.
Finally, another great harmonicist is Roland Van Straaten, the Ravi Shankar of the harmonica, which currently lives in Zurich (Switzerland). He has a deep interest in oriental music and flamenco. His technique, abundant in “Overblow” is really impressive. He himself wonders why before him nobody has tried with blues harmonica to play oriental melodies. Phrygians Older and younger sound considerably fine in the magical instrument.
To conclude, I think that the new techniques offer us a hitherto unimaginable field of possibilities towards the learning of the blues harmonica for all those who persist in the effort to play this small and always surprising instrument. I then allow myself to contradict what was said about the harmonica at No. 1 of SOLO BLUES: “… has not experienced major changes since Little Walter”. Of course, despite the admiration for the great master, the latter is not true.
NOTE. As an article published a few years ago, we could add more names of musicians who use this modern technique already assimilated as an advanced technique, such as pupils of Howard Levy, Carlos del Junco, etc, as well as Europeans such as Greg Szlapzcinsky, Jean Jacques Milteau, Joan Pau Cumellas and a long etc.