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Kim Field: Harp player and scholar of the harmonica

The definitive book about harmonica: "Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers"

Kim Field

Harp player and author of the definitive book
the people's instrument:
Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers

“I had been taking harmonica lessons down in New York from Paul Oscher, who was the first white guy in Muddy’s band. Paul had just shown me the tongue-blocking technique, which is really the hallmark of the Chicago sound, and this just exploded in my brain. I had tongue-block fever. I was twenty.

“They had a break and the band hit the bar, but the Wolf just stayed sitting on his stool, in the spotlight, staring at his big feet, sort of lost. He was very much one of those in-your-own-world kind of guys. I think the Wolf had this ‘invisible shield’ aura about him. He was not a guy that you would walk up to and slap on the back and say, ‘Hi, how you doing?’

“I have to ask him if he tongue-blocks when he plays harmonica. I have to know this. So with great trepidation, I make my way up to the front of the stage. And what do I call the guy? ‘Mr. Wolf?’ ‘Mr. Burnett?’ That seemed bizarre. ‘Chester?’ Too familiar in some way. So finally I say, ‘Excuse me, Wolf, I hate to bother you, but I’m a harp player from New York. I’m taking lessons from Paul Oscher. You’re playing some fantastic harp tonight. I really love your sound. I’d really like to know if you tongue-block when you play the harp.’ But I was completely incoherent. And he just started staring at my feet, and slowly, very slowly as I’m stammering out this incomprehensible stuff, was working his way up past my knees and finally locked eyes with me just as I came to a halt. Then there was this ten seconds of total silence. And I was just about to turn and bolt, and he looks at me and says, ‘The Wolf don’t tell nobody his tricks. If you find out, the Wolf don’t mind. But the Wolf don’t tell you about ’em.’ So I said, ‘Okay, that’s fine, man! Fantastic! Take it easy! See you later!’ And then I turned and bolted.” [Laughs]