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Biting the tin sandwich

Dale "bushy" Bush writes about harmonicas
Down on the Corner by Dale "bushy" Bush
tinsandwich bushy art march 2019Art by Dale "bushy" Bush
I was recently re-introduced to an old friend — a very old friend and a very musical old friend — and I wondered how I could lose track…but it happens. I was digging through some old boxes of musical stuff that haven’t been opened in at least a decade and was thrilled to find about a dozen of my old harmonicas. 

Collected over the decades, some of the old tin sandwiches (cowboy lingo for harmonica) were definitely showing their age. Surprisingly, most of them have held their tune. I couldn’t resist the temptation when I found them and wailed away at the top of my lungs, immediately discovering another couple of things: the cat was sleeping nearby and didn’t appreciate my harmonica “music,” but the dog next door did appreciate harmonica “music” and joined me in some mournful wailing as he howled his mournful harmonies.

I began playing a harmonica when I was about eight or nine when my grandmother gave me a Hohner Marine Band harmonica. Some folks say it is the best and, after all this time, I still have that harp in my case. Grandma said that as long as I had a pocket, I could carry a symphony with me.

Portability is one of the reasons I harp about harmonicas; there’s always room in the backpack or a jacket for an instrument that can be campfire-corny or smoke-filled bar-room bluesy. As a matter of fact, the jacket I wear the most these days seemed to have a pocket made with harmonica storage in mind. 

You would think that having an instrument that is 60 years old would make it old, but the original harmonicas or reed instruments called “Sheng” (sublime voice) were made by the Chinese about 4,000 years ago. These early reed instruments have changed a lot since then, but all reed instruments use vibrations to produce sound.

In the late 1700s, someone joined a grouping of different pitch pipes and the harmonica began to take shape, although these pipes would only make sound by blowing. It took about 50 years before improvements began to resemble the modern harmonica. Advances in design and manufacturing, along with a relatively low cost, has made the harmonica a favorite of many genres and styles of music.

When Bob Dylan burst onto the folk music scene playing guitar and harmonica at the same time, harmonica sales soared higher than Dylan’s nasal-tone. I was one of those people who thought that if Bob Dylan could sell records with an almost irritating voice (and his definitely irritating wheezing on a harmonica), then why not give it a go. I never took into consideration that he wrote some of the most beautiful poetry and music in mankind’s history. Not only did sales of harmonicas set records, sales of the neck-brace harmonica-holder that Bob Dylan used increased as well.  

If my personal experience with those harp holders is any indication, there may have been an increase in emergency room self-induced harmonica-holder strangulations. Let’s just say, I no longer try to play guitar and harmonica together and I say the scars from the experience are from hockey.

Inspired by the rediscovery of my harmonicas, I have not only replaced my old rusty jacket harp with a new version but have been playing my heart (and lungs) out at some of the local Blues Jamms. Replacing these old harmonicas will not happen overnight because the good ones are expensive. It will take some budgeting, but if there is a few dollars to spare in my BCRF (Beer Can Retirement Fund), I am going to blow it on a tin sandwich.

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