B1 is always a special place and it's thanks to the people. Last night Mike Caldwell from Pigeon Forge, TN warmed our hearts with his terrific country harp playing and his smile and good nature. He had us by being genuine - after his first tune he grinned and said, "Sloppy but sincere." We might disagree with the sloppy part, but Mike Caldwell is certainly sincere!
And he's a fun-loving guy which was immediately obvious by his custom-printed T-shirt that read:
I got "folked" up with Filisko at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
Mike was quick to give the nod to his hero, Charlie McCoy, whom he described as both a great player and also very musical. In Mike's estimation, the essence of country music is melody, and it's clear he works to keep that front and center in his own playing, using country-tuned harps when necessary.
Mike gave a great demonstration of the country scale degrees as compared to the blues scale we all know and default to and had everyone playing along to learn it.
Mike backed up to sketch the arc of his playing career - it started by inspiration around the campfire with his Boy Scout leader playing Wildwood Flower, led eventually to his first Charlie McCoy album at age 12. He'd tape quarters onto the arm of his record player to slow the songs down to match the pitch of whatever harps he happened to own. By 15 he was sitting in with local bands and by chance he was recording with a band that Charlie McCoy was producing. He fully expected to lay out and let McCoy play but was honored when McCoy took up the bass and urged Mike to play. Eventually McCoy recommended Mike to Loretta Lynn and she hired him for her band where he played and toured for 10 years. He next did a stint with Boxcar Willie and then landed the job in Pigeon Forge, TN first playing then also acting as musical director for Country Tonight - it's a position he's now held 18 years.
Caldwell gave us good humor, playing advice and also a few terrific performances - Orange Blossom Special, an impromptu version of Sitting On the Dock of the Bay with our own Corporate Kirk singing so Mike could demonstrate playing fills, and a duo rendition with Harmonica Einstein of Walkin' After Midnight. Mike is definitely a team player and not that interested in being a front man. As he points out, playing in a band means you spend 5% of your time doing lead stuff; the rest is backing and fills and you have to learn to be part of the conversation. "Participate, but don't dominate."
That may be Mike, but we know you can sure step up and blow that thing when the time comes!
Thanks so much for visiting B1 and we hope to see you again soon.
And folks, Mike implied that people from B1 may be able to get an initial Skype harmonica lesson discount. Please contact him directly for details: Mike Caldwell.
The third annual Harmonica Hoedown makes its return to the Hideout on February 16, featuring Joe Filisko, James Conway, Bob Kessler and Yuri Lane. Get your tickets now!
- Thanks to all who came out last night - there were some long-lost friends in the house we were really glad to see!
Peter "Madcat" Ruth!!!
Mark your calendars for Monday, April 28! Madcat Ruth is coming to town and he's got harp and vocal tone on his mind. Here's how he describes what he's going to talk about with us:
"The topic I'd like to pursue is the direct correlation between getting a good vocal tone and a good harmonica tone. I have found that as my vocal sound and tone has improved over the years, my harmonica sound and tone has improved as well. So I’d like to explore how working on projecting one’s voice (both speaking and singing) can greatly improve one’s harmonica sound. I’d also want to talk about what I'd call mouth modulation - shaping the tone of the note or chord by altering the vowel sound shapes inside your mouth and throat. Shaping the sound inside your mouth and throat in conjunction with shaping the sound with your hands can create some delightful tonal colors."
- Grant Kessler, B1 Blues Crew