Exclusive Interview with Lee Oskar
How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ I got my first push-button harmonica when I was a six year-old boy in Copenhagen, Denmark. Then, a few years later, I got a ten-hole diatonic harmonica. I found that I could feel the reeds better with the ten-hole, and it was much more expressive. I was hooked!
If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ I would love to invite Little Walter, because he is one of the main innovators in blues. These days, everyone is copying what he does-he's like the Holy Grail of blues harmonica playing. I would have loved the opportunity to meet him, jam together, and hook him up with a Lee Oskar Natural Minor Harmonica. Oh, man, he would have created such amazing minor blues if he had a Natural Minor harmonica and I'm sure he would have loved it. And then people all over would be playing the blues with a natural minor too!
What is your favorite bluesharp brand / type and tell us why?
~ That's easy! My favorite bluesharp is the Lee Oskar Harmonica, because these harmonicas are the best harps on the planet! In fact, the only reason that I got into manufacturing in the first place is that the harmonicas that existed beforehand, were not up to par and could not live up to the demands of performing professionally. So I collaborated my design ideas with Tombo Manufacturing, a Japanese company that makes the highest quality harmonicas in the world, to introduce Lee Oskar Harmonicas to the marketplace around the world.
What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ First and foremost, the harp is designed for the "musically hopeless." Like no other instrument can do, the harmonica helps you to make music from the get-go. So, if you are breathing, you will sound musical. Just let it play you, caress it, explore what you are hearing and feeling, and you will connect with the harmonica. My best advice is to feel it from the heart, let that be the blues, your blues. Blues is about connecting with your soul, and that is the true sound of the blues. The rest will follow....
Whiskey, wine, beer or ...?
~ I never dip my harmonicas into any kind of liquid-my Lee Oskar Harmonicas are already airtight, they don't have any wood, and therefore do not need to be dipped!
How do you clean your harps?
~ First, let me tell you what you DON'T do. DON'T use soap, or any kind of brush with bristles. DON'T put your harp in hot water or in the dishwasher. Don't eat food or drink sodas at the same time as when you're playing. Avoid any residue on the harmonica.
You DO want to have a clean mouth, brush your teeth, shake out your harmonica after each time you play to get out the saliva. DO take it apart as Lee Oskar Harmonicas are designed to allow you to do, and with the proper tools, you can scrape out anything that has built up on the reed plates. You can use rubbing alcohol to help sterilize, but don't use the harmonica until it's totally dry.
What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ I'd like interviewers to ask me, why did I come out with all these different altered tunings for my harmonicas? The answer is, because I want to hear harmonicas embrace all musical genres. I continue to be amazed by how little the harmonica is actually being used when it has such enormous potential for creating hooklines, composing melodies and enhancing performances.
Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ I am thankful to have access to the best possible recording studio, which has a great engineer, Brandon Busch, who is expert at using the highest quality equipment available and an overall selection of top gear, including many different mics and pre-amps. All of these elements work together beautifully to capture the sounds of whatever I am producing.
Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves?
~ When it comes to playing with the LowRider band or Lee Oskar and Friends, I usually don't get nervous before going onstage-I get excited! Sometimes, I do get nervous if I can't sit in the green room and just meditate and relax before performing. If I have to be talking to people, or get distracted before a performance, I get a little edgy. I want to be sure my tools-and everything connected with me- are spot on, down to the last minute. My ritual is to meditate and focus my mind on either absolutely nothing or what I am about to play. When I am on stage, I am so much in my zone with the improvisation, and performing in the moment. I would really look forward to the day when I can be featured with a symphony, and that's probably when my knees would buckle and I'd be nervous. I hope to tell you about that one day.
What was the most memorable day in your musical career?
~ I have a few career highlights. The first, is meeting Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine, who took an early interest in my career. Soon after, I met Eric Burdon and he wanted me to be a part of his next band, Eric Burdon and WAR. This was a dream come true, backing up Eric, and playing with the great Charles Miller on the saxophone. It was a life-changing opportunity, and the rest is...history.
Another "most memorable day" was the night that Jimi Hendrix came into Ronnie Scott's in London to see us (Eric Burdon and WAR). He sat in to play with us-incredible-and sadly, he died the next day.
A third career highlight involves my idol, Ray Charles, and the time WAR headlined the show at Shea Stadium and he played before us. It was something else to watch him perform live and also to headline a show opened up by Ray Charles! Something incredible happened that night. Though Ray played brilliantly, the sound system there was terrible, and I saw Ray getting frustrated with it, really struggling with it. Then when we came on, the same thing happened to me, it was really horrible! I was getting very frustrated as I couldn't hear the music properly, but the crowd was loving the music so much. As I was walking into the dugout after the performance, so upset with what occurred onstage, someone reminded me that no matter what I was feeling about the lousy sound, the fans were thrilled with the music... and I should never let them down. So as fans were cheering, I smiled and acknowledged their applause. I never forgot that, and how important it is to appreciate those who appreciate your music.
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Answers given on May 10, 2016