Exclusive Interview with Rob Stone
How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ I grew up listening to all kinds of music, including blues - muddy, sonny boy, wolf. When I was a teenager, I saw Charlie Musselwhite play and it got me really excited about the harmonica. I went out and bought my first harp the next day and never looked back.
If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ Little Walter.
What is your favorite blues harp brand / type and tell us why?
~ I only play Seydel harmonicas. My preference is the 1847 Classic or Silver. They are truly a superior harmonica in terms of their feel, action, volume and tone. They're also are made with a lot of care. The reedplates are replaceable which is also a great convenience. The people at Seydel are fantastic.
What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ Listen constantly to the greats, all of them. Be patient and work hard. Listen closely and over and over again. Listen to their phrasing, timing, and tonal quality. I have listened to some Little Walter songs thousands of times and still hear new things in the nuances of the music. Try to play single notes and melodies first. Get stage experience at blues jams when you can and don't be afraid to ask more experienced players questions.
Tongue blocking or lip pursing, what do you prefer and tell us why.
~ I use both constantly and I can't imagine playing with just one of those techniques since I need both to achieve the sounds and phrases that I want.
Give us the 3 most important albums every (beginning) blues harp player must buy.
~ I guess I would suggest some of the Chess Records "Best of..." albums: Best of Little Walter to hear examples of superior phrasing, dynamics, range of techniques, and band interplay; Best of Muddy Waters to hear how a sideman should play harmonica with a vocalist; Best of Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller) for the expressive vocal quality of his harmonica playing.
How do you clean your harps?
~ I only drink water before and during performances. Sometimes I open them up, wipe them down and make sure there is nothing stuck in the reeds. I rarely soak them or anything like that.
What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ Very rarely am I asked questions about the musicianship of playing ensemble style blues like the post-war Chicago style. I think the most important aspects of performing in an ensemble are dynamics, anticipation, communication and interplay.
Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ Somewhere comfortable with a great sounding room and lots of great amps to blow through. Most importantly, a great engineer who really knows and understands traditional Chicago blues.
Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves?
~ No, I don't get nervous before going on stage. But I do like to take my time getting set up without rushing.
What was the most memorable day in your musical career?
~ Tough question - lots of memorable days. I guess the most memorable was when I was touring with Sam Lay and Robert Jr. Lockwood played with us throughout the night. He's one of my all-time favorites and playing with him was a wonderful experience. I also loved having the chance to play on some Howling Wolf tribute shows with Hubert Sumlin, Jody Williams, Sam Lay, Eddie Shaw and Henry Grey-those were incredibly memorable experiences.
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Answers given on july 2, 2016
Photos by Toby Jacobs and Paul Natkin