Exclusive Interview with Ronnie Shellist

Ronnie Shellist How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ Living in Austin Texas in the mid to late 90's I was surrounded by an amazing blues scene. Players like Gary Primich, Guy Forsyth, and Walter T. Higgs were always playing around town, and once I heard it, I was hooked.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ William Clarke. In my opinion he single handedly moved blues harmonica forward into another dimension. He was the most passionate, creative, and articulate blues harp player that ever lived.

What is your favorite bluesharp brand / type and tell us why?
~ Hohner Marine Band Deluxe, and Crossover. I find that these harmonicas are both comfortable feel in the mouth and on the tongue. The combs are quite smooth and comfortable. I also like the way they sound and play!

What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ Be vulnerable, and be obsessed a bit and stay with the things that you want to learn how to do. Stay focused in practice sessions on what you need to improve on the most, but also be sure to simply just play a lot with other players in a live setting. This is the best way to learn quickly. Build a strong foundation with your technique, listen to plenty of the music you'd like to create, and learn some basic theory such as simple scale work and 12 bar blues structure. Learn how to play various blues grooves (if blues is your focus) solo with no accompaniment.

Tongue blocking or lip pursing, what do you prefer and tell us why?
~ I use both, but I find that tongue blocking to some degree is imperative to get that "bluesy" sound out of the diatonic. I pucker all of 1-3 holes and every single bend that I play. Otherwise, I engage with plenty of tongue blocking in the middle and upper register where the harmonica can sound thin if you're not cautious. I also pucker the middle and upper register depending on the type of run I am doing and sound that I 'm going for.

How do you clean your harps?
~ I keep my mouth clean. That's it. When the harmonica has an issue, it gets opened up, cleaned and fixed at that time.

What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ How do you keep going when you feel that you are in a rut? I always need to find inspiration through other music to stay motivated and focused to achieve the next level and push myself.

Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ Home studio, small, simple equipment: real to real, one or two microphones. Record everything live, no overdubs. That's it.

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves.
~ No, but I still get that rush of energy which is vital to everyone's playing in order to play real music from the heart. Keep focused on relaxed breathing and you will quickly learn how to channel "nerves' into passionate, articulate, and controlled playing.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career and tell us why.
~ Wow! Hmm..opening for BB King the fist time was a big one, but if I had to choose only one I'd say the day I first played live in front of an audience when I had only been playing for under a year. I got called up by the late great Big Jack Johnson and had the opportunity to play a song with him in front of a packed house. After that, I was totally hooked and wanted to continue to pursue blues!

Ronnie Shellist

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Answers given on Marcyh 29, 2016