Ernie Roberts

Si AbcouwerI began playing the harmonica at about age 7 or 8. Both my Dad and my Mom played the guitar and the harmonica and I enjoyed listening to them. I think I tried to sing along with them a time or two and one day my Dad said, “Son, this is a french harp.” (Even the bucket I tried to carry a tune in leaked.) Then he showed me how to play a few simple tunes on his Hohner Marine Band but I kind of lost interest until about the 8th grade.

A neighbor was at our house and Dad and Mom and he were singing and playing together. I played a couple of tunes on my Dad’s harmonica and the next day the neighbor brought me a harmonica of my own — a Kratt harmonica, as I recall, with a plastic comb. It also had a little instruction book with a few songs in it. I enjoyed playing that harp because it did not make my tongue sore like the wooden comb on the Marine band. The first song I learned to play by heart out of that book was “Old Black Joe”. Anyway, I then went on to play several other songs, mostly by ear — just listening and trying to match the tune with the words I heard. The only formal music training I can recall is I had one year of violin lessons when I was in the fourth grade using a violin furnished by the school. But then we moved and I was not able to continue. I mostly played for my own enjoyment. When I was in the Army in Germany in 1964 I bought a Chromatic, but could not seem to master it. Then I got married, went back to school, had kids and never seemed to have time to play the harmonica. I don’t recall when I first heard about the Gateway Harmonica Club, but I do recall going to an event they apparently sponsored at Westport. I remember seeing a lot of harmonica players and I think Rich Krueger and his sons played one evening. Anyway, I was too busy with work and other interests (including photography and computers) to get involved with the Club until 1997 when I had an operation to remove part of my colon (surgery was performed by John Bottchen’s son-inlaw, Dr. Ira Kodner). While I was recovering from that, I had a few weeks off from work and couldn’t do much physical activity, so I came to a few meetings and started to get involved.

I took the Beginning and Intermediate Harmonica courses taught by Joe Fey and I kind of began to get the hang of the Chromatic. I enjoyed coming to practice when I could, but I had a couple of other Club meetings on Tuesday nights so I couldn’t always attend. Then when I retired last year, I was able to begin attending regularly and go to some of the gigs. I really enjoy playing with everyone, but still don’t feel like a “performer”.