I got my first harmonica when I was about 12. My dad wasn’t a player but he apparently knew something about harmonicas and got me a Magnus 10-hole plastic chromatic. This was early post-WWII (ca 1946) and there weren’t many “real” German harmonicas in the music stores. But I liked what I could play on the Magnus and before long managed to get hold of a 12-hole Hohner and then a 16-hole model.
All of my early playing was by ear, but a school friend who played accordion started answering my questions about note reading and I soon was figuring out how to read music. Another friend who lived across the street got interested in harmonica and bought a 16-hole, and we started playing current popular songs together. We heard about a harmonica club meeting at a nearby public library, so we went to a few meetings. We soon realized that the group was only interested in simple folk tunes on the diatonic, so we stopped attending — but not before we had met another visitor, Mildred Lochner, who played beautiful pop ballads on the chromatic. But she, like my friend and I, dropped out of the library group after only a few weeks and we lost contact with her.
In 1947 we, along with so many others, were captivated by the sound of a trio that called themselves The Harmonicats on their recording of Peg O’ My Heart. I was particularly fascinated by what I later learned was the chord harmonica. That fascination stuck with me into my high school years. In 1951 I saw a chord harmonica in a music store, at which point the fascination became an obsession. I HAD to have one. I persuaded my dad to cosign for me on my very first time payment purchase ($150), and I was off to the races!!! I joined in with a couple of high school friends to form a trio — one bought a bass, I persuaded another to learn the chord, and I reluctantly switched back to the chromatic.
After graduation I was happily stumbling through learning to play chords when a co-worker mentioned that her neighbor, a woman named Mildred, sometimes played harmonica with her brothers, who were professionals. Sure enough, this was the same Mildred I had met so many years earlier. I visited her home and was invited to start playing regularly with her and her brother Gene, who was the chord player in the professional group The Harmaniacs. Gene taught me a number of things about the chord harmonica. We had a lot of fun and actually played a few gigs together.
In the ensuing years I lost contact with my various harmonica friends, mainly because my life was full of new joys and challenges — marriage, raising two sons, pursuing new career opportunities, etc. I still played harmonica from time to time but only for my own amusement. At one point I even sold my beloved chord harmonica because I wanted to use the money for something else. (BIG MISTAKE!!!) But in the mid-80s, my wife surprised me with a very special birthday present — a new chord harmonica, which I immediately devoured and started the relearning process.
In 1987 I learned about the Gateway Harmonica Club in a neighborhood newspaper story. I promptly joined and was absorbed into the warm fellowship of the members and spouses. We have beens blessed to have several bass and chord players as well as many chromatic enthusiasts. I started playing right away at the club’s gigs as well as in several small ensembles. Beginning in 1988 and in almost all years since, I have also attended the annual conventions of SPAH, where I’ve made new friends from the U.S.A. and around the globe.
I look forward each week to our club meetings, where we rehearse and have fun at open mic. I also enjoy playing at gigs for a variety of audiences.