The Harmonica Club

of Huntington, WV     founded August 2001 

Download a recording from The First West Virgina State Harmonica Championship 2007 or click on a link to read and see pictures,


Ashland Independent
article and photos of championship

Click to hear recordings of what was played
 WV STATE CHAMPIONSHIP 2007 full 32 minute program
Contestant 1
Contestant 2
Contestant 3
Contestant 4
Contestant 5   3rd Place
Contestant 6
Contestant 7   1st Place
Contestant 8
Contestant 9   2nd Place
Jam Session after Championship

Brian Salters get 1st place trophy
Brian Salters recieves first place trophy

Our Judges
Our judges from left to right
Kevin Morris, singer from The Messengers
Bill Murray from WSAZ news
Larry Strickler from Marshall University
Dave Ball , bass player for The 1937 Flood

Jam session after awards

After the awards we had an open jam session for members of  The Harmonica Club and contestants  from the championship

Here's an editorial that apperared in The Big Sandy News, written by Tim Preston, one of the contestants.

08/03/2007 - I can't say I felt cheated during last weekend's West Virginia Harmonica Championship. I didn't win and I didn't place, but I got beat by some top-notch players and find no shame in that.

The best part was hearing so many different approaches to the same little instrument. That becomes an important theme later in this column.

While not shamed by my performance, I did, however, mess up in a royal manner with my strategy for the contest. As I've mentioned, I was unsure what song to play to qualify for the "recognizable melody" part of the competition. In classic "reporter" style I started looking for the magical song with less than 24 hours remaining before the contest. I went through dozens of possibilities, and landed between Stevie Wonder's "What'd I Say?" and the classic "Orange Blossom Special" (which I would've played with two harmonicas as taught by Johnny Cash on his TV show in the 60s).

Instead, I decided to take a real gamble. I chose "Amazing Grace," as my opener, offering it in the form of a chord melody instead of the single-note style most people are familiar with. I started rehearsing the song somewhere between Louisa and Huntington, and even found a bittersweet lone-note for the "me" in the line ending with "wretch like me."

My performance before the crowd and the judges, however, had little to do with grace or anything remotely amazing. Making it worse, I think three other harmonica players also chose "Amazing Grace" as their first selection, and each of them played it far better than I did. One guy in particular, who I believe may have won the big trophy and title, had us all hanging on his every note. I honestly can't imagine anyone doing the song any better on any instrument.

And, another contestant played "Orange Blossom Special," with two harmonicas. I should've gone with the boogie magic of the Stevie Wonder song.

My second strategic mistake was rejecting an offer from a local guitarist who was willing to jump in and back me up at the last minute. The guy was good and played behind a couple of the other contestants, enhancing their performance considerably. Instead, I chose to play "Raw Dog Riding the Rails," which is my title for anything I do solo without rehearsal, just closing my eyes and waiting to see what comes out of the old Hohner.

As part of that, I maintained the chord approach and included the classic "train whistle" which is an essential part of any harmonica player's bag of tricks. I then sent the "chugga-chugga" sound of the engine's drivers into the microphone, hit the horn one more time and promptly derailed that whole locomotive straight off a curve and a thousand feet over an embankment into the river.

I'm not sure what happened ? I think I had a hiccup or maybe swallowed a bug. Regardless, my momentum was lost and there wasn't much I could do to redeem myself. The audience gave me a surprisingly enthusiastic response and I was just glad to say I'd gotten through it.

A real treat for everyone there was the performance by the guy who followed me, and ultimately claimed third place. He said his name was simply "Skinny Boy," and he came to West Virginia by way of Japan.

Skinny Boy gave us a taste of blues, bluegrass and Tokyo, divided into two fascinatingly different phases. Knowing he had beaten me before he even left the stage, I bought him a hot dog and we watched the rest of the competition together, cheering often for those who got our attention with an added flourish or riff. I just heard the raw recordings of it, apparently we were right beside a microphone because you can clearly hear both of us saying things like "Ya!" when someone slipped something extra good in there.

Another treat of the contest was a chance to share the stage with Eddie "Blue" Dawson and Jim Rumbaugh (among others) on "Big Legged Woman" during a jam session while the judges were adding up their scores. I don't know Dawson, but can attest the man can play the daylights out of his harp. In addition to having the most legit blues man's hat in the crowd, Rumbaugh also showed he had considerable blues harp chops.

Huntington's harmonica crowd gets together at a coffee shop on Tuesday evenings. After the championship, Rumbaugh sent me a message saying, "I'm counting on you to bring in some more good 'ole boys from down in Ky. I wanna hear some wailin'."

Odds are I'll never make it to Huntington on a Tuesday evening (one of two press nights we face every week). But we should at least send Kenny from Cornbread Orchestra down there to let them know what some of our better local musicians are capable of doing.

We had a good mix of playing styles.  Everyone had something to contribute in their presentation.   Bill Jones,contestant #1 played with a progressive jazz and blues  mix that you rarely get to hear.  Darrel Brown,Contestant  #2, and  Kermit Nance, #6, did a good display of straight harp playing and using the tounge slapping technique.  Paula Stewart, #3, put an excellent presentation. Tim Preston , #4 was the only one to use all chords for both songs.  Skinny Boy,  contestant #5, showed variety in his notes. Making use of timing, rhythm, and rests to paint his melody, and his body movements as he played were unforgettable. Brian Salters displayed great emotion and a very commercial sound. Mark Cabell had the  sweetest tone and played a melodic jazz tune. Geoff Riffe, #9, played a show stopping version of Orange Blossom Special and showed great range of notes, playing more high notes than the others, with a crystal clarity that rang sweet and true.

The judges were fair and consistent, yet varied in their opinions.  I saw nothing that hinted at favoritism, but I did see differences in how they judge, which is to be expected.  For example, if we look at the results of one of the judges, the 3rd place Skinny Boy would have been the 1st place winner, and  Bill Jones and Mark Cabell would tie for 2nd and 3rd. The 1st and 2nd place winners would not have placed.  Also, as in the Ohio State Championship, scores seem to run lower for the first performing contestants and higher for the later performing.   So chance of position in the competition seems to be a factor.