The Harmonica Club

of Huntington, WV             founded August 2001

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info on The WV Harmonica Championship Saturday July 26th 2008

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The Harmonica Club History

The Short History

It was started August 2001 by Brian Salters and Eddie Blue Dawson. The first meetings were held at Timmy's Hog Heaven on 9th street between 4th and 5th ave. on Tuesday night from 8pm to 10pm.  After Hog Heaven closed, a few meetings were held in the lobby of the Fredick Hotel. Next was the front porch of  Buddy's Barbecue. By November, meetings were held in a small back room of a new coffee shop called The Java Joint, located on 10th street between 5th ave and 6th ave.  This became the home for The Harmonica Club as it grew.  In the summer of 2005, The Java Joint moved to it's current location on the corner of 16th street and 3rd ave.  During that summer, while construction was being done, The Harmonica Club met down the street at Hillbilly Hot dogs at 15th street and 3rd ave.  Most of the meetings took place on the outdoor stage behind the building.  Luckily, none of the meetings were “rained out” that summer.  By September 2005, the new Java Joint opened its doors. We continue to hold our meetings there every Tuesday.  Starting in the sumer of 2008, the meeting time was moved up to 7pm to 9pm. It is still an open format. Anyone may join in.  Beginners are encouraged.  Old timers are appreciated.  Any instrument is allowed, but it will still be The Harmonica Club.

The Long History from Summer 2001 to summer 2008

My name is Jim Rumbaugh. I will try to tell you what I remember. There will will also be other people's input, but most is from memory by all parties.

August 2001, there was a small article in the Huntington, WV paper announcing the first meeting of The Harmonica Club.  The meeting was Tuesday night at 8pm at Timmy's Hog Heaven located on 9th street between 4th and 5th avenue. It was a biker friendly bar with a good barbecue sandwich.  The club was the idea of Brian Salters and Eddie Blue Dawson.  The two had met through their jobs in the auto industry.  They shared a common interest in “the blues” and harmonica.  Eddie had made the contact with Timmy's Hog Heaven and arranged the notice in the newspaper.

I had arrived with my daughter Tia, shortly before 8. I remember her reluctance to go inside due to the “biker” presence, but she was easily assured that it was a fine place.  Once inside , there was about 8 of us sitting around 2 tables.  The manager turned off the juke box so we could have our meeting.  What I found was Eddie and Brian, eager to talk about harmonicas.  It was a mix of guys. My daughter was the only female.  Some knew how to play the harp. Some did not.  I only knew what I had read in a Jon Gindick book that I bought at The Cracker Barrel, which is where I bought my 5 dollar harp.  After about an hour of talking harps, the juke box came back on.  We figured the manager was ready for business to go back to usual, or they were expecting the club to a bunch of guys playing harp, not just talking harp.

After 2 weeks of meeting in the club, we moved to upstairs over the club.  There we could talk without a juke box or interrupting the usual business.  The upstairs was in the middle of remodeling construction while 2 men lived there.  The Local newspaper had published another article about the meeting, and about 20 people showed up to this new “upstairs” location.  Guitar player Nevada Heart showed up to play some tunes so we could jam.

But about 4 weeks later, we arrived to find out that the electric had been cut off to the whole building.  We were unaware that Timmy's Hog Heaven was having financial problems.  That night there were about 5 of us, and we met in a room at The Appalachian Power company, were one of the members worked and had access.  The next week, we met in the lobby of The Fredrick Hotel. One of the club members had just landed a job there. This same guy had been living above Timmy's Hog Heaven when the lights went out.  He was now an employee at the hotel and arranged access for us.  But three weeks later, he was gone and the hotel was locked.

The next stop was Buddy's Barbecue in the 1500 block of 3rd ave.  We met on the outside deck, played our harps, and talked about harps.  But it was October, and the nights were getting cold.  Inside Buddy's did not look like an option. We needed a new home.

I was talking to my friends at church about needing a place for The Harmonica Club.  Hank Dial, told me about a new coffee shop in town called The Java Joint and suggested I check it out.  It was located in a brownstone apartment on the corner of the alley between 5th ave and 6the ave om 10th street. When I went in I was amazed to find a quaint series of rooms ready for small groups of people to sit and talk and decorated in a style hat made me think of 60's era hippies.  The first thing you saw when you entered was a small alcove with a couch lighted by a black light. You entered the alcove by passing through a curtain of beads. Next room was the main room which looked like someone's living room. It had a fireplace with a mantle, a few couches and chairs, a coffee table, and a few tall tables and bar stools.  Then you came to the service counter in the middle of the this former home. After the service counter was what we called The Safe Room. It was an old walk in safe with 2 small benches where a maximum of 4 people could sit. It was cramped, but you got the “playing in the shower sound” when you played the harp. The last room was the Wonder Woman room. It was painter in primary red and blue.  There were a few pictures of Linda Carter in her classic Wonder Woman costume, as well as a few pictures of Betty Paige striking her classic pose. This back room was where we had permission to hold our Tuesday night meetings. This room also had the back door exit and entrance, and the restroom. The restroom was remarkable in it's green and purple color scheme with large rhinestones and a six foot cardboard cutout of Barbie, the toy doll from Mattel, was hanging on the wall. This back room became our first semi-permanent room. 

But a few weeks later came one of those pivotal moments in The Harmonica Club.  It was a cold December Tuesday. There were only 4 of us. Brian and Eddie made the suggestion, maybe we should only meet once a month. (now remember this is MY memories of how it went down) I said, no, I wanted to meet every week.  I was just learning to play and was a ball of fire wanting to keep it going every week.  It was agreed. Meeting continued every week that winter.  Sometimes with only 3 of us there.  But as spring came with warmer weather, more people would show up.

Some times in the spring, a guitar player or 2 would show up. The most consistent guitar player was Chris Weisal from Milton,WV.   This was during a time when the club was still forming it's format. We had 4 directions. One group (mostly the older) played straight harp. That is the sing along, campfire type tunes. Another group (the younger) played cross harp. Cross harp is the wailing blues style playing, where you rarely hear a melody. Some people wanted to discuss playing and styles, while another group just wanted to play music.

When we played tunes, it seemed to split the group in two.  When a traditional tune was played, the cross harp players just sat there, not trying to join in. When a blues tune was played, the straight harp players just sat there waiting for the song to end.

When weather permitted, Fred Miller would go on the porch of The Java Joint and play his straight harp tunes. Others would join him. Fred would become the source of the traditional tunes that we still do today.  Sometimes I would bring my acoustic guitar and play along with them. But typically by 9pm, the older straight harp players would head home, and the rest of the night became blues and rock and roll.

While Fred Miller was teaching us the traditional Straight tunes, Chris Weilsol was laying down guitar blues groves that we could jam to.  That was where my interest was.  I was still learning, and wanted and needed a basic chord progression to play against.

With the 2 styles competing, a gentleman's agreement was reached. We would play straight tunes from 8 to 9, then play blues and rock from 9 to 10. This seem to suit the groups needs. The straight players got to go home early. The cross players could learn the straight tunes before going to the blues format. The first hour also became the time when people would break off for one on one conversations or lessons about harp.

It was during this time of the club, that I am very thankful for Chris Weisol's guitar playing and regular attendance.  This is where I started to learn to play the free form and expressive blues style.  It was also when I first started to sing. It wasn't that I wanted to sing, but the singing was needed for other people to learn the songs. Since most blues tunes are about the same chord progression, the other harp players could not tell what was expected unless they heard a melody to anchor against.  It is still true, that the sooner we break into a melody, the sooner the tune jells together.  When a tune starts with just harp for 12 bars, it is hard for the players to tell where they are in the 12 bar progression.  This is when we established the basic format we still use today. All blues tunes have a brief 2 to 4 bar intro on the root chord, then start the melody. After the melody is set, improvisation can begin.

Our First Public Performance summer of 2002

That summer of 2002, Eddie Blue arranged our first public appearance. We played at The Heritage Station at the end of Thursday at the Gazebo.  We were to be the last act, on the Gazebo at Heritage Plaza at what was an open air party hosted by the restraunt Heritage Station. Mike Fulton and I waited near the Gazebo for Eddie Blue Dawson to give us directions.  But the crowd was so thick, Eddie never found us.  As the crowd thinned out and the end came, Mike and I took to the gazebo and did 2 tunes. The only one I can remember is House of the Rising Sun.  Though we were not professional, it was good enough.  I remember Mike saying that it was the first time he had every played in public.  His wife, mom and dad were there to see him and encourage him. That was the first Harmonica Club performance.

Our First Parade

That fall, my wife was in charge of The Central City Days Parade. Per her request, I invited member of the club to join the parade. It was a short parade, about 4 blocks long.  A pickup truck was arranged to carry us.  I had a small amplifier rigged up to play from the back of the truck.  Mike Fulton was the only person to show up. Now I needed a microphone for each of us.  I ran into the Odd Lotts department store. I bought a set of headphones that had a 1/4” adapter. I plugged the headphones into the input of the amp.  We then played into the headphones like a microphone.  It was not top quality, but it worked fine.  As we rolled down the street, we took turns chugging chords while the other wailed away in blues style.  Again, it was not top quality, but it worked fine. That was the first Harmonica Club Parade.

The New Java Joint 2005  / The Summer of Hillbilly Hot dogs

By the spring of 2005, The Java Joint was ready to move. It had reached it's maximum in it's back street location and was ready to expand.  The new location was the corner of 16th street and 3rd ave, just across the street from Marshall University.  But the construction was going to take all summer and we would be homeless.  We found a summer home at Hillbilly Hot dogs at 15th street and 3rd ave, just a block from where our new home was to be.  Hillbilly Hot dogs had just opened.  Theres was an outdoor deck area where we could hang out and play.  There was also an outdoor stage.  This was the beginning of weekly meetings centered on playing as a group every week. The restraunt would run an extension chord out of the business to the stage for our PA system.  We put on weekly shows from 8 to 10pm. And not once were we rained out that summer.

It was a time of change in the club again.  There were more and more guitar players. It was not unusual to have more guitar players than harmonicas.  Some new guidelines were enacted, restating that it was the HARMONICA club. It was about this time Chris Weisol bowed out. After being one of our more progressive guitar players for 3 years, Chris stopped coming due to family responsibilities and the change of musical direction. Chris was fond of long creative and improvised jams. But structured songs with lyrics were the most effective way for the harmonica players to learn.

The summer of 2005 was when we started recording our meetings. The idea of recording was to share what we were doing with others, and to preserve what we were doing.  Both goals have been met.  We were fortunate to get a few recordings of Fred Miller before he passed away. I still mention Fred Miller frequently when we do traditional tunes in public. I give him credit for teaching those tunes to us, so that we in turn can share them and teach them to the next generation.

Moving into the New Java Joint

After a summer of on stage performances, it took some adapting to going inside at the new Java Joint. We had too many amplifiers. Several guitars with amplifiers and several harp players with amplifiers.  The sound was unruly and unbalanced.  After a few weeks, a single PA system was set up as the standard for the harp players. A set of 6 identical microphones was used.  Even though the microphones were economical ( Nady brans at about $15 each ), the fact that they were all the same lead to a balance, consistent, and controllable sound.  Guitar players still brought their own amps, but there also were  many reminders to turn the volume down. 

A sad fact is that the better guitar players can play softly, while the less experienced need to be louder to hear themselves.  This can confirmed by listening to the early recordings.  Over the last three years, the members of The Harmonica Club have learned to listen to each other and keep in balance.  But, this is still an ongoing process.  As new members come, we must teach them what is expected in a group environment.

Summer 2006 Pullman Square every month

In 2006, the newly opened Pullman Square in downtown Huntington,WV was the center of attention. Pullman Square has a covered shelter that faces the square and is the stage for many live events.  We were able to get permission to host our own free public event on the second Tuesday of the months of June through October.  This has allowed us to share with large number of the community as well as recruit new members

The First West Virginia State Harmonica Championship, summer 2007

With sponsorship from The C&O Credit Union and help via Clear Channel Communications, we hosted the First West Virginia State Harmonica Championship. It was the last event of The Hot Dog Festival. We had 10 contestants and a very large crowd of spectators. A panel of 4 independent judges named the first place champion as our own Brian Salters, one of the 2 founders of The Harmonica Club

Spring 2008 we take to the Back Room

In the Spring of 2008, The group started setting up in the back room of the new Java Joint.  The new setting is sized just right for our typical gatherings of about 8 to 12 people. We have a few sofas and chairs as well as a few tables.  There is even a TV that we can use for instructional videos. The format has changed from first our traditional music / 2nd hour blues, to a mix of styles all night long.  We changed the meeting times to 7 to 9 to match The Java Joint's summer hours, and the new schedule has stuck.  This year we have women as well as men in the group.  We are fortunate to have a regular presence of Brent Williams on Drums, Tom Dobbins on bass, and Richard Tanner on guitar. We make public appearances 1 to 3 times a month. But the bottom line is that we are all still learning to play and sharing what we learn.