Toronto-based Carlos del Junco began playing harmonica in his teens. del Junco plays the ten hole diatonic harmonica, using both standard and altered tunings, and is one of the leading disciples and exponents of Howard Levy’s “overblowing” approach to chromatic technique on the diatonic harmonica.
del Junco began performing regularly during the ’80s with a variety of bands working in styles as various as blues, latin, reggae, swing, and R&B. He has recorded with Bruce Cockburn, Kim Mitchell, Marcel Aymar (Cano), Cassandra Vassick, Oliver Schroer, and Zappacosta, and has also worked with Dutch Mason, Domenic Troiano, Hoc Walsh (Downchild Blues Band) and Holly Cole. In other words, he works with the cream of Canada’s music scene.
In 1991 del Junco performed and composed the music for Tomson Highway’s Dora award winning play Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing. The production toured Canada and was held over for seven weeks at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre.
In 1993 Carlos won gold medals at the Hohner World Harmonica Championships held in Trossingen, Germany in the diatonic blues category and the diatonic jazz category. (Try it; it’s not easy.) With the late Bill Kinnear playing acoustic and dobro guitars and handling lead vocals, Carlos released his first CD, Blues, on the independent Big Reed Records label in November of the same year. Five out of six reviewers in the Toronto Blues Society selected Blues for their top ten releases of 1993. In March 1995 del Junco travelled to Chicago with a Canada Council grant to study with Howard Levy. Later that year he released the critically acclaimed Just Your Fool, a sizzling live session with Kevin Breit on guitar, Al Duffy on bass, and Geoff Arsenault on drums. (Richard Hunter notes: It’s a strong record, with a solid band and powerful playing and singing by Carlos.) It was this release and a duo CD with Thom “Champagne Charlie” Roberts, Big Road Blues, that won Carlos the 1996 Blues Musician Of The Year Award.
Carlos has toured much of Canada since 1996 and has received four music touring grants. Festival highlights include the Winnipeg and Calgary Folk Festivals, Montreal Jazz Festival, Fredericton Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, Harbourfront Soul and Blues Festival, Northern Lights Festival Boreal, Owen Sound Folk Festival, Hillside Festival in Guelph, and the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival. Carlos continues to push his style deeper into both the blues and the future, as he shows on his latest (November 1998) release, Big Boy (Some Recycled Blues and Other Somewhat Related Stuff). He is one of the few harmonica players whose work is consistently fresh, and one of the very few who push the boundaries as hard as they can on every new record. In short, Carlos is one of the ones to watch.
We asked Carlos the same questions we ask every pro whose profile we publish here:
- What are your 5 favorite harmonica records?
- What instruments (harmonicas) do you use?
- What amplification and other gear do you use, on stage and in the studio?
- What’s your discography?
Carlos’s answers are below. His choices of favorite recordings are unique and thought-provoking, and his gear choices are simple, practical, and good-sounding: working pro’s gear. We thank him for this gift to harmonica players everywhere.
del Junco’s Top 5 Harmonica Records
Definitely a tough one to say what my top five are. I listen less and
less to harp players for ideas, and find myself stealing licks from
guitar, piano, and sax players. The harp discs I find myself drawn to
lately, oddly enough [given the progressive, eclectic direction of my
last CD: Big Boy, Some Recycled Blues and Other Somewhat Related Stuff), are by more traditional players like Rod Piazza,
Kim Wilson (as I write this, I’m listening to his wonderful CD My Blues), and William Clarke. So I’ll list what I think were perhaps my 5 or 6 most important influences in the first 10 to 15 years of my playing [I’ve been playing for 27 years], in no particular order.
The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (self titled), Elektra Records
This is Butterfield’s first album (and the first blues record I ever bought). Check out the instrumental Thank You Mr. Poobah. I think this is some of the finest and most creative playing Butterfield ever did. Great ideas with very fluid jazzy runs, and great tone and power for someone who is mainly a pucker player, as opposed to a tongue blocker (Tom Ellis could give you the low down on Paul’s technique). (Richard Hunter note: Carlos is referring to Tom Ellis III, a well-known Butterfield scholar and vintage harp mic dealer.) Definitely my favourite Paul Butterfield disc.
Boss Blues Harmonica, Little Walter, Chess Records This double album I think is now replaced by a more thorough
collection of a lot of Little Walter’s finest tunes, on the double CD The Essential Little Walter on Chess Records. What more can you say about this giant…
Lee Oskar (self titled), United Artist Records. Lee has this wonderful acoustic fluid tone that just kind of melts over you. He was a big influence for me for his simplicity of melodic ideas in a non blues idiom (check out Sunshine Keri), as well as the control he has on his beautiful slow vibrato. More of an R & B and pop player, he oozes soul.
Wild Child, David Burgin, Flying Fish Records.
I think this disc is most unfortunately deleted, at least it wasn’t reissued
on CD as far as I know. David Burgin, who is no longer, as far as I know, a working professional player, to me encompassed everything in a (mostly) blues player that I loved. He mixes tradition with very progressive ideas on this disc going for different amplified tones according to what the style of
music calls for. He has a monster tone, a beautiful deep vibrato,
and an immediacy and attack in his unusual but very hip phrasing.
Any of the earlier disks by Paul Delay, especially the bluesier material. There is some stellar ever-so-juicy chromatic playing on The Other One (which is available as a two-CDs-in-one-package with Paulzilla on the Evidence label titled Take It From The Turnaround). Paul Delay is another original, like David Burgin, who has developed a very unique voice as a blues player. Huge tone and wonderfully playful ideas.
Although I haven’t been listening to a lot of Howard Levy lately, he has probably been my biggest influence – for the overblow thing – in the last ten years. Howard has singlehandedly revolutionized the playing of
the diatonic harmonica, making it a fully chromatic instrument. Any of
the first three Bela Fleck and The Flecktones CDs or the second Trio Globo CD, Carnival of Souls, immediately come to mind.
I use Hohner Golden Melodies that I customize myself. (Thanks to Geoff Wilson and Joe Filisko for helping to show me how to repair and set up the reed action on my harps!) (Richard Hunter note: the Golden Melody is very popular with players who overblow extensively, because it overblows easily and tends to overblow more in tune than other models.)
My performing equipment includes:
- an Electrovoice RE 10 microphone,
- (into a) Roland RE-501 Tape Echo unit, which has a spring reverb and chorus built in,
- (into a) Fender Bassman ’59 reissue (on the CD Blues the amp is a ’66 Fender Princeton)
Big Boy, Some Recycled Blues And Other Somewhat Related Stuff
Big Reed Records
Order Big Boy from Amazon.com
Just Your Fool
The Carlos del Junco Band
Big Road Blues
Thom "Champagne Charlie" Roberts and Carlos del Junco
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Bill Kinnear and Carlos del Junco