A Piece of Harmonica History: Richard Hunter at SPAH 1997

the rock harmonica masterpiece

Thanks to Randy Singer, I now have in my possession what may be the only extant recording of the solo harmonica performance I gave at SPAH 1997, which I remember as one of my best. Certainly it was a rare opportunity to play my original music for solo diatonic harmonica to an audience of avid harmonica players. I hadn’t known until a month or so ago that a recording existed. I got the original cassette on which this performance was recorded from Randy last week, and I’ve now digitized and uploaded it to this site. You can stream the music, song by song, using the song players below.

Richard Hunter at the Windmill, Brixton, UK

The recorded quality of these performances isn’t tops, but it wasn’t bad for that era of recording technology. You can certainly hear what the musical intention is at any given point, and there’s a nice big reverb hanging over the hall. I’m sorry to say that performances of a couple of my pieces were cut off by the tape running out or other technical glitches, so the pieces below don’t represent everything I played. Among the missing was a supersonic performance of “Billy the Kid,” of which only the last 10 seconds or so was captured. Alas. Worth noting that at the time of this recording, almost every harmonica in my kit was a Lee Oskar, so it’s likely that all or almost all of these pieces were performed on Lee Oskar harmonicas.

At the time I wrote and recorded these pieces, I was conscious of myself as a bridge between the world of the chromatic harmonica players who had dominated SPAH in its first 25 years or so, and the world of the diatonic harmonica players who began to show up at SPAH in increasing droves in the 1980s and 1990s. To the former I represented respect for tradition: in particular, respect for overall musicianship, virtuoso technique, and music in general regardless of genre. To the latter I presented pieces that were obviously drawing on the blues harp canon as well as the classical tradition and jazz. This view of my role as a harmonica composer and player was articulated to me straight-out by one of the organizers of the Buckeye State Harmonica Festival that I performed at in 1998.

I think these pieces still represent the state of the art in solo harmonica composition and performance. The big advances in these pieces were about non-standard diatonic harmonica tunings and the harmonic possibilities they offer. They sound remarkably new and different 25-40 years after I composed and first recorded them. I suppose that to a large extent that just reflects the fact that the path I strode here was not one that many others followed. I hope that’s temporary, and I look forward to someday hearing a virtuoso more accomplished than myself play this stuff. Robert Bonfiglio told me once that solo harmonica is chamber music, and there’s not much of an audience or payday for chamber music. I’m sure he’s right on both counts, but I keep hoping.

Enjoy.

Peppermint Life by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1975 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved.

Big 17 by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1994 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved.


Hymn for Crow
by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1994 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved.


When Johnny Comes Marching Home
(traditional)


Never Go Back
by Rachel Bissex.


New Country Stomp
by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1997 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved.


From above
by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1997 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved.


The Longing
by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1994 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved. Note: the end of this performance was truncated when the cassette tape ran out, but it’s worth hearing what happened before that.


Winter Sun at Nobska
by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1975 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved.


Golden Mel
by Richard Hunter. Copyright 1977 by R. Hunter/Turtlehill Productions, all rights reserved.

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