New Jersey-based Rob Paparozzi is one of the top studio harmonica pros in the New York City area, which is to say, one of the top recording harmonica players in the world. He currently sings and plays with Blood Sweat & Tears as well as The Hudson River Rats, a New York based blues and R&B band whose members include players like Will Lee and Bernard Purdie. He has played on recordings for Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston, Roberta Flack, Judy Collins, and David Clayton Thomas. His movie credits include Tom and Huck, Straight out of Brooklyn, and Native Son, and he’s been heard on TV on Cosby, Nickolodeon, and lots of jingles: Wendy’s, Dodge, Dominos, Pizza Hut . . . whew! Are you impressed yet? Okay, he’s also worked with producers and arrangers that include Phil Ramone, Danny Kortchmar, Arif Mardin, Bobby McFerrin, Lauryn Hill, Billy Byers, and Don Sebesky, and opened live concerts for Dr. John, Sly & the Family Stone, Bruce Springsteen, The Doobie Brothers, and B.B. King. Any questions?
We asked Rob 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?
Rob’s answers are below, and are certainly illuminating. We note in particular Rob’s fondness for the Sennheiser 441 microphone for acoustic recording, a preference shared by Mike Stevens and jazz diatonic monster Howard Levy, among others. Thanks to Rob for this terrific contribution to harmonica players (literally) everywhere.
Rob’s Top 5 Harmonica Records
It’s really hard to pick 5 favorites. I’ve had to leave out some of my favorite players, e.g. Howard Levy, Charlie Musselwhite, Lee Oskar, Norton Buffalo, James Cotton, Walter Horton, Larry Adler, Al Wilson . . .
1) The Butterfield Blues Band Live, Elektra 7E-2001 (1970)
The extended versions of “Everything Going To Be Alright” and “Driftin’ Blues” on this record portray one of the greatest players ever in his prime. This record helped me to get inside my own sound not only as a harmonica player but as a singer as well.
2) Charlie McCoy, “Charlie My Boy,” Monument Records
A great record that contains the old standard “Back Home in Indiana”, a study on how to blow masterfully over changes in “Cross Harp”.
3) Little Walter, “Boss Blues Harmonica,” double Chess CH 60014
Contains many of the gems from the Granddad of Electric Blues. It’s The Bible. Magic Dick turned me on to Walter’s records. Thanks Dick!
4) Bill Evans and Toots Thielemans, “Affinity,” Warner Bros. BSK 3293
The Master of Jazz Chromatic at his peak, one of the top soloist in the Jazz World. This record is in my opinion a summit of two seminal giants of Jazz. A must have for a Jazz enthusiast!
5) Robert Bonfiglio, “Romances,” High Harmony
This record is a masterpiece of superb Classical Harmonica, beautifully played and recorded. It includes THE best recording to date of the Vaughan Williams Romance for the Harmonica, String and Piano.
Diatonic: Hohner Marine Band, customized Marine Bands by Joe Filisko, and LaVoie Titanium Combs with Hohner MS Plates and Big River Covers.
Chromatic: Hohner Toots Hard Bopper (wood comb) for recording; Farrell
Lifetime Comb w/ Hohner Hard Bopper or Mellotone plates for live work; Hohner CBH-2016 for Classical Playing. I’ve recently tried and really liked the Hohner CX-12 and the new Renaissance harmonica (a $3,000 instrument manufactured by Douglas Tate and Bobby Giordano).
I’m not very fussy so long as I can get gear that can amplify clearly the sound and tone that I have spent so much time and effort achieving. I believe your tone MUST be developed acoustically first and then incorporated into an amplified tone.
For live gigs, I prefer a Shure SM-57 mic with a 1/4″ transformer jack (note: the SM-57 ships as a low-Z mic only; the transformer is necessary to transform the signal into a Hi-Z signal suitable for input to a guitar amp input) into a Fender Deluxe, Fender Blues Deluxe, or Fender Twin Reverb amp. (Note: this is very similar to the setup used by Paul Butterfield, one of Rob’s favorite players.) Most of my “dirty” sound on Diatonic is achieved via the throat and diaphragm, not the mic. Sometimes I use a Boss Digital Delay pedal for a slight “slapback” effect.
For studio work, the same setup works for electric blues. For acoustic work, a Neumann 87 mic works well, as does the classic Howard Levy setup of a Sennheiser 441 for both chromatic and diatonic.
(Note: Rob’s discography is obviously very extensive. We’ve listed a few of his own favorites here.)
Etruscan Soul (2009, Grammy-nominated)
The Hudson River Rats “First Take” CD
Glen Burtnik’s “Palookaville” CD
Cyndi Lauper’s “Hatfull of Stars” CD
Culture Club Live “StoryTellers” double CD
The Hudson River Rats “Live n’ Well” (cassette only)