Tom Ball began playing guitar at the age of eleven and took up harmonica three years later. As a teenager he was a founding member of the Yerba Buena Blues…

Tom Ball began playing guitar at the age of eleven and took up harmonica three years later. As a teenager he was a founding member of the Yerba Buena Blues Band. In 1979 he teamed up with guitarist Kenny Sultan, a partnership that to date has resulted in seven CDs (Flying Fish/Rounder) and performances in concerts, festivals and tours all over the world. The Ball & Sultan duo has appeared on television internationally, played for audiences of 300 million via Voice Of America, been featured on the "Levi’s 501 Blues" commercials, and appeared as frequent guests of National Public Radio. Their music from the film "Over The Edge" won them the prestigeous Telly Award in 1994, and they were the only musical act in America to play all four venues of the 1984 Olympic Games.

In addition to working with Kenny, Tom has also performed as vocalist and harmonica player on dozens of TV shows, films and commercials, has appeared as a sideman on over 100 CD releases, recorded a solo guitar CD for Fantasy Records, and written three instructional books for Centerstream/Hal Leonard Publications. Blues Revue has called his playing "stupendous," and Sound Choice wrote, "The best acoustic blues act going, bar none!"

Tom’s focus on extending the tradition of acoustic harmonica blues, the most traditional of all harmonica art forms, makes him a standout among our Pros. We asked Tom 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?

Tom’s resume speaks for itself; he’s got the sound and the feel, and he knows what it takes to do the job. We thank Tom for this gift to harmonica players everywhere.


Tom’s Top 5 Harmonica Records

Favorite Instruments

Favorite Gear

Tom’s discography


Tom’s Top 5 Harmonica Records

1. Sonny Terry "Harmonica and Vocal Solos" Folkways FA2035 (much of which has been reissued on CD.) To me, this is the essence of it all: solo blues harp, unfettered by effects, amplification or other instruments. A revelation when I first discovered it, and a never-ending source of inspiration…

2. Muddy Waters "The Chess Box" Chess/MCA CHD3-80002. Features both Little Walter Jacobs and Big Walter Horton, and has some of the most amazing Chicago-style amplified harp ever waxed. In fact these recordings feature MORE harp than the recordings either Walter issued under their own names, because harp was a side instrument here and was therefore played throughout the songs rather than stopping when the harpist would sing….

3. Little Walter "The Essential Little Walter" Chess/MCA CHD2-9342. What can I say? Little Walter in his prime! Mind boggling.

4. Sonny Boy Williamson II "Goin’ In Your Direction" Trumpet AA-801. The fabled Trumpet Records recordings of the early ’50s before Sonny Boy signed
with Chess. Remarkably soulful, sparse playing.

5. Various Artists "Harmonica Masters" Yazoo 2019. Reissues of great harp performances from the ’20s and ’30s featuring blues artists, country artists, jazz, ragtime and even vaudeville style stuff. Endlessly
fascinating!

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Favorite Instruments

Diatonic: Hohner Special 20’s. Exclusively. Right out of the box, no alterations.

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Favorite Gear

90% of the time when playing live, I’m playing "acoustically" in the Tom & Kenny duo. (Of course there still is amplification through the PA.) Since I’m both singing and playing harp through the same mic, I prefer to use a good, solid vocal mic. For the past 20 years I’ve used a Shure PE54D Unidyne III high-impedence blunt-end mic. In this situation, one wants to roll off a bit of the highs, add a bit of lows and use reverb. The other 10% of the time I’m playing in an "amplified" manner, using a mid-60’s Astatic JT-30C ceramic bullet mic, to a 1956 Fender (tweed) Deluxe, with a ’62 Fender outboard (spring) reverb unit.

When in the studio (recording "acoustically") any good tube mic will do. My favorites include the Neumann U-47, U-67, and U-87, and the AKG C-12.

For "amplified" studio work, I use the same (amplified) rig described above. If it’s somebody else’s session I’ll usually bring an array of other mics along (Shure 520-D, Astatic "biscuit," etc.) in case they want a different sound. I find it’s often helpful to record onto 2 tracks simultaneously (one dry acoustic and one micing the amp’s output) so that the producer can mix in as much ‘grunge’ as he/she likes.


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Tom’s Discography

Tom Ball Guitar Music Fantasy KMCD-3906-2
Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan Bloodshot Eyes Flying Fish/Rounder FF-386
Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan Confusion Sonyatone ST-1006
Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan Double Vision Flying Fish/Rounder FF-656

Order Double Vision from Amazon.com

Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan Filthy Rich Flying Fish/Rounder FF-619
Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan Too Much Fun Flying Fish/Rounder FF-532
Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan 20th Anniversary – Live! No Guru NG 2000-2
Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan Who Drank My Beer? Kicking Mule/Fantasy KM-176
Jeff Bridges(w M. McDonald & D. Crosby) Be Here Soon Ramp Records
Jimmy C. & Jumpin’ Blue Slippery Places Valiant Productions 001
Jimmy C. & Jumpin’ Blue The World Rolls On Valiant Records (no #)
Cache Valley Drifters Tools Of The Trade Flying Fish/Rounder FF-290
Cyrus Clarke Band California Stories Ranch Records RR-11256
Tom Corbett Upstairs at Charlie’s Roundhole Records 51261
Country’s Hottest Pickers Hats Off! (Hank Williams Trib.) CMH Records CD-8016
Doodoo Wah Doodoo Wah 5.0 Ballum Rancum BRR 0007-CD
Leo Downey Band Heaven And Hell LHD-1077
Earl I Am Next To You EarlMusic.Com
James Edwards Home, James JE 1/2
Peter Feldmann The Barnyard Dance Hen Cackle Records HC-50
Stefan George Point And Pray Blue Bhikku BB0015
The Gospel Guitars Gospel Guitars CMH Records CD-6280
Granite Tapestry Granite Tapestry Granite Tapestry
Lorin Grean Embrace Knockinclash Productions
Lorin Grean Hand Woven Silver Wave SD-912
Specs Hildebrand& the Livingroom Band Spike Heels RCA 74321-10231-2
Claude Hopper Four In The Morning Cowbrain 01
Sean Hutchinson Start Right Here Tuza Records
Sean Hutchinson (in preparation) Tuza Records
Roger Jaep Brave New Heart (in preparation)
Paul Keim Cuesta Grade Taxim TX 1046-2

Clayton Lee Ooh Baby Ooh Records CL-1492
David Lee Lindsey Wild Child DLL 1
Little Jonny & the Giants No Mercy Corn Bread CB 20096
Little Jonny & the Giants Telecaster Music Telecaster 1001
Don MacMannis Meet Dr. Mac Dr. Mac Productions

Meisel Brothers: Alex, Ben and Co. Singin’ At The Swing Set Kid’n Together 1

Michael Mendelson A Fiddler’s Notebook Slippery Slope

Midnight Rodeo For All The Right Reasons Brentwood Music BCCD 271

Mary Murphy Always A Flame Taxim TX-2056-2 TA
Mary Murphy Thirty Waves Out Melting Pot 990
Ivan Nadler & Andrew Cavanaugh This Little Piggy Second Sons SSPDM-9197-2
Lee Negin Balance Passing Phase A2Z-333
Donna O’Connor Into My World Galvanized Gingham DLO34
Rick Robles Unintentional Circus Stalemate 2 81283-7
Sandy Ross Portraits Of Innocence SLR 01
Paul Sanchez Hired Hand Jericho 001
Paul Edward Sanchez Home By Morning Jericho JCD 003
Paul Edward Sanchez Yesterday’s Clothes Wynema WCD 004
Ed Snodderly Sweet Light Cloudlands 005
Rebecca Wave Music Children Figgy Pudding 1
David West Broken Down Believers Taxim (in preparation)
David West and the Dead Strings
Cast Your Eyes to the Mountain Taxim TX 3019-2
David West and the Dead Strings
The Fiddle & the Damage Done Taxim TX 3012-2
David West and the Dead Strings Ignore Alien Orders Taxim TX 3010-2
David Wolfersberger I Got This Highway Old Highway
Jon Wilcox Still Life Sage Arts SA 2012
Various Artists Angel From Montgomery – Bonnie Raitt Tribute CMH Records CD-8546
Various Artists Bluegrass Forever CMH Records CD-8052
Various Artists Bluegrass Then And Now CMH Records CD-1790
Various Artists Blues At Kerrville Silverwolf 1016
Various Artists Blues Crossroads EasyDisc CD-7066
Various Artists Capt. Fantastic – Bluegrass Tribute to Elton John CMH Records (in preparation)
Various Artists Country Comfort CMH Records CD-6291
Various Artists Country Instrumental Gold CMH Records CD-6293
Various Artists Disaster City Blues Taxim LC-6456
Various Artists Eight Mile High – Byrds Tribute CMH Records CD-8554
Various Artists Fire On The Banjo CMH Records CD-8050
Various Artists Gettin’ High On Neil Young – Tribute CMH Records CD-8559
Various Artists Harmonica Player – Nr. 2 Mundharmonikaspieler
Various Artists The Heart of Bluegrass CMH Records CD-5906
Various Artists Hits of Western Swing CMH Records CD-8043
Various Artists Into The Mystic – Van Morrison Tribute CMH Records CD-8539
Various Artists Jamming: Bluegrass Celebrates Bob Marley CMH Records CD-8572
Various Artists Kerrville Folk Festival Silverwolf 1019
Various Artists Kerrville Folk Festival – 10 Great Years Silverwolf 1002-5
Various Artists Light And Breezy Taxim TX-0101
Various Artists Long Strange Trip CMH Records CD-1971
Various Artists Moonshadow – Bluegrass Tribute to Cat Stevens CMH Records CD-8570
Various Artists Napa Valley Folk Festival Napa Valley Folk Festival
Various Artists Pickin’ On Creedence Clearwater CMH Records CD-8502
Various Artists Pickin’ On Creedence Clearwater (w xtra trks) CMH Records (in preparation)
Various Artists Pickin’ On Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young CMH Records CD-8511 Various Artists Pickin’ On the Doobie Brothers CMH Records CD-8555
Various Artists Pickin’ On the Eagles CMH Records CD-8505
Various Artists Pickin’ On the Grateful Dead CMH Records CD-8022
Various Artists Pickin’ On the Grateful Dead volume 1 CMH Records CD-8577
Various Artists Pickin’ On the Grateful Dead volume 2 CMH Records CD-8525
Various Artists Pickin’ On Hendrix CMH Records CD-8031
Various Artists Pickin’ On Jerry Garcia CMH Records CD-8603
Various Artists Pickin’ On Neil Young CMH Records CD-8025
Various Artists Pickin’ On Pink Floyd CMH Records (in preparation)
Various Artists Pickin’ On Southern Rock CMH Records CD-8054
Various Artists Pickin’ On Springsteen CMH Records CD-8510
Various Artists Pickin’ On Tom Petty CMH Records CD-8516
Various Artists Radio 501 Foote, Cone & Belding
Various Artists The Rockin’ Banjos Of Bluegrass CMH Records CD-8040
Various Artists The Sensational Sounds Of Country CMH Records CD-1781:2
Various Artists Silverwolf Blues Silverwolf 1024
Various Artists Smokin’ – Bluegrass Tribute to Boston CMH Records CD-8543
Various Artists A Steel Guitar Tribute to Eric Clapton CMH Records (in preparation)
Various Artists A Strawberry Jam Strawberry Music Festival

BOOKS AUTHORED: (* = with accompanying CD/cassette)
“Blues Harmonica – A Comprehensive Crash Course and Overview” (Centerstream/Hal Leonard) *
“A Sourcebook of Little Walter/Big Walter Licks for Blues Harmonica” (Centerstream/Hal Leonard) *
“A Sourcebook of Sonny Terry Licks for Blues Harmonica” (Centerstream/Hal Leonard) *
“The Nasty Blues” (Centerstream/Hal Leonard)

FILMS and/or TV SOUNDTRACK WORK:
“The Distinguished Gentleman”
“Labor Of Love”
“Over The Edge”
“Walkabout”
“Beverly Hills Family Robinson”
“King Of The Hill”
“Rupert’s Land”
“12 Bucks”
“Kicking And Screaming”
“Free Your Mind”
“Do You Wanna Dance?”
“Johnny Bago”
“P.O.V.: Tobacco Blues”

COMMERCIALS:
Levi’s 501 Blues
Levi’s 501 Jeans
Disneyland
Warner Brothers
Meta-Creations
Hudson’s Grill
Radisson Hotels
The Beachrail
Honda USA

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2 Comments

  1. I was curious if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your blog?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more
    in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two images.

    Maybe you could space it out better?

  2. Thanks for the advice, much appreciated. The blog post that you just commented on was written way back when, and transferred to WordPress when the current site was set up. I’ll think about how I can break things up going forward.

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