Lee Oskar’s Favorite (Harmonica) Things
Lee Oskar is one of the most widely-heard harmonica players of all time. He is best-known for his work with the band War, where his “horn section” with saxophonist Charles Miller created one of the most unique sounds in the history of rock. His composition “Low Rider” has been covered by a boatload of artists in a wide range of musical genres, and remains one of the most enjoyable funk instrumentals ever written. And, of course, he’s the Lee Oskar behind Lee Oskar harmonicas. (I am a Lee Oskar endorsee, and have used Lee’s instruments since 1986.) For more information on Lee, see his official bio at Lee’s artist web page.
We asked Lee 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?
Lee’s answers are below. We note in particular Lee’s very personal choices of gear, which are VERY different from the usual blues harp rig. It’s obvious that Lee thinks deeply about his sound, and chooses gear that expresses his unique musical personality. We thank Lee for this gift to harmonica players everywhere.
Lee’s Top 5 Records
I never had a record player before I joined Eric Burdon. Ray Charles, Stanley Turentine, Roland Kirk, like on “Volunteered Slavery” and “The Inflated Tear”, I listened to all of them, and they had a major influence on me. Charles Miller, the saxophonist in War, was a big influence too.
I was very fond of Larry Adler’s music in the early days, and he and I became very good friends. He really liked my music, and it was very flattering. When he came to LA, he would call me and I would pick him up, take him to the Johnny Carson show. He was amazing.
Lee Oskar diatonics, mostly Natural Minors and Melody Makers, some Harmonica Minors. Most of the stuff with War was done with a standard major (Richter-tuned) diatonic. It was very frustrating to me. I wanted to do east Indian music and other stuff, and musically overblows weren’t very appealing, especially when you consider the intonation problems of playing with the sax.
Stage: It depends on the music. My on-stage and studio handheld mic is an M160 Beyerdynamic double ribbon. I’ve used it for over 30 years. The M160 Byerdynamic is very “flat” (in terms of frequency response). It’s not as easy to blow out as you might think, too. I have them serviced occasionally, but I’ve never had one fail.
My current amp is a Shenandoah 200 by GenzBenz. I also like the Roland Jazz Chorus 120 and the Trace Elliott 100. I always like to start with a clean sound. You can’t really add to a sound; you can only take away. You can always make a clean sound dirty, but you can’t go the other way.
For effects pedals, I use two Digitech Whammy pedals, one set to an octave down, the other to chorus. I also like the Boss OC-2 analog octave doubler pedal. I have a custom made envelope filter pedal with the EQ designed by me. I use other effects pedals depending on what I want at the time. I don’t use distortion devices.
Reverbs and delays are important. I prefer high-end Lexicons. I have in my concert contract rider that I get two Lexicons. I use one for reverb and one for delay. TC Electronics makes good stuff too, but Lexicon gear is more widely available, and you always have to give the promoters 2-3 options. (Richard Hunter note: Lexicon makes reverbs selling for as little as $200 street price, and even the low-end models like the MPX110 sound great on stage and in the studio.)
When I play live, it’s important to me to use a direct box. My favorite is the Rapco Sweet T Tube DI. Regardless, I always use a DI box and run the effects into the DI, then run the DI to both the amp and the PA.
Everyone should carry their own mics, both for the sound and because of health reasons. I think it’s ridiculous when people mic an amp with any old mic that’s available. If you’re going to mic your amp, you should choose a particular mic. If it was me, I’d use the Beyerdynamic M160.
Studio: I’m always looking at new preamps. Pendulum Audio and the Vipre by Groove Tubes are my current favorites. There are lots of good preamps out there. Pendulum is a handmade masterpiece. I also like the UA tube preamps.
See the discography at the Lee Oskar website.
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