The Harps and Gear I Used to Record “50 Grand”
“50 Grand” is the only piece on my record “The Lucky One” that has something close to a standard 12-bar blues structure. I broke up the 12-bar form with a vamp that includes a cool harmonica horn section, and the lyric structure–unlike a typical blues–does not repeat lines. So it’s a blues, but it’s not quite a traditional blues.
You can hear the full version of “50 Grand” using the player below. “50 Grand” is the third song–use the fast forward button to scroll to it.
As you can hear, the harmonica work on this song is all about the blues. The piece is dedicated to Charlie Musselwhite and Little Feat, and you can hear the former in the harp fills and solo and the latter in the groove and the arrangement.
The rhythm section on “50 Grand” is the same as every other song on the record: Mike “SloMo” Brenner on lap steel, Mark Schreiber on drums, and John Cunningham on bass. To that I add a whole lotta harmonica tracks, all recorded with a Seydel Session Steel harp in Bb played in second position, a Audix Fireball V mic, and a Digitech RP500 running my patch set:
That’s seven harp parts in this piece. Wow! In performance, I think you can get by with two–we’ll talk about that in a minute.
Recording “50 Grand”
In the studio, I recorded fills and a solo live with the band while I did a scratch vocal. I ended up keeping the fills and recording another solo in my studio, using the same ChampB patch. The great thing about using the RP500 with a direct line to the board (either audio or USB, take yer pick) is that every time you record with that patch, you’ll get the same sound. So you need to overdub a phrase or an entire solo later? No problem.
I laid in the horn section, organ, autowah, and chunka-chunk parts in straight passes (more or less) in my home studio, connecting the RP500 via USB to the Sonar software I use for recording. The solo was the most demanding part of this process, because, well, y’know, I like my solos to sound good. Or better yet, great. It took me a little while to decide that I wanted to re-do the solo I’d done in the studio, which was really pretty good, but did I mention that I prefer great? Once I decided to re-do it, I recorded the first two choruses in one pass, and the third in 2-3 takes.
Then it was on to the vocals, which is another story for another time.
Performing “50 Grand”
So there are seven harp parts on this record. Hmmmm… I doubt that I will frequently see seven harp players on any stage, for any reason, playing this song included. However, the most important harmonica parts on this piece are the organ sound and the lead. It might be nice to have a third harp player to cover one or more of the horn section lines, but you’d get a pretty good horn section sound with one of the players covering the low octave and the other covering either the high octave or the normal range blues harp. (Or two of any of those parts, assuming one player equipped with two RPs running in parallel, or with a single multitimbral pitch shfiter such as a HOG or POG from Electro-Harmonix. Easy enough if you have the gear.) With three harp players, you could cover the whole section. Because the sounds are right at your feet with the RP500, the harp players can just switch back and forth between sounds as needed with a footswitch press. Easy. Get a harp-playing buddy and start working those parts out!
While you’re here, take another listen to the record, and maybe even go buy it!
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