How a Harmonica Almost Killed Me

It was an off night in Cincinnati..a weeknight. But I was going out anyway.

I had made plans to visit a local bar to see a really successful solo acoustic guy play – because he was booked everywhere all the time and I wanted to see what was up.

So, out I went. I got there early, got a table, had a beer. And I saw why this particular act was so popular right away.

At each table and all along the bar, this guy had put a sheet of paper and a pencil. The sheet of paper was filled with a list of about 200 songs, by artist.Surely they corresponded to the 3-inch binder on the music stand near the mic on stage. Brilliant! I would do it if I had the vocal chops to handle that diversity of styles. Alas…

So, mystery solved, I perused the list. I was delighted to find two Grateful Dead songs, so I picked one and got it in his set. Then he starts playing his set and he comes around to the OTHER Grateful Dead song from the list.

Hmmmmm…another mystery: who’s the other Deadhead in the room?

Well, he was pretty easy to spot. Long hair, chair-boogeying to the Dead tune. Soon we were drinking together and commiserating the loss of Jerry Garcia (a still-raw wound after 5 years) and getting along great.

Amid his tales of being a tour kid and having no direction anymore he reveals that he lives with his girlfriend, he has no job and he’s out of beer money now. So, he invites me over to his girlfriend’s apartment for a beer or two and maybe a smoke.

It wasn’t far from the bar – which wan’t far from my place. We were practically neighbors. Along the way it comes out that his girlfriend is a flight attendant and she’s out of town more often than not. He is relied on to take care of apartment stuff in her absence and she would leave him money to do so when needed. So he drank up all that money, again, and  she’s coming home tonight. I am told she will probably be there when we get there, so I’ll get to meet her.

Now, I’m no genius but at this point I figured out that my new pal was hoping to use me as a buffer against the gale-force shit-storm he was sure to walk into at home. I was totally down to see what would happen with that, so up we went.

She was so, so, so nice. To me. It was daggers for my buddy, though. She must have just gotten home…it seemed she was still in work mode. I was served a drink and made to feel at home.

Then, she politely told me that she would be taking my host for a private talk in the other room, and to please forgive leaving me alone like that, but it was something that just had to be talked out. I said it was no problem. My host on the other hand just had his buffer strategy destroyed.

Before he went in the other room with his lady, he reminded me that I mentioned playing harmonica while we were drinking at the bar. He quickly produced a harmonica and invited me to play it – really loud. I was catching on…I was going to drown out the negative vibes of their argument or fight or whatever with harmonica music.

Unfortunately, I had to tell him that I don’t play other people’s harmonicas. I was well-aware of all the stuff that gets up inside of them, sooooo.. ummm.. no.

Then, he had the idea that he could rapidly and effectively disinfect said harmonica with isopropyl alcohol. I was as eager as he was to be spared the sounds of fury he was about to withstand just a room away. And it was sweet that this couple had to have it out and NOW, but were so worried about my experience as a guest in their space. So I agreed to this plan.

He soaked the harmonica in alcohol and shook it out and handed it over saying, “Here, brother. I want you to wail, load and proud.” Then, in the other room he went.

Right around the same time the screaming started, I drew in my first loud, proud, wailing note on this harp. A real lung-buster…but an inhale rather than an exhale. That’s how you play blues harp, mostly…draw-in notes.

And suddenly my lungs felt like they had shrunk to the size of raisins. Flashing lights and alarm sirens started, dizziness and a feeling of upside-down, inside out followed. The alcohol was still busy evaporating when I sucked in that breath through those Hohner reeds. I was alone in the room and fighting to stay on my feet. I was wondering if I was going to die, and fairly amused at the police report that would result.

On the periphery of my awareness was the sound of the loud argument. It was mostly her yelling at him. But I was now aware that he was doing the yelling.

“Play!! PLAYYY!!! PLAY LOUDER!!!!”.

He was yelling at ME. I wasn’t doing my part to keep their fight from making me uncomfortable as their honored guest.

Well, I couldn’t breathe enough to even put a sentence together, but I hurled a few wheezy breathless “OK”s toward the door. Then I started trying to blow out through the harmonica – without breathing in through that lung-searing, death-dealing instrument from hell. It is totally counter-intuitive to not breathe in through a harmonica when one plays blues harp, by the way.

I managed to finally raise up enough of a ruckus on the harp just blowing out, and he stopped yelling at me and started back getting yelled at again. It was only a few minutes more and they came out.

“I thought you said you could play harmonica”, says he.

So I told him about the alcohol vapors and thinking I was going to die, and only playing just by blowing out and how that was all wrong for blues harp. He asked to see the harp, so I gave it to him. He smelled it, played it a little. “Seems fine” says he.

Sure enough, all the alcohol had evaporated by now and i couldn’t even smell a trace. I offered to play again, for real this time, but the need was no longer present and I was soon on my way. Oh, and I lived to tell the tale.

Speaking of tales, there’s one being told on Patreon right now. More behind-the-scenes recording video is up and a second tune is well on its way to being finished. I would invite you to jump on over to Patreon right now to check it out, but you can’t!

It’s true…these last two or three posts have been for patrons only. Of course there is a lot of public stuff up there to view, and there will be more in the future.

So, instead I must invite you over to our Patreon channel to become a patron of The Merry Jaynz for as little as a dollar a month. Then you can view all the patron-only stuff you want!

Thanks for hanging with us and we hope everybody got their 2018 calendars!

Peace and Love,

Tom and Susan