Credentials and influences

Playing in Yucaipa, CA with the Jim Gray Band. Ben Perez on bass, Gary Travis on vocals.
]1 Playing in Yucaipa, CA with the Jim Gray Band. Ben Perez on bass, Gary Travis on vocals.
  • Stole my first harmonica while a teenager. The rightful owner never asked for it back, probably because he told me I was better.
  • First appearance at a jam session: 1986, with jazz combo Top Secret in Colton, CA. I think we did Miles Davis’ All Blues.
  • First paid gig: 1987, in San Bernardino, CA with the group Sangre Latina.
  • Since then, it’s been quite a ride. Played with a number of groups in southern California, Arizona, Indiana, and the Carolinas.

At the Marshgrass Festival, Folly Beach SC, 2006.
With Laney & The Tubtones at the Marshgrass Festival, Folly Beach SC, 2006. I’m the well-dressed one. Yes, that is a washtub bass.


  • Harp man with twin bands Laney and the Tubtones (bluegrass), and the Pluff Mud Pickers (Americana). We met at various jam sessions throughout town, played together, and liked what we heard. The Pickers touched on older country music, folk-rock, beach, blues, jazz, and good ol’ down-home boogie.
  • Played with the band at Northwood Baptist Church, North Charleston SC. Played with the Jim Gray Band, Riverside CA.
  • Also played monthly in a pick-up band for Nights Of Hope And Joy, a regular party for caregivers and care recipients hosted by the Purple City Alliance, Riverside CA. A regular with the Folly Beach (SC) Bluegrass Society.
  • Also played a lot with Everette Bigbee at his jam sessions. Always fun. Criscrossed the country, playing harp with various groups in California, Arizona, Indiana, North and South Carolina, and points beyond.

“So what else do you play?”

I tried not to for a long time. Better to completely own one instrument than to suck at several, I used to say. But maybe because I want to hear some new sounds I started looking in different directions.

For my last milestone birthday (not gonna tell you which one) I treated myself to a tenor sax and started getting busy. That was a few years ago, and now I’m at the point where I’m playing it (along with alto) in live settings. Tenor is now considered my primary instrument in some circles, and the harps are getting jealous. If nothing else, watching me juggle all these instruments ought to be entertaining.


  • On harp: Rod Piazza, William Clarke (both from my home town), plus guys like Lee Oskar, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Howard Levy (who is IT as far as I’m concerned), Mickey Raphael, Charlie McCoy.
  • My REAL influences: Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Louis Jordan, Illinois Jacquet, Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie, Bill Monroe.
  • Also a few local guys I learned from back in California and Arizona: Dave Freidman, a keyboardist who urged me to shut up while he was singing (A very useful phrasing lesson that all aspiring harpists and guitarists should learn), “Patch,” a bassist who sat with me and showed me some music theory, and “Uncle George,” a guitarist who taught me the difference between shredders and pickers.

What I bring to the party:

  • Strong lead playing, from simple to complex. Radar-gun licks, smooth and soulful runs, edgy phrasing, it’s all there.
  • Ensemble playing: Can fill things out and stay out of the way at the same time.
  • Energy level. Sometimes it’s enough to raise the whole band’s level of play.
  • Good working knowledge of theory, Circle of Fifths and the Nashville Number System. This gives me an idea of why I play what I play and when I play it. Or something.
  • A sense of fun and adventure. This keeps the music sounding fresh.
  • Team player. The whole point of playing is to make the music sound great. I’d rather check my ego in at the door and just play, man.

So what gear do I use?

Everybody asks, so here’s the lowdown.