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Life of a road musician

Sunday, September 03, 2006 2:37:57 PM

I wrote about harmonica virtuoso Jason Ricci on my blog a while back. It has always been amazing to me how some people can rise to the top and become successful while others more talented are often neglected or have to work like dogs to make a living. It has always been the case, unfortunately. A band I played with for over 10 years could never break out the grind of being a part-time local band. We all had day jobs because none of us had the willingness to take a chance on a shot that might never happen. A new article at Mercury News ( talks about Ricci's trials and tribulations on the road playing 300-320 nights a year for little money:

"Everyone keeps telling me they know someone, or they can help me, but nothing ever happens. I'm going to play 320 nights this year for a few hundred dollars a night. I'm getting really tired of it. I don't think it's ever going to happen."

His playing is a revelation, and at times seems beyond human capacity, hitting notes that few other players can find. Sometimes he stretches out impossibly long blue notes. Then he fires off a machine-gun-fast, perfectly precise volley to get people dancing.

At one point, he does a tribute to great harmonica players, including Little Walter and Magic Dick, wrapping their hardest riffs inside even harder ones of his own, orchestrating a solo symphony of five songs simultaneously.

And he doesn't just do it for an hour or two, like most performers. He runs at top speed for four hours a night, playing and singing, with barely a break between songs.

"He is to the harmonica what Eddie Van Halen was to the guitar," said Robert Bonfiglio, one of the world's most respected classical harmonica players, who saw Ricci play for the first time in Denver last month at the 43rd annual convention of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica. "He has changed the instrument. It will never be seen the same way again. Players after him will want to sound like that."

I finally saw Jason a couple months ago locally and was blown away, not only by the amazing virtuosity of his playing, but also by his willingness to hang out with the fans and talk shop. His band is hot, and the music is original and catchy. Hopefully the word will get out on Jason Ricci and New Blood. The times seem right:

At a time when harmonicas have been getting the most recognition in years -- from "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks to "America's Got Talent" runner-up L.D. Miller -- Ricci has been packing blues clubs across the country. He's played more than 300 shows each of the past five years.

I've been focusing more and more recently on my own harmonica playing, but I do it strictly for fun and love of music. I have come to the realization a long time ago that I have neither the drive nor the talent to ever become a full-time musician. Still, listening to Jason's playing has only made my own playing stronger.

Jason's site is at Stop by and buy a CD, or check out the tour schedule for a show near you.

Category tags: Music, Blues

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