Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Right Tool For the Job

Here's one I've read about/been aware of for ages without ever actually having heard it. From 1962, and the Harry Belafonte album of the same name, it's Bob Dylan's first appearance on a commercially released LP, playing harmonica on a cover of the venerable "Midnight Special."

To be honest, I could have cheerfully gone the rest of my life without having listened to this had I not chanced on the following amusing anecdote about it from an interview with the venerable singer/actor/activist in the current issue of MOJO. Here's Belafonte recalling the session for the song:
It was supposed to be Sonny Terry, but he got grounded by a thunderstorm in Memphis and couldn't make the date. My guitarist Millard Thomas said, "Well, there's this I kid I see all the time down in the Village, and he does that whole Sonny thing...he sleeps and dreams it." So I said, "We don't have a choice I guess. Go find him."

And this skinny kid appeared, and he had a paper sack with him full of harmonicas in different keys. I played the song for him and he pulled one out of the bag, dipped it in water, and played through a single take, and it was great. I loved it. I asked him if he wanted to try another take and he said, "No." I asked him if he wanted to hear it back, and he said, "No." He just headed for the door, and threw the harmonica into the trash can on his way out.

I remember thinking 'Does he have that much disdain for what I'm doing?' But I found out later that he bought his harps at the Woolworth drugstore. They were cheap ones, and once he'd gotten them wet and really played through them as hard as he did, they were finished...