"by John Popper
John Popper on Harp Archives; usenet article, National
May 17th, 1994
May 17th, 1994 - John Popper on Harp Archives; usenet article
To all the harmonica players, Internet "Bulldogs", & anyone else interested, etc;
Everyone, it has come to my attention that there is a series of debates going on "Internet". At the heart of these debates are several issues I will address each in turn. Firstly, the facts; I have never been nor do I intend on going to a "Harmonica convention" in Chicago or anywhere else for that matter. It seems to me that harp players enjoy being a persecuted race, which enables them to separate themselves from other musicians and go around like half-cocked gun fighters deciding who "the best harper is". This is the silliest premise I've ever had to deal with and is precisely the reason why I will never go to a harmonica convention. I'm a musician, that means I enjoy playing music, not being a harmonicist. My influence more than anyone else was Jimi Hendrix who played the guitar--but he did more than play the guitar. It was as if it didn't matter what instrument he was using, the voice he created with the sounds he was able to produce transcended any category of sections he would sit in, in a big orchestra. He sang, and I desire to sing as well. I don't care if I play harmonica, the trombone, or the saxophone, as did my other idol -- Charlie Parker. If you're concerned about what instrument you're playing then you're missing a more important point of what you're saying on your instrument. The object of the game, boys and girls, is to express what you mean honestly and share it. And for those of you who don't understand that -- I'm a little embarrassed for you.
I used to twirl my harp like a "six gun" and go around dueling people. I was good at it - "The Best Around" (A regular Jesse James). Until one day I walked into Dan Lynch's Blues Bar on 2nd Avenue. There I saw an old harmonica player I knew from around the scene who was playing that night with his band. He looked at me worried and motioned to me that he'd let me up in a few minutes to play. I could see the fear in his eye, little beads of sweat forming - I felt good and smug and proud of myself that I could instill such fear in an old man. But while I was waiting around to destroy him I started to notice the house. The people were smiling having a good time and dancing to this old man. He was rocking the place -- they were enjoying his simple straight ahead blues groove. I knew that if I got up and "smoked" this guy the crowd would no longer be satisfied with what this guy was doing. In effect, I could have walked into that bar, ruined the night for everyone, and left. It was at that precise moment that I realized and suddenly became very ashamed, I felt like a big bully with a small penis. I vowed never again to twirl a "six gun", sorry kids but music is not a competitive sport no matter how hard you try and you could never make me see it that way. And I feel sorry for you if you do.
The only reason I have dignified this silly debate with a response is to correct a slander committed on 2 of my friends. Namely, Howard Levy and Bruce Willis. It is for their sake I write this letter. Bruce Willis has been a good friend of the band since 1989, and like me he has no illusions about being the best harmonica player on earth. He, like me, simply loves music. Howard Levy has been a friend of mine since the 1st Horde when the flecktones played with us, I know not what illusions he has, for in my estimation he is the technically best harmonica player on earth. He is a rocket scientist when in comes to the physics of playing the harmonica and I have seen him do the most amazing things. He can literally move his mouth in two directions at once playing separate melodies independently of each other. But as great as he is I have utterly no desire to imitate or play like him. I want to play my voice, and I honestly believe that is the reason Howard enjoyed jamming together with me. How boring it would have been had Howard and I simply compared chops, who's got the biggest schlong contest and nothing more.
For those of you who like my band, my songwriting, or my playing, thank you -- It gives me joy to do. For those of you who try to figure out how I play or even my style of songwriting - keep going and make sure you take the music further -- more power to you. But for those of you who are disappointed that I'm not "The Best" I can only offer apologies that your penises will not grow any longer than they are. And here do I attest for all the world to know that there is no best. There's never supposed to be one best. Even Howard Levy or Babe Ruth would tell you that. Now go to your corners and come out fighting and be nice to each other, that's what internets are for.
All my love and faith,