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rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 06/03/2004
Harmonica Joe: Rockford's #1 Guest Harp Player
by Lisa Palmeno
lpalmeno@sbcglobal.net
Harmonica Joe was born in Rockford in 1944. About nine years ago, at age 50, he began playing harmonica and soon became known around town as "Harmonica Joe." Joe is now the most regular guest harmonica player in town, and a vital part of the blues scene in Rockford. He lends his support by attending about eight shows per month, along with his wife, Alice. He brings friends and family out to the shows and serves as an active member of Crossroads Blues Society. Joe's enthusiasm for the blues is evident as he accepts every opportunity to play with and learn from the pros.

When asked about who inspired him to learn to play, he offers, "I chose the harmonica because I ran into Corky Siegel at On The Waterfront 16 years ago, and I was just blown away by his type of playing and the blues. I had a brief failed attempt at it then. I quit after two weeks and gave that harmonica away and waited six years to try again. Junior Wells, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Little Walter, Westside Andy, and my favorite, Ernie "Sugar Lips" Brown are the harmonica players that I like to listen to the most. Corky was the doorway to music for me, and I do keep in touch with him still by e-mail."

After meeting blues harpist Ernie "Sugar Lips" Brown five years ago, Joe says he "changed direction from "Home On The Range" to playing the blues. Since he made the switch, he has appeared as a guest player with numerous bands, playing several genres. "In the last five years I have sat in with about 35 bands," states Joe, "playing blues, country, rock, rockabilly and some Latin or Mexican styles as learning and fun experiences. These bands all treat the new guy really well. The first was Steve Ditzell with Dave Kaye at a blues jam at the Two Wheel Inn."

The list of groups jammed with includes Bea Brady Rock & Soul Revue, Up for Grabs, Pistol Pete, Combo Loco, Arlene Masters, Cardenas Band, Small Town Hixs, Toad Soup, Blues Hawks, Blues Handle, Mahoney Brothers, Hawkeye Herman, Tres Elliot Band, North South Connection, Fruteland Jackson, Ernie & The Po' Boys, Joanna Connor and Boulas, "Doug Furze", and Hotrod Hank and the Hollowbodies, just to mention a few! He says he also got the chance to play a little for Corky Siegel at a Beloit College student music class.

Harmonica Joe plays almost all Hohner 10-hole diatonic harmonicas. "I prefer to use the Special 20 model as the fit for my mouth is best," explains Joe. "I am now trying to play a chromatic Hohner with the help of my special friend Ernie Brown."

Although Joe has experimented with many types of music, he says blues is his favorite to play because "it is the real deal heart-felt music." "I got into music shows," tells Joe, "because of my interest in the harmonica and the desire to play one song on stage with a real blues band. Steve Ditzell gave me that first chance." Harmonica Joe appeared as a guest on stage with Ditzell at On The Waterfront 2002.

Joe also writes for Crossroads Blues Society's newsletter, providing insightful articles on local talent. He has worked at the Rockford Blues Fest in past years, belongs to the Quincy Blues Society, and works at the Quincy Blues Fest. He plans to pen some articles for Quincy's newsletter and says he also enjoys trying to help at benefits for musicians when he can.

Always thankful for opportunities given and supportive of those around him, Joe requested that some thank yous to be published along with this article, so here it goes:

"I do want to thank Bea Brady for creating Harmonica Joe; this is very special to me. I also want to thank her for dragging me to the 2000 Rockford Blues Fest. Thanks to Ernie Brown for giving me the chance to learn and being my friend, to Steve Ditzell and Dave Kaye, and special thanks to my friend Gerry Hundt, who has helped me a lot, and to all the music people who put up with me. Thanks to Alice for letting me do this music thing. Thanks to all the
bands that let me be there."
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