Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast

Jim Conway interview

February 06, 2022 Neil Warren Season 1 Episode 55
Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast
Jim Conway interview
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Jim Conway joins me on episode 55.
Jim is an Australian harmonica player who rose to fame at the age of 19 in the jug band: The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, with the first two albums from the band receiving gold record status. Jim also played kazoo with Captain Matchbox to great effect. The band evolved into the Conway Brothers act, before Jim decided he couldn’t continue after being diagnosed with MS.
But it wasn’t long before he felt the music calling him again and he joined The Backsliders, a blues band which he was a member of for seventeen years. He then went on to form a band under his own name, Jim Conway’s Big Wheel.
As well as some notable recordings as a session musician, including some film work, Jim also enjoyed the the great honour of touring Australia with Brownie McGhee in the late 1980s.


The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band:
Mobile Line: https://youtu.be/eJ2wBc2tXXs
Your Feet’s Too Big: https://youtu.be/7uWT3aQZjDA
I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants In My Pants):

Playing chromatic with Captain Matchbox:

Conway Brothers Hiccups Orchestra - Dinosaur Songs:

Playing I Wish You Would with The Backsliders:

Sydney Paralympics Opening Ceremony:

Documentary film on Jim:

Podcast website:

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Jim is from Sydney, Australia
How he got started playing harmonica
Formed a jug band at school with his brother Mic: The Jelly Bean jug band
Brother-in-law to be showed Jim the basics of how to play harp, and he picked it up very quickly
Grandfather was a renowned organ player who recorded some of first movie music in Australia
Also has two relatives who were opera singers
Early harmonica influences, including Memphis Jug Band and Junior Wells
Blues scene in Australia
Went to the same high school as Kylie Minogue (not at the same time)
Jelly Bean Jug band morphed into The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band
Jim was instrumental in the rise in popularity of the jug band in Australia
First two albums with Captain Matchbox were gold records
Humour was a big part of the band, with videos available on YouTube
Role of harmonica in jug band music
Jim was also an accomplished kazoo player
Any comparisons between playing kazoo and harmonica?
Jim did some of the singing in Captain Matchbox, but brother was frontman
The more Vaudeville elements of the band started to take Jim away from his true love, playing blues music
The rise to fame of Captain Matchbox, when Jim was just 19
How it felt to be propelled to harmonica stardom
Had a job as a film editor before music took off
Captain Matchbox first album was Smoke Dreams, in 1972
Second album: Wangaratta Wahine in 1974
Started bringing some gypsy jazz influences into the band
Used a lot of first position playing, which he mainly developed by himself
First position cut through in jug band setting
Reunion tour in 2011 with Captain Matchbox
Jim’s Big Wheel band
The jug band morphed into the Conway Brothers Hiccup Orchestra band, who appeared at the Edinburgh Festival
Dinosaur Party album by Conway Brothers
Jim was diagnosed with MS in 1983, and after a few years decided to leave the Conway Brothers band
Joined the Backsliders three-piece acoustic blues act
Jim’s fame helped established the Backsliders on the music scene
Difference in moving from a Jug Band to a blues act
First album recorded with The Backsliders: Sitting On A Million in 1989,
Jim co-produced Sitting On A Million album
My Creole Bell song is playing using a high G tuned diatonic
Second album with The Backsliders: Hellhound
Recorded a version of I Wish You Would with another player, Chris Wilson
Live album with The Backsliders and Georgia Rag song, played in country harp style
Charlie McCoy’s playing on Candy Man was one of the first songs Jim learnt on harmonica
Poverty Deluxe album with The Backsliders, which had more self-penned songs from the guitarist
Jim doesn’t use effects pedals, using his own playing techniques to create different sounds
Hanoi album has a Vietnamese angle
Resigned from The Backsliders in 2006
Formed and band under his own name: Jim Conway’s Big Wheel
Often played chromatics in different keys to play melodic lines
The decision to retire from performing on harmonica
Played the opening ceremony of the Australian Paralympics in 2000
Toured Australia with Brownie McGhee
Recorded some film music
The Jim Conway Blues documentary and another in the pipeline
Used to teach the harmonica, but not anymore
In 2003 awarded the Centenary Medal for contribution to the Arts
10 minute question
Harmonicas of choice and using a blacksmith to build him custom harps
Different tunings
Amps and mics
Acoustic equipment used
How MS has impacted his harmonica playing, but he still plays for his own pleasure
Jim still enjoys the harmonica