Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast

Cheryl Arena interview

September 01, 2022 Neil Warren Season 1 Episode 68
Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast
Cheryl Arena interview
Show Notes Chapter Markers

Cheryl Arena joins me on episode 68.

Cheryl is a blues player and singer from the Boston area. She integrated herself into the local music scene there by setting up a jam session near Berklee college, drawing in the great musicians from there. And then set-up another residency with guest musicians joining the house band. Her deep love for the music has taken Cheryl far and wide, and gave her the opportunity to meet and play with some of her harmonica idols, including Junior Wells. This led to her appearing in two blues documentaries: one about Maxwell Street and another about James Cotton. 

Cheryl now runs The Harmonica Experience camp twice a year in the home of the blues, Clarkesdale, Mississippi, where she uses her mouth-on (the harmonica) approach. 


Cheryl's website:


Harmonica Experience teaching camp:


Sonny Junior playing with Sugar Ray:

With Big Band:

The ‘Harmonica Experience’ overview, with Charlie Musselwhite:

Blog on ‘The Harmonica Experience’:

Greasy Gravy on chromatic:

Stormy Weather:

Big Road in duo  with Sonny Collie:

Off The Wall:

Podcast website:

If you want to make a voluntary donation to help support the running costs of the podcast then please use this link (or visit the podcast website link above):

Spotify Playlist:
Also check out the Spotify Playlist, which contains most of the songs discussed in the podcast:

Podcast sponsors:
This podcast is sponsored by SEYDEL harmonicas - visit the oldest harmonica factory in the world at www.seydel1847.com  or on Facebook or Instagram at SEYDEL HARMONICAS
and Blows Me Away Productions: http://www.blowsmeaway.com/

Cheryl is based near Boston, in the US
Cheryl wanted to be a drummer but parents got her accordion lessons
Bought first harmonica age 15
Had heard James Cotton play on his visits to Boston
Had some lessons with Sonny Junior
Didn’t know about the different keys when started playing
Played guitar and bass for several years and put down the harp for 15 years
Took up harp again aged 30 and it became her main instrument
Took up singing after re-started on harmonica
Took a job driving a limousine so could practise harp while waiting around
Used the pandemic to practise playing harp on a rack with guitar
Ambitions to play rack harp with drums
Teaches band ensemble playing in hometown
Started a jam session near Berklee College, and started singing there
Had to sing to get gigs as not many bands want only a harmonica player
How to develop your singing
Listened to a lot of music to develop playing
Worked on emulating different instruments (especially horns), not just harmonica
Harmonica influences
Taking up harp at a slightly older age, and Cheryl’s teaching of adults
Jam Cheryl ran near Berklee School of Music is where she met her band and started gigging regularly
Hosted a separate event for guest musicians a few years later, meeting a lot of great players
Became a full-time musician in 1991, and travels to the South of the US where the blues began
Met Junior Wells as a result of attending a Save Maxwell Street protest, and appeared in a movie and played on Maxwell Street
Appeared in a movie about James Cotton, coming out soon
Played a gig as part of the movie and Cheryl played a gig with James Cotton’s band
Released ‘Blues Got Me’ album in 2003
Cheryl approach to songwriting
Also protested about tearing down recording studio where Robert Johnson recorded
Recorded a harmonica version of a horn instrumental
Played with a big band while living in Texas
Played in a church band in Dallas, as well as other musical adventures there 1.29
Likes to sing jazz songs
Parents weren’t supportive of Cheryl in her music
Plays a version of Stormy Weather, taken from a Jerry Portnoy album
Doesn’t play overblows
Acoustic playing
Started playing in a duo recently and plans to play some guitar, use a rack
What’s it like being a woman in male dominated music scene and encouragement for more women to take up harp
Why more men play musical instruments
Cheryl runs The Harmonica Experience harmonica camp twice a year at Clarkesdale, the home of the blues
Played at The King Biscuit festival and meeting Pinetop Perkins and others
Cheryl took over running the camps from Jon Gindick
Lots of jamming in a ‘mouths-on’ operation
Harmonica is focus of the camp, although other instruments are covered
Charlie Musselwhite came to the Harmonica Experience camp
Cheryl loves to teach
Mississippi vibe of the camp
Diversity of blues music
Was a dancer before a musician
Fan of Howling Wolf and his groove
Jason Ricci took Cheryl to a Juke Joint
House of Blues was near where Cheryl grew up, and meeting lots of musicians there, including RL Burnside
10 minute question
Cheryl is a Hohner endorsee
Plays Hohner Super 64 chromatic
Doesn’t really use different tunings
Mainly plays 2nd and 3rd and 1st position
Doesn’t use any effects
Future plans