Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast

Tom Ball interview

January 22, 2022 Neil Warren Season 1 Episode 54
Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast
Tom Ball interview
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Tom Ball joins me on episode 54.

From Los Angeles, but long time resident of Santa Barbara, he started playing guitar in the popular local folk scene before Sonny Terry turned him on to the sound of acoustic harmonica.
He then met Kenny Sultan, to form possibly the longest surviving acoustic blues duo. They have now been performing together for over 42 years and have recorded eight albums together. As well as session work for commercials, television and film, and toured the world together.

On top of this Tom has over 300 album credits as a sideman with other artists, has written three harmonica instruction books, a guitar instruction book, two fictional books and released some solo guitar albums.



Sonny Terry licks book:

Little Walter / Big Walter licks:

Music Library sampler clips:


Filthy Rich with Kenny Sultan:

David Barrett interview: demo of wah and growl

Nagasaki Sails From Uranus:

NHL festival 2003:

Spah 2012, playing Don’t Get Around Much Anymore:

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/

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Born in LA, and has lived in Santa Barbara for many years
Started out playing guitar, then harmonica on a rack
Heard Sonny Terry playing to put him on the path of playing harmonica
Ash Grove club in Los Angeles had lots of blues acts appearing
The wealth of harp players from the West Coast of the US
Didn’t continue playing harmonica on a rack with guitar for too long
Started out singing age 15, in his first blues band, and advantage of singing and playing harp together
Tom is singer and harmonica player in duo, but done lots of sideman work as harmonica player only
Tom has released four solo guitar albums, with another one about to be released
How guitar playing has informed his harmonica playing
The need to diversify to make a living as a musician
Tom has been in a duo with Kenny Sultan for over 42 years
Usually there albums are 50/50 split of just duo then duo plus guest musicians
How the duo formed with Kenny and payment for first gig
Tips to emulate the long career Tom has enjoyed in the duo
Picked up a lot of work being close to LA
Duo performs a mix of originals and covers, with the covers more obscure songs
Tom writes the lyrics for the duo, which are witty and have good blues themes
Recorded 8 albums with Kenny Sultan, first one ‘Confusion’ in 1981
Second album ‘Who Drank My Beer’
How they persuaded Flying Fish records to sign them to their label, who they recorded four albums with
First live record was 20th anniversary concert
Haven’t recorded a duo record since 2005, and the demise of the blues album
Covered a few of Blind Blake’s songs
It Should’ve Been Me song written by Tom
Covered Sonny Terry songs and the
Has written several instructional books, including of Sonny Terry & Little Walter / Big Walter licks, and two fictional books
Tom is a pucker player and Sonny Terry and Little Walter / Big Walter approaches
Produces a great growl and wah on the harmonica
Doesn’t play a lot of electric harmonica on albums, but usually a few songs on each
The 20th Anniversary Live album
Played a 40th anniversary concert in 2019 (which wasn’t recorded)
How Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee relationship deteriorated towards the end
Tom released a harmonica orchestra single where he plays all the different harmonicas
How to make it easier to play the bass harmonica
Session work, with over 300 album credits to his name, helped by proximity to LA
How approaches non-blues session work
The great tone that Norton Buffalo achieved
Has created a music library to be picked up for tv programmes, etc.
Recorded some sessions for Levi commercials in the 1980s
Lots of TV appearances around the world, including falling over on-stage live on Hungarian TV
Played in the same festival as Paul Simon and Bob Dylan
Appeared at the NHL festival in the UK in 2003 and two appearances at SPAH
Does a little private teaching
Played at the Olympic Games in LA in 1984
10 minute question
Doesn’t use overblows and wealth of learning material available now
Likes to play Hohner Special 20 harmonicas and Blue Moon customisation
Different tunings
Different positions
Tom plays quite a lot of fast licks
Some of the puckering techniques Tom uses
Acoustic and electric mics used, and recording process
What did over pandemic and future plans