Sunday, May 23, 2010

Real People: A Man and his Harmonica

This is another instalment of the ‘real people’ series, if you can call it a series. Basically what I’m trying to do here is share some images and stories of interesting people, most often people who would never have a portrait taken in this regard, as they aren’t famous or public figures in any manner, etc. Just looking for everyday folks.(As always, click an image to see it larger)

With the above criteria in mind I asked Everett if I could take make some portraits of him and his harmonica. Everett is my next door neighbor – he moved into his house just shortly before we moved into ours. He also happens to be a rockin’ harmonica player, busting out the classics like no ones business (though the chances you'll hear him use the term ‘busting out’ are likely slim).

Hit the jump to keep reading about Everett and for some more photos.

I spent a decent amount of time with Everett and he played me a few songs and told me a bunch of stories about playing. Everett started playing harmonica when he was 4 years old, going on 5. That was in 1936. Now, Everett is 78, going on 79. When he started playing in school he was in a class of 30 people – all playing harmonica!

One of those stories was about how when he was somewhere down in Chicago, he would play harmonica, sometimes for 2 hours, so one man could practice tap dancing to the music that Everett was playing on his harp. That individual was Arthur Duncan; Arthur Duncan is a tap dancer known for his stint as a performer on the Lawrence Welk Show, and the first African-American regular on a variety television show. Everett told me that after being hired for the Lawrence Welk show Duncan sent him a letter thanking him, because without that harp music he wouldn’t have been able to practice his tap dancing as well; it was because of that practice he was hired for the show. Everett noted that Duncan’s shoes sounded really good.

Everett also told me about playing his harmonica with Myron Floren, who was best known as an accordionist on the Lawrence Welk show, down at a festival in the US. Everett definitely played his harmonica with a lot of interesting characters over the 74 years that he’s played. (He’s also a big fan of the Lawrence Welk show :))

Everett’s wife calls the large harmonica in the images here ‘the corn cob’. Perhaps fondly, you may think? Most likely not – Everett told me how when they moved to their new house, he found all of his harmonicas again – now that they are settled though they are slowly disappearing. He and his wife frequent garage sales, and Everett enjoys bringing a harmonica with him and playing at the sales while his wife looks around (much to her chagrin). The ‘corn cob’ is actually 6 or so harmonicas built together – all in different keys.

After we shot the images you see in this post, Everett wanted to show me his collection of records. Everett has a monster collection of Mrs. Mills records. I had to do a search myself – turns out Mrs. Mills is Gladys Mills, who shot to fame around the same time as The Beatles, and even shared space at Abbey Road Studios with them. Everett put Mrs. Mills record ‘Non-stop Honky Tonk’ on the player and kept telling stories about his life...

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