Mark Hummel

Mark Hummel
Harmonica Blow-out Coming to Sculler's

By Karen Nugent
March 2007

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When West Coast harmonica ace Mark Hummel decided to bring his popular harmonica blow-out show to our coast last year, he was told it wouldn’t go over very well.

But those naysayers proved to be wrong, luckily for us, as the show is headed to Sculler’s in Allston for a March 13 blowout featuring harp legends Charlie Musselwhite and Kim Wilson.

“Last year was a roaring success,” Hummel said, from a van en route with his band from Gainesville, Fla., at the start of the five-week tour. They will do 15 blow-outs in 17 days, he said.

Both Musselwhite and Wilson have played in the blow-outs several times since Hummel started them in 1991, and they’ve also attracted the likes of James Cotton, Carey Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, Magic Dick, Jerry Portnoy, and Paul Oscher.

Hummel said the Sculler’s show will consist of three 30-minute sets by each harpist. That will likely be followed by a duet with acoustic guitar and harp, and all three guys singing. And there could be jamming: Hummel said if Portnoy or Magic Dick – both local boys - happen to be in the audience, they’ll be asked to come up to the bandstand.

“We’ve had seven or eight harp players on the stage at once, jamming,” Hummel said.

The harpists will be backed by Bob Welsh on guitar and keyboard, Steve Wolf on bass and Marty Dodson on drums.

Hummel sort of stumbled onto the blow-out idea 15 years ago, after an impromptu performance on what was predicted to be a slow, Sunday night at a California club.

“I was looking for some extra work; it was the Sunday of Martin Luther King weekend. Well, about 150 people showed up, and the club owner asked us to come back and do the same thing next year” Hummel said.

It continued to expand, he said, with blow-outs of 8 to12 dates each scheduled throughout California by 1997, and bigger and bigger names added to the lineup.

Although Oakland, Calif.-based Hummel, 51, is described as a “West Coast style” harmonica player, he says he was influenced by Chicago and Delta greats such as Cotton, Mussselwhite, Little Walter, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Rogers, and Eddie Taylor.

He said “West Coast style” is a bit of a misnomer, because while the style incorporates swing, jump blues and rock ‘n roll, it is Chicago based.

“Look at Little Walter, he swung like mad,” Hummel said.

Born in New Haven, Conn., his family moved to California when he was a baby. In high school, he and most of his friends were in rock bands, but at one point, he heard a Willy Dixon song, and saw a clip of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and was drawn to blues.

He got hooked on harmonica, he said, after seeing a series of shows with Cotton, McGhee and Terry, and then Musselwhite at the Ashgrove club in L.A.

“This was three shows, within months of each other,” Hummel said.

After moving to Berkeley, Calif., in 1972, he began playing with local bluesmen Sonny Lane, Mississippi Johnny Waters, Boogie Jake, and Cool Pap. In 1980, Hummel took the helm of the Blues Survivors Band, releasing Playing In Your Town in 1985, and literally doing just that – hitting the road.

“I’ve been on the road since 1984. When you’re a blues musician, you’ve got no choice” he said.

His latest album, Ain’t Easy No More was released in September on Electro-Fi Records. It features the Blues Survivors, with Charles Wheal on guitar, and Dodson, Welsh and Wolf, his band from the blow-outs.

The blow-outs generally attract sell-out crowds. For tickets or information, call Sculler’s, which is in the Doubletree Guest Suites hotel off Memorial Drive, at  (617) 783-0090.

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