WATERLOO – If you’ve ever dreamed about jamming on blues harp — if you actually knew how to play harmonica — your big break may be here at last.
Texas blues-soul-rock guitarist and harmonica player Hamilton Loomis will teach a Beginner Blues Harmonica workshop on Monday and Tuesday at Bryan’s on Fourth, 320 E. Fourth St.
And you don’t need a lick of musical talent to participate.
“It’s a very user-friendly instrument. I can get people playing in the first 15 minutes, and people of all ages have done my workshops. It’s something different, quirky and fun,” said Loomis, who lives in Houston.
His band has performed in the metro area numerous times over the past 20 or so years and filmed their live DVD at the Hub in Cedar Falls. On Wednesday, he’ll perform at Spicoli’s in Waterloo, beginning at 7 p.m.
Loomis was a protégé of R&B and rock legend Bo Diddley and was mentored by the likes of bluesmen Albert Collins and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. He taught himself to play drums, piano, guitar and harmonica.
Teaching other people to play harmonica, however, was initially a challenge.
“I was asked by a Houston company, Leisure Learning, to teach a class. I’d never taught before, so it was like tossing the baby bird out of the nest. You learn real quick how to fly,” he recalled, laughing.
That was 20 or so years ago. Since then he’s taught hundreds of people how to play the mouth harp.
Harmonica is an improvisational instrument, he pointed out, and admittedly, it’s hard to teach improv. With experience, Loomis has distilled his knowledge into easy-to-master techniques that work in a six-hour workshop setting.
“It’s like learning a new language. In the first session, I teach the vocabulary — ‘here’s how to hold it, where to put your mouth.’ It’s the practical stuff. Then I insert blues into my big Bluetooth speaker and pretty soon, everyone is jamming with the music.”
On the second day, Loomis teaches participants advance techniques on how to trill, bend notes for soul and feeling, pitch down (to a lower pitch) and use their hands to create effects.
He laughs. “It really gives me a charge when I see those light bulbs go off over people’s heads as the workshop progresses. I can see people’s confidence getting higher, and they get louder and louder, and I start jumping around and getting into it. I love that stuff!”
Loomis also offers advice on how and what harmonicas to buy. A new, good-quality 10-hole harmonica comes along with the registration fee, but some players might want to step up to an even better instrument.
“Over the last 20 years, I’ve wasted a lot of damn money on harmonicas. Some look good, but aren’t, and you can’t return harmonicas. It’s worthwhile to know which ones are best,” he said.
Loomis’ debut album, “Hamilton,” received a Grammy nomination for best contemporary blues album in the late 1990s. Subsequently he has recorded and released nine or so albums, including the newest, “Basics.”
His band regularly tours through the U.S. and recently returned from the United Kingdom. Blues Blast magazine describes Loomis’ live performance as “a non-stop turbo of power, one minute moving from side to side on the side of the stage to taking on his horn player in a head-cutting contest ...”
P.S. To workshop attendees planning to see Loomis perform live — leave your harmonicas at home.