"My greatest hope is that I miraculously start getting physically younger while retaining all of my long developed skills and wisdom."
Jon Gindick: The Karma of Music
Jon Gindick is an American best-selling musical instruction author. He puts on 'Blues Harmonica Jam Camp,' a traveling seminar for harmonica players of all levels. Gindick is also a blues guitarist and singer. Jon studied trombone in elementary school, and started playing guitar at the age of 13. Influenced by The Beatles, he started playing harmonica at the age of 15. Influenced by Dylan, he began playing harp and guitar at the same time, and writing songs, in the late sixties. While getting his degrees in Sociology and Psychology and at UC Berkeley, Jon really majored in playing folk and blues harmonica and guitar on Sproul Plaza, the center of campus street fair scene. To Jon, it was a musical paradise, moving from group to group with his bag of harmonicas and guitar, getting introduced to the real folk and blues for the very first time. When Jon graduated from college, he worked in the fields and packing houses of California, loading box cars, and sometimes sleeping in them.
He wrote short stories, novels, trying to find himself as a writer, but finding greater creative outlet in music-making. Settling in Sacramento, CA in the mid 1970's, Jon started teaching harmonica, and found that he really enjoyed it. Over time he developed an easy system for understanding how to improvise. He began developing ideas about merging teaching with writing, and how to create a book that would come alive in people’s hands. Encouraged by his parents, Jon wrote and self-published his first book, The Natural Blues & Country Western Harmonica in 1977. Inspired by this success, Jon and published Rock n' Blues Harmonica, a book which used fiction and storytelling to reach its audience. In 1984, a young publishing company contacted Jon and asked if they could take over publishing of Jon's books. While Jon never gave up control of his properties, he did create a book, audio and harmonica kit (in this case a Pocket Pal harmonica). This book, Country and Blues Harmonica for the Musically Hopeless, made Jon one of the best-selling musicial instruction authors of all times. In 2002, after starting his family, Jon started Blues Harmonica Jam Camp, in cities across the US. Jon Gindick has graced the world with another collection of great stories full of fresh phrases and joyful tales of life, love and the blues on his second album “Love At The All Night Cafe” (2019). It’s also no coincidence that Gindick is also a master harmonica player, for his leads and solos are as fluid and lyrical as his vocal lines, as if he is singing through the blues harp. Gindick is backed by his trio of Ralph Carter on bass, guitarist Franck Goldwasser and Pete Gallagher on drums for a twelve-song set of foot stompin’ blues, swingin’ R&B, Calypso and soul.
Interview by Michael Limnios Photos by Karen Pulfer Focht
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
I have always been a player, not content with just listening. So to me, the blues has always been a challenge, a "practice", something to get better at, something to understand and teach, and to feel from the inside out. It demanded wild aggressive freedom to improvise, but it also required extreme sensitivity to adjust, stop on a dime, make sense of a chord change, figure out a melody, to arrange your part on the fly. As I dropped my shell and started to play with others, the Blues became a clarion call to courage, to step out, to perform, to organize events, to travel through life as a musician and bluesman.
What were the reasons that you started Sociology and Psychology studies?
Because I am interested in understanding and motivating people, and skillful with language and ideas.
How has Sociology and Psychology influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
I understand the value and impact of small groups and love to run them — in my case harmonica learning groups. Also helped me to understand how people learn, how they learn music, and the arts of persuasion.
Jon Gindick has graced the world with another collection of great stories full of fresh phrases and joyful tales of life, love and the blues on his second album “Love At The All Night Cafe” (2019). Gindick is backed by his trio of Ralph Carter on bass, guitarist Franck Goldwasser and Pete Gallagher on drums for a twelve-song set of foot stompin’ blues, swingin’ R&B, Calypso and soul.
How do you describe Jon Gindick sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?
If you listen to my previous album "When We Die, We All Come Back As Music," you can note that there is not one 12 bar blues progression. So right away, the chord structure of my sound is not going to sound like typical blues. My harp playing is bluesy, and also melodic and clean, emphasizing expression over pyro techniques. I lip block and tongue block, occasionally overblow, and play pretty fluently in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 12th positions. I love playing with bands, either leading, or sideman--but my real deal is harp and guitar at the same time-- with vocals. This lets really lets Jon be Jon. I have been playing rack harp for 50 years now. My guitar playing is still a work in progress. The last components of my sound are my lyrics and songs and singing voice. It's like being a person in music. Your fullness is the essence of what you do. My music philosophy is to keep it simple, universal, and new.
How do you describe your new album's songbook and sound?
A bluesy paperback of harmonica short stories about love and life in the deep places of the soul.
Where does your creative drive come from?
Ask my shrink! Oh wait, don’t do that. I’m just that kind of person, and I always do things differently than everyone else. I have my own way of learning, my own way of teaching, my own way of playing, my own way of living. And I’ve written songs and played instruments since I was a child. I’m not eccentric. Just riding a 70 year lucky streak…
What would you say characterizes new recording in comparison to your previous albums?
I went into the recording studio with a lot more confidence. By now, Ralph Carter and I had played together for hundreds of hours and developed a great friendship. We had 8 or 9 players on “When We Die, We All Come Back As Music.” We had outside horn players, pianists, guitar players, female backing singer. On this Cd, I wanted Ralph and drummer Pete Gallagher, and that’s all. Just the three of us, with Ralph bass and keys. But then we fought in Franck, and he knocked it out of the park. Frank’s explosive guitar playing is really different from “We All Come Back.”
Are there any memories from Love At The Night Cafe studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
We asked Franck to play “boings” to represent boners on “I Love The Feminine Girl,” he said, “I can do that.” And he did, on a telecaster. That’s a song that stands straight up!
"I understand the value and impact of small groups and love to run them — in my case harmonica learning groups. Also helped me to understand how people learn, how they learn music, and the arts of persuasion."
What touched (emotionally) you from the famous Nighthawks' dinner of Edward Hopper?
The side of life that happens when the sun goes down…that Tom Waits feeling…a particular kind of lonely soulfulness...
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?
The more you do it, the better you get. As Woody sang, “Do what you do do well.”
Value authenticity and originality as well as polish.
Simplicity that works is brilliant.
Reach out to others for help in music and gigs.
Everyone needs encouragement. Give it and get it.
It’s rarely about me.
In their defense, assholes usually have the blues.
Learn to sing.
Write in pictures, in the senses.
Avoid writing long-assed songs.
Play to the groove, and make the groove strong.
The time for copying is over.
Don’t take it personally.
Don’t try to sing too high.
It’s not about the music, its about the twinkle the music creates.
You can make more money teaching than performing.
Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?
It’s a big word. Some people define specific music as three or less chords with flatted 7ths, 3rds 5ths etc. and evolving from the slaves and their descendants of the deep south with styles originating from Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Deford Baily etc. Some people use it to describe sadness. The word is traced back to 1700 hundreds Europe to describe “melancholy.” Is it not better to say, “I have the blues” than “I’m depressed?” To say "I have the blues" connects you to humanity and the normal swings of life. Depression is a disease. Back to the music: To me blues a word that anyone can use however they want.
Is “At Last?” a blues song? It has about 7 chords that must be played in precise timing with the melody, plus an extraordinary one of a kind bridge. I say its one of the best blues songs of all time. Ever! (By the way, I can list several best blues songs of all time.) So, the answer is: the blues is whatever you want it to be. You could say Moonlight Sonata is blues and you’d be right. And probably get in a lot of stupid arguments. (But you’d be right.)
"My dad told me to stay with the harp business even after the internet and other business things nearly destroyed it. Advice to new generation: stay off sugar, wheat, and any alcohol except red wine. Pot is healthful in moderation. No matter what happens in your life, keep creating."
How do you describe previous album ‘When We Die, We All Back Back As Music’ sound and songbook? What characterize album’s philosophical title?
A deep and varied collection of very good songs with driving harmonica, superb lyrics and complete instrumentation. Reinvibration: The thought that when we die we turn into energy, and why can’t that energy be music?
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?
So many! Growing up, working in the packing houses, catching freight trains in the San Joaquin Valley, falling in love with Dylan, reading everyone from Tolstoy to Rilke, learning to play guitar and harp in college, deciding to be a writer in college, reading business self-help books, self-publishing my harmonica books and audio cassettes and selling over a million, starting Blues Harmonica Jam Camp in 2002, hiring my wonderful harmonica-playing coaches to help me teach, meeting Ralph Carter who produced the album and played in many of the songs, coming from a wonderful supportive family, and of course having the stability and love of my wife, Karen. She will tell me when something sucks.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
I once played a Stephen Foster medley for 5 thousand people with a 99 piece orchestra on the edge of a lake with fireworks being set off at the conclusion. It was my 50th birthday, and in my hometown and all a coincidence that it happened in that way.
How started the thought of seminars?
Desparation. Praying for a great idea because I was broke once the company that sold 1,000,000 copies of my book over 20 years was sold. The idea for a Jam Camp came to me in my dead father's voice. That was 12 years ago, and slowly the seminars have evolved into the deep experiences they have become. We used to do them in typical airport hotels, now we do them at The Shack Up Inn. We have a core coaching team, great players and great friends, and band, and the best location in America for a blues seminar. We have developed certain protocol, things that work. We have now done over 50 jam Camps! Just like a musician improves the longer he actively plays, so has Jam Camp!
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
The last day of jam camp, when everyone presents a song, even the beginners, is an incredible emotional experience. Watching people joyfully face their demons, present songs they have written, sing on stage for the very first time, take tentative harmonica solos in front of an audience of fellow music travelers. Sometimes the lights go on stage. It’s like a spiritual transformation set to the blues. My greatest hope is that I miraculously start getting physically younger while retaining all of my long developed skills and wisdom. My greatest fear is that I won't.
What is the impact of Blues, Jazz and Folk music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
Everyone can (and should) play music. It makes racial, political and socio-cultural implications turn into forgetfulness, big smiles and good times. Musicians can and should promote their beliefs through fund raisers and contributions, and do good by bringing the learning of music to disadvantaged and anyone who needs it. I have started a program in Tutwiler, Mississippi that teaches music to the poor kids in that community. Even if they don’t make it to college, learning music will help build their brains and make them smarter. The cause is funded by musicians in honor of Sonny Boy Williamson. Please check: Tutwiler Community Education Center... And I’m not alone. Many musicians are involved in encouraging fans to make music.
Do you know why the sound of harmonica is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of?
Yes, because played backwards, in 2nd position, emphasizing the inhale, the diatonic harp playet achieve's an amazing ability to bend and slur the important blues notes (holes 2, 3, and 4) with a vocal-like tone from inside the players body. These blue notes are the "falling tones" the griots used in story telling in Western Africa. This minor key slurring way of hitting notes from inside the body is old and new and completely unique in the world of music, except for singing. But even a great vocalist cannot harmonize with himself; sing two notes at the same time, as can the harp player when he or she plays octaves.
Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?
I guess because it's good, fun improvisational music of the people, and also because the blues scale and aggressive blues rhythms are so much fun! There's a roughness to the texture of blues, something we need expression of in our emotional and musical diets. Unfortunately, MOST blues in the United States is played so loud that the blues scene is not growing, rather dying.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Rock and continue to Jazz and Folk music?
First we have folk music--the do ri me scale, Stephen Foster, Yankee Doodle, and it merged with the falling tones of African griots and the minor scale scales of Europeans to create a new kind of folk music--one strain of which became country, and the other classified as blues. They borrowed from each other. Song structure came from folk but country did not emphasize the same rhythms, or the blues notes as often or in the same way. Jazz developed at the same time as blues, but it is not folk music in my opinion. Louis Armstrong and his ilk were trained professional musicians, not out of work farm hands or steel workers. Rock is a marriage of blues and country that is marketed to the youth market. Neither blues jazz or country are marketed exclusively to youth. Along with its great artistry and vibrancy, rock is a fashion show, a culture changer. There may be more artistry in the country pickers of Nashville, the blues guitarists and harp players in Memphis, or New Yorks jazz genius', but the real cultural "Now" power is in "rock" or so it appears.
"I guess because it's good, fun improvisational music of the people, and also because the blues scale and aggressive blues rhythms are so much fun! There's a roughness to the texture of blues, something we need expression of in our emotional and musical diets. Unfortunately, MOST blues in the United States is played so loud that the blues scene is not growing, rather dying."
How has the Blues, Roots & Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Starting with Elvis in about 1955, it defined me, who I was, what I wanted to be, my artistic home. I’ve devoted my life to improving my skills and creating songs and writing books that teach harmonica.
In your opinion, what is the biggest revolution which can be realized today? What do you think the major changes will be in near or far future of the world?
I’m more into evolution, than I am into revolution. We are evolving!
What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to new generation?
My dad told me to stay with the harp business even after the internet and other business things nearly destroyed it.
Advice to new generation: stay off sugar, wheat, and any alcohol except red wine. Pot is healthful in moderation. No matter what happens in your life, keep creating.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
Turn down! Listen!
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..? (Photo by Karen Pulfer Focht)
I’d like to go back to Bible Times, maybe see Jesus deliver the Sermon on the Mount. Or that wedding where he turn water into wine. Or maybe see Goliath go down hard. Then I’d like to go forward 250 years and see if we still have a human race and what we are like.
Hang out with Sonny Boy Williamson on the day he was photographed performing on a flatbed truck in middle of a Mississippi Cotton field.
Hang out Jesus, and him to talk about music. It seems to be missing from his teachings. Go back in my own life and take advantage of some early opportunities I was too stupid to recognize.
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