Broadway Phil Newton

Happy New Year, bluesaholics. May the New Year bring you peace, fortune and a new harmonica. Because harmonicas are the best. Speaking of harmonicas, while it may or may not be the instrument most closely-associated with the blues, the harmonica is in fact of European origin, first developed (depending on whom you believe) either in Germany or England around 1820. Other free reed instruments, operating in similar ways, existed prior to the harmonica, most notably the sheng, which has been around in China for thousands of years. But it was the Germans who first mass-produced these instruments and it was Matthias Hohner, a German clockmaker, who created the most popular versions of the instrument in 1857. Hohner (not Matthias, of course, but his descendants) still makes harmonicas and also manufactures accordions, which are essentially harmonicas with a bellows attached, and which also were developed in England and Germany, not long after the harmonica came along.
    So, the harmonica, originally designed to play folksy and classical music, was adapted for use in blues by Southern African-Americans, joining the banjo (which was of African origin) violins, panpipes, drums, bones and jugs (variants of African traditional gourd, bone, wood  and skin instruments) and, later, guitars, pianos and brass instruments in the creation of all sorts of African-American music, from ragtime and hokum, to hollers, jump-ups and, just prior to the turn of the 20th Century, the blues.
    No one person or place can be credited with creating the blues, but one could argue that what we call blues first developed in the Mississippi Delta. Many credit musicians living on the massive Dockery Plantation with developing the style we recognize as blues, notably a guitarist named Henry Sloan and his pupil, the incendiary performer, Charlie Patton and in turn his student and sideman, the masterful Willie Brown, all of them from or near the Dockery Plantation, honing their craft around the turn of the 20th Century. It was certainly their style of Delta blues that inspired WC Handy the “father of the blues” to write down, chart, publish and popularize the music we call blues, commencing in Memphis in the years prior to WW I and continuing a career that spanned decades, well into the late 1940s. He even lived and taught here in the Northwest. Handy’s St. Louis Blues (“I hate to see that evening sun go down….”), published in 1914, while not the first blues song was the first massive blues hit and can be credited with firmly establishing the genre.
    So however we judge its origins, the blues is a relatively new music and the harmonica is also relatively new. They did not begin in the same place, but they wound up in the right place and the right time and, wedded to the other instruments of their era, blasted out of the South and across the globe, forging the roots of all the popular music we enjoy today. Not bad for a little box of reeds and some guys and gals with guitars.  

Blues n Roots Calendar:

David Pinsky and I have the following dates: January 10, Belle Fiore Winery, 5 pm; January 12, Schmidt Winery 5 pm; January 13, Smithfield's Pub & Pies, 8 pm; January 18, Bella Union 7 pm; January 19,20  Bella Union 8 pm; January 26, Laughing Clam Rhythm Kings with Phil; January 27 David and Phil Duo, Laughing Clam 6 pm; February 7, RoxyAnn Winery 6 pm; February 10, Smithfield's Pub & Pies 8 pm. David and Phil also teach blues and harmonica at Logos School on January 25.

January 6, Mercy Duo is at The Laughing Clam at 6 PM; January 12 they are at Belle Fiore, 5 PM; January 19 Mercy featuring Lynda Morrison is at RoxyAnn, 6 PM; January 27, Mercy featuring Lynda Morrison is at Boomtown 8:30 PM.

Shybo Torres and Ring of Trees are at Habañeros on January 19th and 20th.

On January 13 the Frankie Hernandez Band is at Howiees, 9 PM.

Allison Scull and Victor Martin play January 23 in Mount Shasta at Lucille's Tavolino and February 14, Valentine's Day Performance at the Vintage Wine Bar and Restaurant, Redding

The Sound Lounge Jam is on Sunday January 7, and Sunday, February 4, beginning at 4:00 PM.  

"The Blues Society," formerly the Jefferson State Blues Society, begins its first and third Sunday jams July 2 at the Anderson Moose Lodge, 5pm. “Wankers welcome.”

The Ashland Blues Society jams at the Grape Street Bar & Grill in Medford are on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. They run from 6:30 to 9:30. On January 9 the host band is Nancy Mac; January 23 it’s Barrelhouse.

The G Spot in Kerby has jams every Thursday at 7:00 PM. B Wishes usually hosts, with occasional hosting by Kevin Widdison. These jams feature a lot of great roots, singer/songwriter and folk artists.

The Cedarwood Jams in Grants Pass are hosted by AJ on the first and third Thursdays of the month, starting at 7:00 PM.

Robbie Dacosta has Sunday Open Mic Every Sunday at Jefferson Spirits, 404 E. Main St., Medford; every Monday at Smithfield's Pub & Pies, 23 2nd St., Ashland; Robbie Dacosta & Friends, Brickroom on Wednesdays.

That’s it for the first month of 2018, Bluesniks. Be sure to stay in touch with me at or on facebook. Peace, love and harmonicas in the New Year.