Canadian Harmonica Players

Harmonicist of Canada

In French Canada the Harmonica is one of the traditional folk music components. English Canada also uses the Harmonica but follows a style taken from the Chicago (United States) area. There have been a number of famous harmonica players from Canada, although the earliest ones are French-Canadian.

Famous Quebec players often pair with violin and button accordion to perform folkdance music in the tradition of reels, quadrilles, jigs, and waltzes using the diatonic harmonica (this form is also popular in country and blues music). The most prolific individual to record this type of music in the 1920’s was Henri Lacroix, whose work survives in 78’s vinyl format. Others who also recorded this music form include La Bolduc, Joseph Lalonde, and Louis Blanchette. These artists continue to inspire younger players to this day, with modern folk and jazz players like Gabriel Labbe Alain Lamontagne and Gérald Laroche who still make appearances at festivals.

Across the cultural divide, English schooled Canadians often hear the harmonica not as folk music but as the Blues. While some roots reach back to the 1920’s it was the 1960’s that really moved the instrument into the eye of the public. King Biscuit Boy is among the most famous of this wave with his first recording producing the single ‘Corrina, Corrina’ in 1970. His legendary status among Canadian Blues musicians is unquestioned.

Among popular musicians, internationally known Canadians such as Neil Young and even Alanis Morissette have demonstrated proficiency in the instrument. Neil Young’s body of work includes a wide range of commercially successful songs with much critical acclaim including “Expecting to Fly,” “Broken Arrow,” “Mr. Soul,” “I Am a Child,” “Country Girl,” “Helpless,” “Ohio,” “American Dream,” “Southern Man,” “Round and Round,” “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” “Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “Tell Me Why,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Old Man,” “Heart of Gold,” “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and “This Note’s for You.” Morissette’s famous songs include “You Oughta Know,” “Ironic,” “King of Pain,” (a cover of a Police tune) “Hands Clean,” “Everything,” “Crazy,” and “Magical Child.”

The harmonica has been the instrument of choice for a number of celebrated individuals widely known in Canada but not as known outside of the country, also. One such figure is Patrick Esposito Di Napoli. A brilliant musician who played for Les Colocs. The group’s final album, November Outside, is dedicated to his memory. “Séropositif Boogie” is one song produced by this band that was written by him, and like most of the music this band produced had “humanity, simplicity and social conscience” in dealing with the relevant topic of the time. “Dehors Novembre” was written from the perspective of someone dying.

Some harmonica players are by far more adventurous than others. Take Les Stroud, who is far more known as a survival expert. He is a skilled player of the harmonica and has produced some very good music. Indeed he has played in the David Bowie cover band Diamond Dogs, among others. His harmonica work places him in the exceptional category for a blues player.

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