Buffalo Blues Burger

5th October, 2019

G’day Riffers,

On a chilly Sunday evening in the winter of 2014 my wife and I had the privilege of attending the Burrinja Cafe here in the Dandenongs (it wasn’t raining-only dripping off trees). A local duo transported us back in time to a smoking blues joint in New Mexico called the Golden Inn where Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were doin’ their thang.

In 2013 Blackmarket Music suggested to Hoboken born Doc Span, who has resided in sunny Queensland since 1987 and local guitar virtuoso Nick Charles to collaborate on an album honouring Sonny and Brownie. The suggestion met with the affirmative as they were both long time devotees. Doc penned a tune for the album entitled the Golden Inn, which encapsulated a night when his band supported the dynamic duo at the iconic venue.

Nestled between the Ortez and San Pedro mountains resides ghosts of Native Indians, Spaniards and ‘Musos’ of past glories in the New Mexico town of Golden. If pointed in the direction north-west of Albuquerque on the long and winding road of State Highway number fourteen, twenty miles on you will find the town of Golden, then take the Sandia cut off.

(Photo courtesy of Andy Curry)

On a weekday visit you were welcomed to a vista of a nondescript log cabin, but on the weekends it transformed into a vibrant roadhouse with a delicious cuisine of Buffalo Burgers and jiving live music. Lucky Oceans formerly of the band Asleep At The Wheel now a resident of Western Australia recalled the Inn and the journey in, “Wow! The Golden Inn-always a wild gig, the bus snaking up the mountain, bikers and witches in attendance and the air awash with psychedelics.”

Early doors punters were yokel locals, who on lazy Sunday afternoons enjoyed the sounds of Emilio’s Rancheros. In the early seventies the Last Mile Ramblers a popular Western swing outfit rocked the patrons of the Inn. In lyrics from their tune on the Inn the punters of the time consisted of “hippies, bikers, Sante Fe characters, college kids from Alberquerque, the curious and the lost and amazed and bewildered locals.”

By the mid seventies the Inn regulars were all shook up when it was sold and renovations began. New York businessman Scott Washburn introduced a new era of music with the likes of Asleep At The Wheel, Toots & The Maytals, Leon Redbone, Muddy Waters and legendary folk blues duo Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. Huey Lewis played there for five bucks entry and even our own (or if you want New Zealand’s) Split Enz performed on the 20th May 1981 in support of their Corroboree album (Waiata in New Zealand).

Doc Span had based himself in Santa Fe during winter. He and his band would rush North to Alaska to perform, but also down the road supporting many of the Blues bands at the Inn. On one magic night in 1983 it was with Sonny and Brownie. I’ll let Doc retell the events. “They were constantly arguing with each other in the green room (back stage). They even had their own bottles of whiskey as they couldn’t even share that. After playing ‘Walk On’ Brownie walked off leaving a blind Sonny on stage all alone. When Brownie eventually returned he quipped, I was just tuning.” Their chemistry and music on stage would never be in doubt. That night they drove to their next gig in Texas (would have loved to have been a fly on the inside of the windscreen).

The following morning news had filtered through that the Inn had been razed to the ground. Concern had been alerted a month earlier when the owner Scott Washburn located a home made bomb on the roof. Its crude construction consisted of glass jars filled with gasoline and rigged to explosives with a blasting cap. The fuse burnt to an inch of igniting. After an extensive Federal investigation a man would be charged with arson. The Inn was never rebuilt.

Today, tumbleweeds blow through what once was a unique and proud music venue. If you listen carefully you can hear remnants of a Sonny riff amongst the cries of an Apache warrior, or was that Sonny whoopin’ and a hollerin’.


Thanks to Doc Span, a wonderful person and an extraordinary harp player. Check out an excerpt from my radio interview with Doc, a live abbreviated version of Sonny’s Riffin’ by Doc Span & Nick Charles and also The Golden Inn, which was recognised with the prestigious Chain award. Lucky Oceans, amazing pedal steel guitarist, for his contribution and interest. Check out Lucky’s new LP Purple Sky it’s a ripper. To Andy Curry whose band Used Parts warmed up for Sonny & Terry at the Opera house in Lawrence. In his words, “I’ll never get over how they rocked the place. Just the two of them!”

For your aural pleasure is the Last Mile Ramblers tune on the Inn.

Hohner’s Hollandia (Nova) Harp

6th May, 2019

G’Day Riff Raffers,

Hohner, a world leader in accordion and mouth organ manufacturing, had its share of difficulties in becoming one of the major players in the Australian Mouth Organ market in the early part of the twentieth century. Most models were available in the colonies and they included the popular ‘Up To Date’ and ‘Second To None’ mouth organs. However, Albert’s ‘Boomerang’ and Allan’s ‘Crackajack’ Australian flavoured mouth organs were streets ahead of the field. At the turn of the Century a commemorative model was produced by Hohner for the local market branded the ‘The Federation Souvenir- Century Advance’. In 1912, to further tap into nationalistic fervour and compete with their rivals, a mouth organ with an Australian identity the ‘Young Australia’ was introduced in two models-one for 1/3d and another for 2/- and they achieved promising sales.

A stumbling block to sales occurred in 1928 with a possible violation of Trademark regulations of Hohner’s ‘Young Australia’. The Australian Natives Association (where there were no indigenous Australians allowed) brought to the attention of the ‘Pollies’ of the day that the Australian flag was stamped on the instrument alongside ‘made in Germany’. The A.N.A had formed in 1871 in Melbourne by patriotic white men born in Australia who believed in a White Australia policy. They were heavily involved in the political processes of the time and in particular the federation of the colonies.

Then Federal Attorney General Mr. J.G. Latham proclaimed that, “The Trade Marks Act, 1905-19, section 18, provides that the Registrar may refuse to register any trade mark which contains any representation of the Flag of the Commonwealth. This section applies only to the registration of trademarks. Section 113 prohibits the use in connection with any trade, business, calling, or profession of the Royal Arms without the authority of the King or some other proper authority. This section does not apply to the Australian Flag. Section 114 (a), however, provides that the Governor-General may declare any mark to be a prohibited word or mark, and may also declare that that mark shall not be used or registered as a trade mark or part of a trademark. Under this provision it would be possible for the Governor-General to prohibit the use of the Australian Flag as a trademark, but the proclamation would have to be in general terms and could not under this provision be confined to goods of foreign origin. The Government is not prepared to prohibit the use of the Australian Flag in connection with all goods.” (Perth Daily News, 28 March, 1928)

This, and maybe with lingering resentment of Germany’s involvement in WWI (don’t mention the war) the ‘Young Australia’ was removed from the shelves.

In the 1930’s with the proliferation of mouth organ bands Hohner once again attempted to land a foot hold in the Australian market. They would promote the ‘Auto Valve Harp’ as an Australian model even though it had been sold internationally since 1910. Ray Grieve, Australian Mouth Organ historian, had been informed of this by Kurt Jacob who was sent ‘Down Under’ as Hohner’s representative to promote their products. Ray stated that,“Kurt told me that Hohner decided to use their already well-known Auto Valve Harp as ‘an Australian model’ rather than ‘invent’ a new Oz style brand name. Perhaps that was because of the legal problems they encountered when they marketed the Young Australia model? (Playing it safe).”

In 1938 there was a Hohner model only sold in Australia under the banner of ‘Auto Valve’-branded the ‘Auto Valve Vamper’, which could be purchased for three shillings at all good and bad music stores. It was a ten hole twenty reed diatonic model. The name is an oxymoron as the Auto Valve Harp is a Knittlinger instrument and the Vamper a Richter model. I’ll let Pat Missin, world authority on all things relating to the first instrument played in outer space take over, Vamper is a much-abused term. Strictly speaking, it means a Richter System instrument. Really, at this point we don’t know for sure what Richter did or didn’t do. We’re not even certain who he was. Vamper seems to have become the British-English term for the Richter-style diatonic some time in the late 1800s, although it was also sometimes applied to double-reed harps. Vamper seems to have been the preferred term in the UK, Australia and NZ, but not so much Canada or the US. Also strictly speaking, the Auto-Valve is a Knittlinger System harmonica. So by definition, an Auto-Valve can’t really be a Vamper – not that Hohner let anything like correct terminology get in their way.”

For further information check out Pat’s website

The term ‘Vamping’ and its origin is intriguing for the author. My idea of vamping was a chordal chugging arrangement. Could it/did it evolve from the word Vampire? There is sucking involved in playing! Again I’ll hand over to Pat Missin for his take on vamping, “I have always assumed that the term originated from the ability to vamp chords under a melody, although to be honest, you can do that just as well with a tremolo or octave harp. Also, “vamp” can mean slightly different things in different musical contexts, but most often it means an improvised accompaniment.” I researched further for the etymology and discovered it’s derived from the medieval French word avant-pied which translates to before the foot and was used in reference to the part of a stocking below the ankle. Somewhere in the middle seventeenth century the word was used for anything that had been fixed up (such as hole in a sock). The verb to revamp has its origins here. By the end of the nineteenth century into the musicians vernacular arrived the term vamp for short, simple repeated phrases (usually improvised) that were called a safety. In musical theatre they were originally used for stalling for time so the singer could use dialogue (a patch). Perhaps the origin of today’s looping. In 1933 Harold Collier, Crackajack Mouth Organ representative and Australian champion of 1927 and 1936, wrote two feature articles for the Melbourne newspaper ‘The Age’ on mouth organ playing. In the second instalment he explained the method of vamping under the heading of ‘How To Use The Tongue’. “The tongue is removed from the notes each time you blow and draw, in fact, it should move in and out as quick as a snakes tongue.” (The Age, 7 April 1933).

In my copy of the 1926 ‘Boomerang’ mouth organ instructional booklet, it outlines that when playing a chord accompaniment (vamp) you take the tongue off the three holes being blocked (to play the single note on the fourth hole) and then place the tongue back on and off again. “In practising this say La-La”. The booklet then emphasises to remember, “In Waltz Music the tongue would be taken off and put back 3 times to each measure. In Fox Trots, four times to a measure. In some Marches, four times to a measure. In some Marches, six times to a measure.”

This technique of tongue blocking to play a clean single note was another area of interest for the author. How did it come about? Who developed this unique method? Pat kindly expands on the topic, The subject tongue blocking and its place in history is something I’ve recently been discussing with Joe Filisko. He is strongly of the opinion that tongue blocking was essentially THE embouchure up until the 1960s, even for those players who rarely played chords. I think he’s right on that point and we are currently trying to figure out how the balance of power shifted towards the pursed lips embouchure.”

In a follow up he provides further detail, “The oldest English language book on playing the modern harmonica is from 1870. It describes tongue blocking as the way to play, although its instructions are rather vague. Interestingly, the instructions for playing the Pandean Aeolian only mention the pursed lips method.”

In Sonny Terry’s ‘Country Blues Harmonica’ (Oak Publications, 1975 p46) book as told to Kent Cooper and Fred Palmer by Sonny, it tells us that Sonny obtains single notes by centering down on one hole by using his lips, claiming it allows him free to do tongue flutters and trill effects. It does suggest you can combine both methods, but basically finishes by stating that you can make the same sound in many different ways.

The Auto Valve Vamper was a fair dinkum Aussie harp, but with the onset of the second world war (sorry I mentioned the war, but I think I may have got away with it) it was gone before it arrived. After the war Hohner would eventually establish itself in the Australian Mouth Organ market with their high quality Chromatics and also the ‘Echo Super Vamper’ (Hohner’s ‘Marine Band’ stamped differently for Australia and UK markets).

The first post war shipment in 1949 that reached the shores of ‘Terres Australis’ included a ten hole vamper mouth organ sold by J Madgwick & Co of Pitt street Sydney as the ‘Echo’. Interestingly Harry Landis’ music store in Elizabeth street Sydney of the same year advertised the twenty eight reed tremolo harp as the super-vamper. By 1952 the ten hole ‘Echo’ vamper transformed into the ‘Echo Super Vamper’ and quickly became a popular acquisition for those looking for a precision vamper. I had always wondered why the twelve hole model that appeared years later in an orange box wasn’t named the ‘Super Vamper’. One would have presumed the larger size would have been superior to the smaller. This model is identical to the Marine Band 364 which became popular after Sonny Boy Williamson II produced amazing sounds from the harp. Not sure why it was marketed this way, perhaps it was due to our predilection for the nomenclature (Vamper), which certainly had a resonance down under and sales would reflect their popularity. Pat Missin suggests, “When Hohner got seriously into export, they really concentrated on making products aimed at specific regions. Often what was essentially the same harmonica would be marketed under several different names, depending on where they were trying to sell it. The Marine Band was named after the US Marine Band and it probably didn’t make much sense to try and sell one in the UK. Likewise, as Vamper was not a term commonly used to describe diatonic harmonicas in the US, something called the Echo Super Vamper was not probably going to be a big seller in the States.

There you go.


PS: Thanks to both Pat Missin and Ray Grieve for the information they provided in this Dawg Blawg.

Hohner harmonica’s are distributed here in Australia by KJ (Kurt Jacob) Music. They are celebrating their 80th year in business. Check out their website .









Forpies’ Blues Burger (No Mashed Potato)

8th November, 2018

Hello Riff Raffers,

Most people I know are not aware that Billy Thorpe blew the gob iron. There’s a few who think I’m crazy, but here is the evidence that Bill did indeed play the harmonica. Who would have thought that a clean cut ‘Mod’ with songs like, ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ and ‘Mashed Potato’, would transform into a long haired hippie playing loud blues rock and the mouth harp. For a short period in the early seventies Billy delved into the realm of harmonica. The first single of the new Aztecs in 1970 featured their rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s, ‘Good Mornin’ Little Schoolgirl’ with Bill wailing away. The same year he provided some harp on a Jeff St John’s Copperwine album track, ‘I’ve Been Treated Wrong’. From there he let loose on two tunes off the four track, 1971 LSD induced album, ‘The Hoax Is Over’, ‘Mississippi’ and ‘Truth’. Then on the classic 1973 album, ‘More Arse Than Class’ we hear it again on the driving, ‘I Wanna Know’ and at the Sunbury Rock Festival out came the pocket harp on, ‘Jump Back’.

I wasn’t sure who may have helped Billy with a few chops on the ‘Mississippi Saxophone’ so I sent out a few emails to those in the know. Here’s what transpired. First cab off the rank was Matt Taylor as I knew Bill was a big rap for Matt’s harp and in keeping the blues alive in Melbourne. Their first encounter had been at a gig where Matt was playing with, ‘Horse’ a band that preceded both ‘Genesis’ & ‘Chain’. Lobby Loyde, Matt’s good friend from Brisbane and the band, ‘Purple Hearts’ had brought his school mate, Bill to meet up with him. Here’s how Matt responded to my query. Bill used to soak his harps in Whiskey. I jammed with his bands a few times and played his harps there was always a few holes unresponsive. He believed the spirit changed the tone and couldn’t believe I just took the harp out of it’s box and it sounded okay.” In a previous interview with Matt he emphasised that, Bill was an incredibly competitive person. We were always friends, but never bosom buddies. ‘Chain’ and the ‘Aztecs’ were always close, though.” Looks like Matt didn’t pass on any tips.

I’ll try ‘Spectrums’ Mike Rudd as I knew Billy liked to play the ‘I’ll Be Gone’ riff. The thought of Billy Thorpe asking me for advice about anything makes me chuckle. We weren’t that close for one thing. I’m sure he got expert advice on the harp (as he did with guitar from Lobby) but I don’t know who that might’ve been. He never asked me about the intricacies of IBG.
I think I may’ve told you this story. When we did the Tsunami Concert with him at the Myer Music Bowl some years ago (don’t remember exactly which year) he did phone me – it was Billy who got Bill (Putt) and me on the show. He wanted to do IBG and thought it would be neat for him to start playing the riff (he was dismissive of his own playing of the riff BTW) and then I would take over from the wings and Bill and I would saunter onto the stage and play the song with the band.
Which is how it worked out and it went very well, of course. However, we didn’t realise that our drummer Robbo was in the audience and he was utterly crestfallen for the next week that we hadn’t invited him to join us. You can’t please everybody.”
Mike followed back with that it may have been somebody from the Sydney scene where Bill resided.

Next on the list was ‘Dingo’, Brod Smith, he was playing boogie blues with ‘Carson’ way back then. Brod had no idea that Bill was an exponent. Here’s what he concluded, I found a track of Bill playing. Sounds like he was listening to Sonny Terry (there’s a double time rhythm in there that’s very reminiscent of him-the most complicated part in the track). I would have thought that Matt was the closest to him (Chain/Aztecs thing) in terms of showing him something, he lived in Sydney for a while around the time of his heavy rock beginnings (late sixties) so maybe it was Shane Duckham or someone like that.” Brod thought that it sounded like someone who may have been a bit ‘rootsy’, that’s why he had suggested Shane. I was aware Shane had played with Dutch Tilders in the early sixties and I’m sure they would have covered a Sonny & Brownie tune. This coupled with the fact that Bill plays a Sonny Terry lick on the Jeff St John song further enhances the probability of Shane providing some tuition. Hear Bill’s Sonny Terry lick here https://youtu.be/Uof7K2yezeQ. However contacting Shane was going to be difficult as he had passed away in the early eighties. I believe after a fight on a boat off the coast of Cairns.

Where to now? Why not an Aztec? I contacted the amazing bass player from the outfit, Paul ‘Sheepdog’ Wheeler for his insights. Shane Duckham was a name from back then. Billy didn’t learn by being taught Shep, he pretty much bootstrapped everything guitar included. He was many things our old mate but he was definitely a self taught musician, he had a wonderful ear and if he wanted to do something he would just sit in his bedroom and do it all day until he felt ready. That’s my take anyway.” Paul followed on further with, Lobby was a huge influence and of course mentor although he didn’t say anything he just did it, the volume competition between those two was horrendous, Lobs would got to Strauss so then Bill would go to Strauss so then Lobs would go to Strauss and so on and so on until we were drowning in Strauss.”

Well there you are Riff Raffers, nothing definitive, but an interesting peregrination. I have posted a little mishmash of Bill’s harp work here Forpies. Check out his train rhythm performance with the Aztecs on ‘Happening 72’, an ATV 0 television show hosted by Ross D Wylie https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xtk2tDmW_xM.


Man On The Run

17th September, 2018

Hi Riff Raffers,

At last, an interview of sorts with one of my all time harmonica favourites, ‘Dingo’, Broderick Smith.

As a twelve year old, Brod along with Matt Taylor (Chain), Mike Rudd (Spectrum), Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool) and Chris Blanchflower (Country Radio) piqued this young Australian boy’s interest in the instrument that fits in your pocket. Along with Chris, Brod was adept at playing these sweet, melodic, country lines.

Over the course of my radio show Brod was the only interview I couldn’t get to first base with, not even with contacts through Brod’s acquaintances or direct emails.

Having recently retired the radio show, Brod makes a comeback with a book, ’Man Out Of Time’, and a CD of the same title with original material. Hoping that this may be the catalyst for a written interview for the ‘Shep Dawg Blawg’, I emailed Brod. I suggested general harmonica ramblings, which included his introduction to the instrument, blues/country nuances and his influences, rather than trying to tie him down to a specific interview. We’ll blow me down, Brod responded swiftly and positively, however with the provision of giving him a few days.

A week later, in an attempt to keep the offer in the forefront of Brod’s commitment and as a real interest in to why The Dingoes classic, ‘Boy On The Run’ had been reworked on the ‘Five Times The Sun’ album, I offered this to the list of ramblings. His answer was somewhat surprising, Oh, I have no idea. It’s too long ago. Dingo years are slowly fading from my memory.” Having just written his autobiography this was a wee bit mystifying. It does appear that the Dingoes story isn’t a major feature in his recent memoirs. I wonder why?

Another week goes by and I try again. His reply was a little deflating, but understandable.  I’m sorry, I haven’t started this. I’m snowed under with other stuff, but will attempt this again in maybe the next few monthsBrod did leave the door ajar with his postscript. Maybe give me some questions that I will answer?” I promptly acknowledged his suggestion with what had been my main focus in my initial contact. “How about just this? Your transition from blowing blues licks to country licks (Brod had played in a blues boogie band, Carson before the country rock of The Dingoes). How this came about, your influences and the nuances of both styles?”

Within ten minutes Brod had delivered. Yay! I give you his exact words here. Thanks Brod.

Broderick Smith

Harmonica Ramblings

I started out playing melody stuff I guess, not Blues. Originally I wanted to play the organ but financial restraints stopped that. I also liked guitar so I was influenced a lot by those instruments rather than the sax. So, I went from folk and country in a way to Blues.

Influences would range from Charlie McCoy and other unnamed guys. I liked Sonny Terry and Hammie Nixon in the Blues initially. The UK players were not up there with the Yanks but they were a big help in what tunes they covered which allowed you to find the source if you were so inclined.

Both styles involve some bending but country is a faster playing style than Blues. Folks that play fast in Blues generally miss out on the emotion required and just happily skim along on the surface. The great players weren’t that dedicated to being fast. they were dedicated to playing what the song needed. There is a reason why BB King played sparsely, because it had more impact.

In Blues you can bend notes into pitch to some degree if the harp is a bit out whereas in Country folk it will sound out of tune. In Jazz you’re normally talking chromatic but folks like Blues Birdhead and Howard Levy the modern master of over-blow/draw technique both played/play diatonic. Toots Thielemans was the guy for jazz. Quincey Jones used him as much as possible.

Kind regards


I offer my vocal/harmonica recording of ‘Boy On The Run’. By the way, it is the authors personal view that the re-recording on the album, ‘Five Times The Sun’ falls well short of the original, as does my version. You can hear Brod’s first release off the album, ‘Singer In Chains’ here https://youtu.be/4PdAQZX6ZNw. ‘Man Out Of Time’, book and album, will be released through Bloodlines on the 5th October 2018.