It’s engineering, not magic
October 24, 2007
What would the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue be without the magic harmonica? Thank our lucky stars that we don’t have to find out.
The joint will be rocking on Saturday, Oct. 27 as Magic Dick appears as part of the Blues Revue featuring the Tommy Castro Band, with Ronnie Baker Brooks, Deanna Bogart and the former J. Geils Band harmonica player Magic Dick.
Actually born Richard Salwitz on May 13, 1945 in New London, Conn., he first learned to play the trumpet and saxophone. Salwitz attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass., where he met John Geils and Danny Klein, with the three going on to form the J. Geils Band in 1968.
After the J. Geils Band parted ways in 1985, Salwitz spent time working on a harmonica design of his own, which he labeled the “Magic Harmonica,” a co-invention with Pierre Beauregard.
“The two of us had this love of jazz and swing, and always wanted to be able to play like Louis Armstrong or Lester Young on the harp. Not on a chromatic — on a Marine Band blues harp,” Magic Dick said in an interview with 2/3 X-Perts. “You run into a problem. Not all the notes are there, particularly when it comes to playing jazz. The harmonica is well suited to playing Chicago style blues.
“The tuning arrangement — the particular set up of the notes — is very good for straight ahead blues, but it’s not that good for classic jazz, and it’s not very good for certain other styles of blues one might want to do.
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So, necessity became the mother of invention,” he said. “There must be a way — by tuning the reeds to different notes, changing the chords, changing the relationship of the blow chord to the draw chord — to find different tuning arrangements beneficial for playing different styles of music. Using pencil and paper and trial and error we would work on tuning diagrams, ‘OK, if you change this reed to this note, and this one to that, this one to that, look what you get out of this harp!’ We applied music theory, in terms of the chord changes and melodies we were trying to play.”
The J. Geils Band actually began as Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, while both Geils and Magic Dick were attending Worcester Polytechbic. In 1968 they started playing electric guitar and bass, and recruited drummer Stephen Jo Bladd and singer Peter Wolf, then brought in organist Seth Justman. The group, now the J. Geils Band, signed with Atlantic Records in 1970.
The band had several hits in the 1970s, the most successful of which was “Must of Got Lost” (1974). “Monkey Island” (1977), and “Sanctuary” (1978) were also successful singles, but they didn’t really hit the big time until the 1980s, with “Love Stinks,” “Freeze Frame” and “Centerfold,” the latter which was No. 1 for six weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
The group retired in the early 1990s, before Geils joined with Magic Dick to form the band “Bluestime,” in 1993. On May 22, 2006, the six original members had a surprise reunion, at bassist Danny Klein’s 60th birthday party at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston.
With Bluestime now also retired, Magic Dick continues to tour on his own, and with the Revue. His years of experimentation and searching for new sounds and stylings for the harmonica cultivated a strong desire to improve the flexibility and quality of the harmonica.
Subsequent to The J. Geils Band, Magic Dick performed as a guest artist harmonica soloist for Patty Smyth, Debbi Harri, Full Circle, The Del Fuegos and Ryuici Sakamota, among others.