Harmonica -- Fiddle Style -- CARA COOKE
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Howdy! My name is Cara Cooke. I am a fiddle-style harmonica player living in Austin, Texas. (While I play other styles of harmonica as well, I specialize in a single note fiddle-style harmonica.)

Bluegrass harmonica workshop at Old Settler's Music Festival 2001

Harmonica workshop at the Old Settlers Music Festival, Dripping Springs, Tx. (April 2001) --photo by Jim Dirden. The band backing me is the High Stakes Rollers (Austin, Tx.).

I play a great deal of bluegrass music, but I also play some jazz, blues, country, Irish, classical, etc., as well. To me, my harmonica is essentially a fiddle with reeds, instead of strings and a bow.

I have been playing fiddle-style harmonica for 30 years or so and am interested in sharing information with other players with similar interests. I am a member of the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA), the Central Texas Bluegrass Association (CTBA), the Bay Area Bluegrass Association (BABA), Austin Friends of Traditional Music, the Austin Chapter of the Harmonica Organization of Texas (HOOT), and the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH). I am one of the songwriters of American Heritage, and I currently play for RedEye, Manchaca All-stars, the Blazing Bows, and K. R. Wood. I also occasionally play for anyone else who desires my harmonica talents, my vocal harmony talents, my talents with the upright bass, or who needs a mandolin player or a guitar player.

If you wish to contact me, e-mail me at harmonica@mailcity.com.



Austin Friends of Traditional Music Hosted Harmonica Workshops at their Winter Festival:

The Austin Friends of Traditional Music (AFTM) hosted a variety of performances and workshops at their Winter Festival on February 19, 2005, at the Dougherty Arts Center (1110 Barton Springs Road, Austin, Tx.), including TWO Harmonica Workshops. One harmonica workshop, aimed at beginner and intermediate players, was given by Steve Kreichbaum and discussed basic harmonica skills and ideas (folk/blues/etc.). The other harmonica workshop (led by me) was aimed at intermediate and advanced players and focused more on harmonica music theory and how to use it to your advantage in any nearly music genre you wish. Many of the harmonica players attending the first workshop, also attended the second and went home with more knowledge than they expected to obtain at a festival workshop. Overall, both harmonica workshops were very informative and successful. Check back at the AFTM website in the somewhat near future for information on the next festival.

Old Settlers Music Festival Harmonica Workshop:

The Old Settlers Music Festival (Salt Lick Pavillion, Austin, Tx.), is getting ready for the next festival (April 21-24, 2005).  For the last 5 years I have given a bluegrass harmonica workshop at this festival that has been very well received.  This year we are going to widen the spectrum a little as we have invited one of the performers, Jimi Lee, to join in on the workshop. He has done a wonderful job at the last two international (SPAH) harmonica conventions in the presentation of blues and jazz harmonica, as well as a little touch of country and folk. If you are interested in bluegrass, blues, jazz, Irish, or folk harmonica, then put this festival, and this workshop, on your schedule. 

The festival line-up every year is exceptional. Plenty of bluegrass. Plenty of other stuff.   Included in the festival schedule is a young musicians contest. They have four simultaneous stages to keep you busy all day long and through most of the night. Check out http://www.oldsettlersmusicfest.org/ for more information.

Bluegrass harmonica seminar to be amongst the stellar seminars to be found at SPAH!!:

The Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica will again run stellar seminars and workshops at its international harmonica convention this year, August 16-20, 2005, in Kansas City, Mo., including the bluegrass harmonica seminar enjoyed by so many at last year's convention in St. Louis. Returning to give the seminar will be Tulsa Read, P. T. Gazell, Cara Cooke (myself), and several others to be announced. Jimi Lee will also be doing his workshops, which included a little bluegrass and country last year. Come visit us at the SPAH convention. There is all sorts of music on every type of harmonica imaginable. And all of it is good. For more details on the convention and reports on the last conventions, visit the SPAH website.


CD from the Manchaca AllStars!:   (click here to hear a music sample)

The Manchaca AllStars, after 20 years, has finally produced a CD of the good music enjoyed by the locals at the Manchaca Firehall on Friday nights.   This CD was recorded live, just as if we were enjoying the Firehall's fried catfish under the pavillions at the Clarence Vogel Community Center. On this CD, you will find songs and tunes that have become favorites of our audiences over the years. And, thanks to the contribution of Doug Taylor's bass skills, you will also find my harmonica doing its thing on many of the songs. This will be one of the few CD's you will ever find with a version of "Draggin' the Bow" on harmonica that holds its own against the fiddle.   If you are interested in a Manchaca AllStar CD ($10), write us at manchacaallstars@email.com.   We will be proud as punch to set you up with one.

The Crockett Chronicles:

We all know the legendary story of Davy Crockett and the fight at the Alamo, but  K. R. Wood brings the story to life with narrations from the writings and stories of the various people there and music (which sets the story in the heart).  Through favorite songs, like the "Ballad of Davy Crockett" and the "Green Leaves of Summer", a variety of original songs K. R. wrote especially for this project (based upon his research), and a variety of period fiddle tunes in honor of Davy Crockett, the fiddler, K. R. weaves this tale of Texas through the mind.  From start to finish, the CD plays like a movie in the mind.  And for those who are interested in learning what "fiddle-style harmonica" can sound like, we paired my harmonica with the expert fiddling of "Sweet" Mary Hattersley in a rough jam situation somewhat reminiscent of the music that actually was played at the Alamo until the Mexicans breached the walls.  So, get the CD, and listen to Crockett and McGregor play their fiddle and "bagpipes" at the Alamo and tell you the story that set Texas on its way to independence.  (K. R. 's CD can be sampled and ordered at http://www.texannarecords.com/.)

K. R. Wood brings the history of Texas to life with his CDs, songs, and performances (complete with chuckwagon). Visit his website to learn more about him and his music and to check out his historical "Fathers of Texas Series" of CDs. The series includes: "The Fathers of Texas", "The Crockett Chronicles", "Los Texanos", and a cowboy CD dedicated to the cattle drive years, "Camp Cookie". "Camp Cookie Christmas" with Petey and the Prairie Dogs made it just in time for the Christmas rush and will remain available for Christmas next year. (I got a chance to help out with this CD, too, and it is a lot of fun. I am not sure, but I may also be one of the Prairie Dogs. If I am not, I would sure liked to have been. They turned out unbelieveably cute on the CD.) Check out K. R. Wood's website and see what trouble this cowboy is getting into.

Jim Strickland CD's:

Jim Strickland, a talented songwriter, has been pleasing audiences for many years. His gospel CD was stellar and was followed quickly by a compilation CD of some of his favorite songwriters (himself included).   On these CD's, he also used the talents of some of his favorite local musicians (me included).  I am glad that he got me involved with these projects, because they turned out wonderfully.   If you want to see what everyone is all up about, sample or order his CD's at http://www.frontroommusic.com/.

Central Texas Bluegrass Association band sampler CD:

The Central Texas Bluegrass Association is proud to present their CD sampling some of central Texas' finest bluegrass bands.  This long awaited CD has top-knotch bluegrass music from deep within the heart of Texas.  Both economical and special, this CD boasts 28 tunes (both original and traditional) from 14 bands and only costs $10.  (The association is using this CD as a fund raiser.)  If you would like to hear central Texas' finest bluegrass, order your CD at www.centraltexasbluegrass.org/cdproject.html.

Keep your eyes on the CTBA website for a second edition of the CTBA band CD -- currently in the works. )This one should have a little of my harmonica playing on it.)

High Stakes Rollers Recording:   click here to hear a music sample

The High Stakes Rollers, a skilled and talented bluegrass variety group based in Austin, Tx., have produced a CD of their live performances. On that CD, I am honored with an appearance playing harmonica on the swing/bluegrass tune "Little Rock Getaway". To get your own CD for $10, email Cara Cooke or Eddie Collins. 

More information and materials are available from Eddie Collins at http://www.eddiecollins.biz/.


The sample clips from the recordings above will provide you with an idea of what I can sound like with a band. However, the clips below will provide a sample of what a fiddle tune can sound like on the harmonica. They are not the best recording quality, but they will get the point across:

Old Joe Clark       St. Annes Reel       Swallowtail Jig

For those who would like to try their hand at playing fiddle tunes, the following links will provide some harmonica tab for you. There is a legend at the bottom of the tab to help you read it. The tab has a pseudo-time set-up so that if you play the notes and spaces correctly, you should have approximately the correct time on each note. (See the legend at the bottom of the page.) A couple of these tunes are also played for you in the above music links, but the version on paper may be simpler than what was recorded.

Arkansas Traveler       Irish Washerwoman       Old Joe Clark       Swallowtail Jig


If you are a harmonica player in Texas, then you should check out the Harmonica Organization of Texas website for the chapter of the club that may be in your area. HOOT now has chapters in Dallas, Austin, Houston, Amarillo, West Texas (Midland), and San Antonio. For a state this size, it is pretty hard to get in touch with other people who share your interests, especially if that interest is the harmonica. So check them out and get in touch!

HOOT'n in San Antonio!:

The San Antonio chapter or HOOT just got started last year and began with a bang. If you are a harmonica player in the San Antonio area, you should check these go-getters out. They have plans for the up-coming year and a wide-range of experience to draw on for some of their meeting topics.

For more information on the local club, check HOOT's website or contact Bill Patterson at 210-408-7366 or Betty Welch.

HOOT'n in Houston!:

If you are a harmonica player in the Houston area (Tx.), then this may be the club for you!

The Houston Chapter of HOOT meets every 3rd Wednesday at 7:30pm. in Room E252 East, Tomball Community College (30555 Tomball Parkway, Tomball, Tx.). For more information, check out the Houston chapter of HOOT at http://www.hoottexas.com/ or contact Gary Johnson.

HOOT'n in Austin:

If you are a harmonica player in the Austin area (Tx.), then you ought to drop by a meeting and say "Hello" -- maybe even give us thought or two or a tune off of your harp. Our meetings include club business and discussions, but often also include a workshop or lesson of some sort and/or a small jam.   We are a small group, but we are talented and growing. We typically meet at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Road, in the main auditorium on the 1st Monday of the month. To check the next meeting date, go to http://www.hoottexas.com/.

The Austin HOOT club library is popular and growing. It contains recorded and written harmonica related materials for the use of our growing membership which was donated/loaned to the club by club members -- one more perk for the faithful membership.

Blues Society in San Antonio!:

If you love blues and are in the San Antonio area (Tx.), then the San Antonio Blues Society is for you!

It is off to a flying start, but it needs the help of San Antonio blues fans. For more information, check out their site at http://www.sanantonioblues.com/ They will be glad to talk to you.

Harmonica Legends

Visit the webpage of harmonica legend, Lonnie Glosson. Known as the "talkin' harmonica man", he fascinated audiences with his harmonica from the stage and over the radio until the age of 92 (a testament to the healthful benefits of playing the harmonica and of playing music in general). From the 1920's to the 1950's he traveled the country playing the harmonica in shows and on the radio, including a bit on WLS Radio (Chicago) and the Grand Ol' Opry. He even found himself on the television show "Hee Haw" in the 1970's. With his harmonica playing partner, Wayne Raney, he wrote the song, "Why Don't You Haul Off and Love Me." Lonnie's composition "Matthew 24" has been recorded by both Kitty Wells and George Jones.

Recordings of Lonnie's music, and the music of harmonica legends Deford Bailey and Wayne Raney, can be obtained from Lonnie's website at http://www.lonnieglosson.com/ for a very reasonable price. Many of these recordings are rare and are a must have for any avid bluegrass/country blues harmonica player. Add some to your collection!

Camp Bluegrass & Swing Camp is gearing up for 2005

Camp Bluegrass & Swing Camp 2005 is scheduled for the week of July 17 through July 22, 2005, and will be held on the South Plains College campus, 1401 College Ave. Levelland, Texas 79336. This year's Camp Bluegrass' faculty will include Alan Munde, Wayne Shrubsall, Bill Evans, Ned Lubericki, Adam Granger, Brad Davis, Steve Smith, Gerald Jones, Joe Carr, Ed Marsh, Dale Morris, Sr., Tim McCasland, Kathy Chiavola, and Bill Honker.  It was a blast last year, and we learned a lot.  Swing Camp (with Slim Richey) was also a blast last year and will be again this year.

With instruction, room, and board totaling around $550, you can take an economical vacation for a week and learn about your favorite music or instrument at the same time! These camps are worth the trip! Try them out!

Note: While bluegrass harmonica is not one of the "official" study topics offered at Camp Bluegrass, I should be there again this year and I always like to meet and trade information with fellow harmonica players when I find them -- and there usually are a couple. If you want to ask them to include harmonica in their week of instruction, email them. An email address is provided for just such things on their website. They always encourage and listen to ideas, suggestions, requests, and feedback.

Catch the Manchaca AllStars at the Firehall...

The Manchaca AllStars are at their home venue (the Manchaca Firehall) every 2nd & 4th Friday of the month: 7:30 pm.-10:30 pm. (when the cows go home). We take requests - especially if they are for a harmonica tune!
[Manchaca, Tx. just south of Austin -- FM 1626, just west of where Manchaca Rd. dead-ends. We are in the pavillion beside the fire station.  The fire station itself houses a restaurant with down-home cuisine and serves as a community center for Manchaca.]

Also catch the Manchaca AllStars on the CTBA band sampler currently available from the Central Texas Bluegrass Association.  And the new Manchaca AllStar Live CD has been released.   After 20 years of playing together, we finally decided to take a chance and record ourselves!   Order it from us at manchacaallstars@email.com.

Manchaca AllStars booking info:

The Manchaca AllStars may be able to play your event or festival. Contact us at manchacaallstars@email.com or call Buck Buchanan at 512-282-2756. (Be sure to leave a message!)


The Central Texas Bluegrass Association (CTBA) hosts a jam every Sunday afternoon at Artz Ribhouse beginning at 2pm. in afternoon and going on until the jammers quit, weather invades, or the world comes to an end. Indoor jamming is from 2pm. to 5pm. (The jammers then need to clear out of the way for the evening's band to get started at 6pm.)

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