Harmonica -- Fiddle Style -- CARA COOKE


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 style of harmonica that takes a lot from the fiddle, even to the point of twinning the fiddle.)

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 35 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 AllStars, the Blazing Bows, and K. R. Wood. I also occasionally play for anyone else who desires my harmonica talents, my vocal harmony talents, or my talents with the upright bass, mandolin, or guitar.

If you wish to contact me, e-mail me at harmonica(at)mailcity.com. (The "(at)" replaces "@" in the address to avoid getting picked up by the spambots. Replace the "(at)" with the "@" symbol. Thanks.)



Manchaca All Stars play Cedar Landing Sept. 20th (Huffman, Tx.):

The Cedar Landing has booked the Manchaca All Stars for a Sept. 20th, 2008, show.   The show is free and the food is worth more than the price.   If you are in the area, please come and have fun! Take a rest from the mess left by Hurricane Ike.

More Performances:

Check out the workshops and festivals listed below and the schedules for the Manchaca Allstars (for whom I sing harmony, play harmonica, and play bass) and the Blazing Bows (who I back with guitar or bass). [The Blazing Bows are a group of children who study Suzuki violin method, coupled with Texas/bluegrass fiddling, and perform occasionally for festivals, nursing homes, schools, and such.]


Old Settlers Music Festival Harmonica Workshop:

The Old Settlers Music Festival (Salt Lick Pavillion, Austin, Tx.), is done for 2008.   None of us can wait until next year's festival (April 2009)! 

For the last 9 years I have given a harmonica workshop at this festival that has been very well received (often focusing on bluegrass harmonica or working with one of the festival performers).  This year Lonnie Joe Howell (a Nashville session musician), Jimi Lee, and Dale Spalding joined me for the workshop, sharing their points of view of the harmonica from the world of country blues, blues, and a touch of jazz.   Later on, when a hole developed in the workshop stage schedule, Lonnie Joe and I put on a second workshop for those who had missed the first workshop because of the workshop stage schedule snafu.   Both workshops were worth seeing and were well enjoyed.   If you are interested in learning about playing the harmonica, then put next year's festival, and this workshop, on your schedule. 

Check out the Hill Country Acoustic Music Camp in 2009:

The Hill Country Acoustic Music Camp's (Schreiner University, Kerrville, Tx.) teaches banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, bass, mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, and voice (and occasionally other requested instruments, such as harmonica) -- all taught by consumate pros with many years of experience.   The learning atmosphere is relaxed and conducive to learning, practice, and experimentation.  The camp itself is economical:   around $525 for instruction, room, and board for 5 days.  (Alternate room and board arrangements are available.)   [I can tell you from experience that their rooms are very comfortable!]   Check www.hcamp.org for more information on the camp, its instructors, and accommodations.

Bluegrass harmonica and much more at SPAH in St. Louis!:

The Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH)convention in St. Louis, Mo., was a blast.   The bluegrass "teach-in" table and bluegrass jam sessions went well, as did everything else. Everywhere you went someone was showing or helping others learn about the possibilies on harmonica!

If you missed the event, here are a couple of things you missed:

The "Teach-In": A multi-day opportunity at the convention to study one on one with someone who knows a great deal more than you on a particular aspect of playing or working with equipment. The "Teach-In" teachers are all accomplished and have certain skills and knowledge that they would love to pass on to anyone who is interested. Thank you Joe Filisko for making such a thing possible.

Jimi Lee's hallway jam sessions are always great, too. Everyone gets their chance to try the tune and the music varies from the 12 bar blues to some old jazz standards, and may include a country/bluegrass tune. Jimi is a wonderfully talented musician who is always interested in helping others learn or challenging them to go further.

The shows and seminars are always great. The jams are great. And everyone is generally interested in helping each other learn some new aspect of the instrument or improve a skill.

Check the SPAH website for more info on the next harmonica convention in Sacremento, Ca., and on the organization itself.   Hope to see you there!!


CD from Laurence Baer!:  

Laurence Baer has written and produced a wonderful debut CD of his original material and has engaged many stellar musicians, including me, to help out on the tracks.   Visit CD Baby and check his stuff out.   "Storm Ahead" has my harmonica paired together and pitted against a fiddler.   If you were wondering how something like that can come out, check out "Storm Ahead".

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.  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 "pipes" 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 a 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 some cowboy CDs dedicated to the cattle drive years, the "Camp Cookie" CDs. "Camp Cookie Christmas" with Petey and the Prairie Dogs is a great choice for a Christmas gift. (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/.

The newest CD on Jim Strickland's musical parade is called "Grand Canyon: Songs of the American West". Listen to it and you will hear wonderful songs about the Grand Canyon (& me) once more. (Keep asking, Jim, and I will keep playing.)

Central Texas Bluegrass Association band sampler CDs:

The Central Texas Bluegrass Association (CTBA) is proud to present their CDs sampling some of central Texas' finest bluegrass bands.  These CDs feature top-knotch bluegrass music from deep within the heart of Texas.  Both economical and special, these CDs boast over 20 tunes each (both original and traditional) from a large number of bands and only cost $10 a piece.  (Every dollar is money in support of bluegrass in central Texas and the CTBA.)  If you would like to hear central Texas' finest bluegrass, order your CDs at www.centraltexasbluegrass.org/cdproject.html.

If you are interested in some of my bluegrass harmonica, get the second CD. I play and sing on several cuts with both the Ledbetters (from San Antonio, Tx.) and the Manchaca All Stars (Manchaca/Austin, Tx.). The Ledbetters also put one of American Heritage's (my songwriting group) songs on the CD, as well.

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 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

For a little Christmas music, try these:

O Little Town of Bethlehem       We Three Kings      

Harmonica exercises anyone?

Two note scale exercise       Two note plus one scale exercise      
Three note scale exercise       Three note plus one scale exercise      
Four note scale exercise       Exercise for tunes like Irish Washerwoman      

Or you could just run the harmonica scale from 4 blow to 7 blow and back, then start the scale on the next note and run that one up an octave. If you keep running these scales, you will wander through the modes in which the harmonica can play naturally.


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 of HOOT is going good now, but would still like to have you with them. 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 Bob "The Captain" Boyd at (210)494-1118 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 meet every 2nd Tuesday of the month in the upper meeting room at Artz Ribhouse (2330 S. Lamar) -- located at the corner of South Lamar and Bluebonnet. To check the next meeting date or see what other harmonica related shows or activities are going on, 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 members which was donated/loaned to the club by club members -- one more perk for the faithful membership.

Blues Society in Austin!:

If you love blues and are in the Austin area (Tx.), then the Austin Blues Society is for you! The Society is off to a flying start, but it needs the help of Austin blues fans. (Watch for joint events between the Austin Blues Society and the Austin chapter of HOOT.) For more information, check out their site at http://www.austinbluessociety.org/.   They will be glad to talk to you.

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! The Society 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. [Link is temporarily out of action.] 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 will be gearing up for 2009 soon!!

Camp Bluegrass & Swing Camp will be gearing up for 2009 soon.   It is held on the South Plains College campus, 1401 College Ave. Levelland, Texas 79336.   Check www.campbluegrass.com for more information.

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, when I am there, 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.
However, you should also check out a similar camp, done by many of the same people a month earlier (in June):   the Hill Country Acoustic Music Camp which will take place on the Schreiner University campus in Kerrville, Tx. That camp has scheduled a harmonica class in the past and may once again. It operates similarly to Camp Bluegrass and utilizes many of the same instructors, but they also include instruction on many instruments not typically covered in a bluegrass camp, like the mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, fingerstyle guitar, harmonica, etc. Check their website out to see if it is the camp for you instead.

Catch the Manchaca AllStars...
on the CTBA band samplers 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.)

Central Texas Bluegrass Association   International Bluegrass Music Association   Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica   Harmonica Organization of Texas (HOOT)   Austin Friends of Traditional Music   Bay Area Bluegrass Association (Tx)  

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