Five questions for a harmonica player
by MELODY KARPINSKI / Santa Rosa Correspondent
Oakland native and longtime Santa Rosa resident “Catfish” Jack Chauvin began playing the harmonica when he was 20 years old, and hasn’t stopped since.
Inspired by Chicago blues legends such as James Cotton and Charlie McCoy, Chauvin has played with a variety of talented artists including Grammy-nominated Ruthie Foster, Los Lobos, Charlie Musselwhite and Tommy Thomsen.
Chauvin teaches both the guitar and the harmonica, and often plays at local venues.
1. How did you get your start in harmonica and how long have you played?
I started playing harmonica in my 20th year around the sun. So that puts me at playing [around] 29 years. It happened one night in 1983 [when] my good friend Tom Nevins was playing the guitar. He opened a drawer and out popped a harmonica. I can still remember the sound it made as it slid against the edge of the drawer. We were listening to Muddy Waters. After that…..everything changed. I never believed I was musical and after blowing that harmonica (pretty badly) for a little bit I knew I was on to something.
2. Do you often play the harmonica and guitar together? How do the two instruments overlap?
I play pretty much everyday because I teach and perform for a living. Between the two, I usually have a harmonica in my mouth and a guitar in my hands. I do play them both at the same time. I use a harmonica rack to hold the harmonica while I play the guitar a la Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Jimmy Reed.
3. What brought you to Santa Rosa? Do you find much of a blues/Americana music scene here?
We were living in Austin, Texas (great music town) and we landed back here in Sonoma County. We moved from Boonville and our choices upon returning were Santa Rosa area, Boonville or Oakland (where I grew up).
The music scene here is very healthy. A lot of roots-based bands and folks who dig that style of music. Josh from North Bay Hootananny does a great job of promoting local bands. I play his Wednesday Night Hoots at the Last Day Saloon sometimes.
4. What is your favorite part about the harmonica? What’s unique to that instrument?
The harmonica soothes my soul and connects me to everything. It’s given me a purpose in life. It’s really one of the easiest instruments to play, but it’s one of the toughest instruments to master. Plus, everybody loves the harmonica! There’s an old saying that goes: “half the world plays harmonica and the other half wishes it did.” I believe the harmonica is due for a revival like the ukelele is having now.
5. If you could describe what music means to you in one word, what would you say?
Listen to some of Catfish Jack’s music here.