Co-Editor In Chief
Ever thought something sounded a little funny about Rob Dickinson’s harmonica playing? You’re not alone. Until recently, the Catherine Wheel frontman himself agonized over it.
“I just couldn’t understand it,” he said. “I’d worked with Mark Feltham and a couple other harmonica players during my career, and I’d been playing on my own for a number of years, but somehow I could never get the sound I was looking for.”
While many of his peers’ playing abounded with quick, complex variations and nuances, Dickinson’s playing had never seemed to amount to anything more than “a few raspy wheezes and honks,” Dickinson complained.
But his troubles ended last Tuesday, when Dickinson discovered he was playing the wrong side of the instrument.
“It was an accidental discovery, really,” he said.
“I was watching a late-night cable television special on Supertramp, and there was a curly-haired fellow onscreen, playing the harmonica on ‘Take the Long Way Home.’ Before I had a chance to close my eyes and savor the music, the way he was holding it caught my eye.
“I ran over to the special cabinet where I keep my harmonica, took it off its cushion, ran back and held it up to the television. Sure enough, it was the same brand of harmonica, and the curly-haired bloke was clearly blowing on it from the back—or at least, from what I’d always considered to be the back. So, after a moment of incredulity, I turned my harmonica around and started playing it, and much to my surprise, it sounded lovely!”
It has only been a couple days since the revelation, but Dickinson has already found he can tackle any harmonica solo, from Bob Dylan to John Popper to Howlin’ Wolf.
“I’m a harmonica virtuoso!” Dickinson exclaimed. “I can take the bleakest, most simplistic tune and turn it into a lush harmonica spectacle that will bring tears to your eyes! And all this time, I had no idea I had this gift! I put my poor fans through torture, when all this time I had the potential to out-harp Sonny Boy Williamson with my eyes closed!”
Ironically, it was Dickinson’s love for the instrument that fueled his ignorance.
“I’m so in love with the sound of the instrument that whenever I hear one beginning to play, I close my eyes in rapture, and stop whatever I’m doing so I can listen to it,” Dickinson said. “So in the past, whenever someone else was playing it, I never actually saw them, because of the closed eyes, you know. And when it came time to teach myself, I picked a side and stuck with it. It just happened to be the wrong side.
“Let this be a lesson to all of you: never gamble on 50/50 odds!”
Dickinson promised that his upcoming solo record and all future Catherine Wheel releases would feature plenty of harmonica—correctly played for a change.
“Thank God,” responded CW guitarist Brian Futter in a separate interview. “This is great news!
“I can’t begin to tell you how many times [CW drummer] Neil Sims and I winced at each other when we were on tour playing ‘Future Boy.’ It was a nightmare, listening to that sound, oh that horrible sound—something akin to a wounded gosling incessantly screaming ‘FAFF’—and he insisted on playing the song every single bloody fucking night!
“I mean, sweet Lord. Seriously. Have you ever been in New York City and heard the subway put on its brakes? Okay. Now take that noise and increase it by a factor of ten. Then mix it with a recording of yourself farting into a tin can after having eaten half a bushel of week-old brussels sprouts. Then play the resulting sound through a $50 Panasonic amplifier into a moldy vat. Be sure to stand your grandmother up on the edge of the vat, put a portable DAT in her hand, push record and kick her in. Then steal the nearest tractor and drive it through the Burger King with the DAT recording playing full blast into the drive-thru speaker. The sound that the Burger King employee hears through the speaker, combined with the background noise of the restaurant, might give you a very, very rudimentary approximation of what Rob Dickinson’s harmonica would sound like on a good day—provided that you tune the infernal caterwauling to a high E, of course.
“Let me put it this way. When you hear Rob play the harmonica, you’d best have two layers of Pampers on, because the noise that emanates from that instrument will deprive you of all muscle control and leave you a quivering pile of goo on the floor. Oh, the pain! Of course, he’s such a prima donna that we didn’t dare say anything for fear he’d make one of us play the damned thing instead. But now, we’re saved! Thank you GOD for this discovery!! I kiss your fucking feet, oh God!”
Dickinson said he has made several attempts to contact Sony concerning plans to re-release Wishville, the band’s latest record, with a newly-recorded version of “Ballad of a Running Man,” featuring Rob’s debut recording on properly oriented harmonica. However, these attempts have been fruitless.
“For some reason, they haven’t been returning my calls,” Dickinson said.