The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is an American country rock band from Long Beach, California. There are few who have had as large an influence on modern harp players as Jimmie Fadden, with his over four decades of recording and touring, and his unique country blues style. I was really impressed by his vigor, the band, and the raw edginess of how that Chicago thing was being translated by a new group of people; going from old school to new school. I listened a lot more to how people played than what they played; the enthusiasm in Sonny Terry’s playing, Taj Mahal’s tongue blocking, what Sonny Boy did with those big hands, etc. Vassar was the perfect vehicle for me to play along with and that record set a high standard for me in a traditional Bluegrass sense. Sometimes it was just a casual meeting where I gave someone my number and told them I’d love to do it. Sonny Terry was closer to my center. It just sort of happened that he would play something and I would play something that I felt fit; it was very natural and spontaneous. I never just stand right in front of the mic; I usually move into the mic when I want it to be more full, and I’ll usually back away on a long, sustained part that I want to back out of the track. I’m not a real technical player, but I really enjoy playing a groove and keeping time for myself when I’m playing harmonica, which I do simultaneously. I’m a lucky guy! I’d see people and ask them why they didn’t have me play on a particular record and they’d tell me they didn’t think I was around; out of sight, out of mind! We had three guys who played drums and I think the other two needed to be up front more than I did, so I got the lion’s share of the drum chair. I tended to hang more with the country guys, and even the blues I got tended to come through the country guys. He’d put a little piece of tape on the base of the reed to tune it up. RG: How has your multi-instrumentalist, songwriting, and touring background influenced your harmonica playing and your approach to the studio and sideman work? All rights reserved. Butterfield was the new version of the Chicago players and he was quite sophisticated and knew how to work what he had well; his singing and harp playing were well matched, but stylistically my interests were in the acoustic players like Sonny Boy, early Little Walter, and some of Big Walter’s music. It’s just as well, playing live is my favorite thing to do! JF: I don’t really have a library of favorite recordings. RG: What are some recordings that have inspired you? So I got to hang out with him. JF: Listening is the most important part, then comes applying what you hear to what you play, and hopefully editing yourself as you go. He was really my first teacher; someone who actually showed me how to play things that he was playing. Usually they say “play some of that train sounding thing”, “fill in between the second and third verse”, or “leading into the chorus, we’d like a nice big five note”; this was not that and they had a particular melody they wanted played. Keep it honest and keep it simple! There’s a very funny story there---Charlie McCoy saw Dan Fogelberg and said, “I just heard, . I played on a couple of Alabama tracks; we had done some shows with them and had the same producer. His playing has evolved into a very rhythmic country blues style which compliments the many forms of Americana music that he is immersed in and identified with today. Now that I don’t have Vassar to play with anymore, it’s clear that we really had a great musical moment that was interesting and natural. I also learned a lot from playing with people who didn’t play harmonica like Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin Hopkins, Long Gone Miles, JB Hutto and the Hawks, and Muddy Waters. Both of those guys showed a path to me and I started pursuing that. If you can make people feel something, then you’ve succeeded. RG: Any things you might share about some of the legendary harp players you’ve spent time with? There are few who have had as large an influence on modern harp players as Jimmie Fadden. RG: Any advice on the technical aspect of recording harmonica? I spent quite a bit of time with Al talking about the instrument. You know structure, chord progressions, how songs are put together and thus, how you might approach someone else’s song. Thirty-three albums, three number-one singles, and a couple of Grammys later, drummer/vocalist/harmonica player Jimmie Fadden is anything but complacent. I’ll say that because it’s funny, but the truth of the matter is that I believe all young guys who start playing music want to meet girls! It became a great pathway to emotional comfort and freedom from the things I was feeling, and it didn’t really seem to matter which instrument I chose to play. RG: What are some of the areas of the harmonica you currently find intriguing and that keep you engaged with performing and the instrument? JF: What catches my imagination is the likes of Howard Levy or Brendan Power and listening to how they’ve taken the instrument and applied it to the way they hear the world. JF: Well, one of my first influences was Charlie McCoy because I had heard him playing on one of my dad’s Chet Atkins records. There are players out there who have an ability to play incredibly complicated music, but as a listener I need a break after listening to about twenty minutes of that approach. Harmonica is an instrument where less is more. I got chance to hang out and sit in with quite a few of them. There was a growing folk, blues, and rock scene in the L.A. area in the 60's and Jimmie was right into it with Dirt Band. There were a couple of guys my age I had met who played music; one played guitar and one played mandolin, the Agajanian brothers. The first experience in that respect was Sonny Terry who allowed me to spend quite a bit of time with him. Somebody like Deford Bailey would be on my list. … A lot of this came from my time spent jamming with Bluegrass players. I loved the way he used to tape off the reed to get the minor 3rd on draw 6 on. Jimmie’s first memory of playing harp is some where in high school: "maybe the summer of 64", he says. Jimmie's playing outside of NGDB can be heard on many of their early albums. I’m pretty much a drummer that plays harmonica or a harmonica player that plays drums, either way you want to look at it. Sonny’s thing was about rhythmic stuff; he taught me about breathing through the harp and how to keep playing without running out of breath. I haven’t mentioned Al Wilson. JF: Paul Butterfield was playing in California quite often then and I don’t think I missed too many shows. At some point during highschool I suffered a series of depressions. JF: I think the one consideration in all the recording I’ve done is a large diaphragm microphone, like a Neumann U87 and U67 or the TLM series. Our group has always had a history of swapping instruments. JF: Well, I’m still having a lot of fun and am a really lucky guy! His early harp buddy's were Allen Wilson and Taj Mahal, and he says you can hear similarities in their styles. Copyright © 2020 C.A. Jimmie Fadden, member of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was born March 9, 1948 in Long Beach, California, plays guitar, drums, harmonica and other instruments. JF: They’re pretty much people I either know personally and socially; Jackson (Browne) was in the Dirt band for a period of time, so that was pretty obvious; Linda was part of our group that hung out together in Southern California. It’s a lot of fiddle and harp playing harmony lines or playing off of each other in an unusual way. RG: How has a lot of your sideman work come about? Thank you, Seydel!". Jimmie says: "The Seydel 1847 is the harp that I've been looking for all these years…. We had a lot common musical interests and shared similar harmonica influences in that we both primarily played from an acoustic perspective. His harp mentor and teacher was Sonny Terry: "He let me hang out with him every time he came to town". I still love every moment of it and even more so as I’ve gotten older and I don’t take things for granted. Jimmy was a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, formed in 1966, when the members all agreed "It was a way to avoid legitimate work". Just a really special cat who had a really personal view of that musical genre (Blues). Jimmie Fadden. I had played a little bit of mandolin and autoharp and I’m not sure how I got into the harmonica except that it was very evocative and said a lot beyond what it actually played; the intention of the musician was audible in a very easy to understand way. was one of the earlier studio dates where I was asked to play something specific. There’s something about those mics that responds well to the timbral range of the reeds, from a quiet, smooth sound to a loud biting sound, and I think you can work a mic like that better. He met some folks, and formed Suitcase Full Of Blues When Jimmie had some time off from Festivals and performances with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, he teamed up with Bluesman Al Fuller to have some fun playing the Blues. I met Taj Mahal at the Ash Grove too. I didn’t play electric harp, so that was interesting to me. I truly appreciate my audience and I’m entirely impressed by all of the young players, the interest they show in the instrument, and the vitality they bring to the world of harmonica playing. So somewhere between Sonny Terry, Charlie McCoy, Bob Dylan, and Paul Butterfield, who was another guy who played in our area that I got to hang out with; a pretty diverse group! with Vassar Clements comes to mind. Music sort of came to me naturally and I didn’t think of it as a profession but just as a way to enjoy life and feel better about myself. It’s funny, in Nashville, where I lived for twenty years, there’s a bit of pecking order; if you’re a road guy, you stay a road guy, and if you’re a studio guy, you stay a studio guy. It’s really easy to be your own producer because you know what you’d want for yourself is what you can give someone else. RG: Would you say you were “serious” about music at that time? It’s difficult for a listener to absorb an intense level of play unless they’re a musician. Jimmy was a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, formed in 1966, when the members all agreed "It was a way to avoid legitimate work". Sonny and Brownie used to play on the West Coast and we played a lot of the same clubs. Their styles were each so different that it required me to learn to adapt to different melodic and rhythmic changes. “I’ve been very lucky,” Fadden says. . JF: I’m not actually sure how I got my first harmonica, but I believe I was about 16 or 17; somewhere around 1964 or ‘65.