Inquiring Minds: Pocket Full of Soul Director and Harmonica Apologist Marc Lempert
As you can also see in this week's print edition of the Press - yes, we still make those - Rocks Off recently had a chance to chat via email with Marc Lempert, director of the harmonica documentary Pocket Full of Soul that screens Saturday night at Verizon before a demonstration of the instrument's many different powers by Texas roadhouse rocker Delbert McClinton. McClinton is featured in Pocket Full alongside other harp-blowing Texans and adopted Texans such as Clint Black, the Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kim Wilson and Willie Nelson's aide de camp Mickey Raphael. Sometimes - all too often, actually - we don't get to run as much of our interviews in print as we'd like. (We're rather fond of trees too, actually.) But after the jump, you can read the whole thing. Enjoy, and Merry Christmas from the Rocks Off family!
Rocks Off: What made you want to make this film? Marc Lempert: A different film. In the process of researching for another project that involved the harmonica, we went to a convention of harmonica players with the intention of asking five questions that would ultimately, hopefully, aid in the writing of a script. So, five days and 40 hours of footage later as the 40th annual conference for the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH) came to a close, it became clear that our script would have to wait. It was the stories and the candid emotion of these players as they would relate their personal harmonica odysseys to us that, in the end, provided an international road-map for our documentary. RO: How and why did the harmonica acquire the stigma that it's not a "real" instrument? ML: The "toy" stigma associated with the harmonica, in my opinion, comes from its size. It's always easy to pick on the little guy and the harmonica is the smallest. It will always be the consummate underdog instrument. I have to give it up to those journeymen and women that have embraced the life of a harmonica player. For that stigma is always there. It takes soul-searching in its own right to be devoted to a heartbreaker like the harp. To the players! And to reiterate, it's an instrument, not a toy. RO: Of all the musicians you interviewed for Pocket Full of Soul, who had the most surprising or insightful comments? What were they? ML: Every artist I interviewed for this film brought their A game to the discussion and were prepared and ready to talk about the harmonica. So while there was some congruency and echo between their stories, they each had a very distinct, unique perspective on the instrument. Did I mention they were ready?
They were all extremely educated on the thing - experts. John Popper was like an encyclopedia. Magic Dick of the J.Geils Band was also highly informative but more technical. Jerry Portnoy of the Muddy Waters Blues Band was more emotional and coming from a totally different place. But, considering all the artists I did get to sit down with, I'd have to say Charlie Musselwhite was the most insightful to me. His interview was kind of a gospel on the harmonica. I didn't know how much I'd learned until I watched the footage again. It was pretty amazing. But all the artists had stories, history, respect and wonder for the harmonica and each interview was a source of insight and surprise.
RO: Was there anyone you would have liked to interview for the film but weren't able to?
ML: There are a handful of people I would have liked to interview for the film. For instance, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Mick Jagger, Bono, Springsteen and Elwood Blues jump to mind. You can throw Tom Petty in there, too. There were a couple of harmonica players that passed away during photography, and a couple more that were either hindered by a scheduling conflict or uninterested. I'm pretty excited with who we did get. I think it's a perfect representation of what the instrument is really about. Y'know what? I would've liked to interview Little Walter and Paul Butterfield. But they're dead. RO: Name one thing people who watch Pocket Full would (probably) be surprised to learn about the harmonica. ML: I think people will be surprised at a few things. First, how much exposure they have to the harmonica in their life. Second, how difficult it is to play it well. And third, the various genres of music that use the harmonica as a primary instrument. RO: Why did you get Huey Lewis to narrate?
ML: We had interviewed Huey as an artist, just to have him as part of the ensemble of players. It was great, and the way he talked, the expressiveness, his voice - his voice was an instrument, too. So soulful. It was a no-brainer. Almost immediately after the interview I called Todd [Slobin, producer] and just kind of put it out there, like, "If we decide to have this thing narrated, we should see if Huey would want to do it. His voice - it's perfect." We pitched it to him, he was totally into it and I couldn?t imagine another voice telling the story. RO: Personally, who are your two or three favorite harp players? (Living or dead.) Let's see - Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, Charley Leighton, Charlie Musselwhite, John Popper and Robert Plant to name a few. I could go on and on ... Annie Raines, Lee Oskar, Magic Dick ... this new cat, Jason Ricci. Oh, you said two or three. RO: And finally, how would you rate your own harmonica skills? ML: On a scale of one to ten: Four and a half. 8 p.m. Saturday at Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas (Bayou Place), 713-230-1600 or www.livenation.com.
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