Clint Hoover Finds Jazz in Dream of The Serpent Dog
by Phil Lloyd, Contributing Editor
The American Harmonica Newsmagazine, January 1998
Clint Hoover was 17 years old and had listened to a lot of music when he decided he wanted to play an instrument.
“Like many people of my generation, I was initially attracted to the sound and expressiveness of the blues Harp. I remember stumbling onto a Muddy Waters concert at the Minnesota State Fair when I was about 13 and being riveted by the harp player.”
His first harp influences came from other players who were influenced by blues players. “Early influences included Stevie Wonder, Magic Dick, Paul Butterfield, Norton Buffalo, Corky Segal. Then I discovered the great 50’s blues players: Little Walter, Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, etc. As I developed musically I discovered Toot Thielemans and was blown away.”
“Nowadays on the diatonic I’m a big fan of Howard Levy and the pre-war diatonic players especially Blues Birdhead, Rhythm Willie, Chuck Darling, DeFord Bailey, and Jazz Gillum.”
“On the chromatic I love Les Thompson’s playing (I think he’s one of the greats), Hendrik Meurkens, Mike Turk, Paul deLay, Jan Verwy, Pete Pedersen and always Toots. I’m also into the great Irish player Eddie Clark and really enjoy listening to Brendan Power.”
What did he take from these influences? “I’m inspired more by their overall musical creativity, innovation, and individual sound and expressiveness than specific mechanical techniques.”
How is his playing the same? “I strive to copy these people only in the spirit of what they accomplished as individual artists. I am constantly seeking my own voice as a player and writer.”
How is it different from these influences? “I’m very eclectic and try to pull ideas from many musical sources. Maybe that’s not at all different from what a lot of these players do.”
Has he been influenced by other than harp players? “I’ll be honest, my biggest inspiration has come from the great jazz and blues sax and trumpet players. When I listen to them I can appreciate what they do on a purely musical level. I don’t get caught up so much in how they did something, but what they said.”
As far as embouchure goes, he uses both methods. “I started as a lip player and learned tongue blocking later. I try to use both techniques as much as possible depending on what I’m trying to accomplish, but I’m still more comfortable with pucker style for single note playing on the chromatic. On the diatonic, I love doing the tongue block Chicago style blues.”
Like most harp players these days, he doesn’t play his harps straight from the box. “I do reed adjustments (offset), and tuning if needed.” He doesn’t use a harp tech.
“These days I work on them myself. Tuning, valve replacement, reed replacement, offset, slide adjustments and cleaning.”
His technique includes the overblows made famous by Howard Levy.
“And overdraws,” he added. “Currently, I’m working on transfering my chromatic skills to the diatonic. This is a long-term project, probably another 5 to 10 years of work.”
The harmonica is not his only instrument.
“I studied the guitar and I play alto saxophone,” he says.
If he knew how difficult the harp was to play when he first started would he still have gone ahead?
“Good question! After having learned sax, I realized how much easier it was to do certain musical phrases on it than the harmonica. Things that took me years to accomplish on harmonica were relatively easy on the sax.”
“Part of that can be explained by previous musical experience, but not all. Hendrik Muerkens talks about the extra amount of warm up time it takes to perform at top level on the chromatic. But to answer your question, I wouldn’t have done anything different because I love the sound and feel of the harmonica.”
“I think it’s one of the most expressive instruments around, and I’m not just talking about the blues harp. I think the chromatic is extremely emotive and I sometimes feel it gets a bad rap in that department.”
If he had it to do all over, he would still take up the harp.
“But I would have learned the piano at the same time. And the sax.”
Nowadays he reads and writes music, but it wasn’t always that way.
“Though originally I started as a self-taught player and played without any musical knowledge.”
How does he go about writing songs?
“Songs with lyrics I write on the guitar and sing the melody lines. Instrumental compositions I write in my head or on the harp then sit down to harmonize it on the guitar.”
What comes first the tune or the lyrics?
“The tune. Mostly today I write instrumental music.”
Do other songs inspire him to write similar songs?
“Although I’m inspired by other songs, I don’t consciously go about writing in a particular style or with a specific song in mind, but I allow all of my influences to guide me. In other words, I don’t sit down and think, ‘Today I’m going to write a ballad in a Rodgers and Hart style.’ Actually, I wish I could do that sort of thing.”
Clint says his schedule varies, and he plays out more often sometimes than others. “Around 90 to 100 dates in a year, although that can vary a lot. Sometimes I’m teaching more than playing or the reverse. This last year for example, I was teaching a lot and busy recording more than gigging out.”
Does he do much sideman gigging?
“Yes. I work with various guitar/singer/songwriter performers. I enjoy intimate acoustic settings more than electric bands these days. I have come to believe that the best attributes of the harmonica come out when working in a subtle, quiet environment (such as an acoustic guitar and upright bass). This is the philosophy behind my new CD.”
What can he tell beginning harmonica players?
“Practice as much as you can. Hang in there and open your ears to as much music as possible (breadth as well as depth). Also, learn a full chord instrument (like piano or guitar), learn theory – know what you are doing. Contrary to popular belief this will help your ability to improvise. And learn to read and write music.”