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A Harvest of Harp Players &
A Cornucopia of Blues

Story by Kevin Robinson
Pictures by Ellie Apuzzo

MORE PHOTOS Harp Fest Website Blues Society Benmarl Vineyards

It might have been just another harvest festival; you know, fall foliage, a few pumpkins, and a corn stalk or two thrown in for good measure. But on Sunday October 4th [1998], this particular harvest festival took place at the Benmarl Vineyards & Winery in Marlboro, on a beautiful hilltop overlooking the Hudson River. And let there be no mistake, the good folks at Benmarl found a way to put the "fest" back in festival.

Enter Anders Thueson, president of the fledgling Hudson Valley Blues Society. When you meet this energetic white-haired elf for the first time, you get the immediate feeling that you've just entered the eye of a hurricane. When he winks and moves on, you half expect the growing winds to usher in Santa Claus himself. But the real gift Anders brings to any party he helps host is music. "I love to see new people discover the blues," he told me. "It's never what they thought!"

Left to right: Chris O'Leary, Little Sammy Davis, Steve Guyger, Frank Latorre
So, while there was lots going on at Benmarl--hayrides, wine tasting, crafts, and great barbeque for starters--it was the second annual "Blues Harp Blowout" that brought out all the blankets and the lawn chairs. "If you're down," Kansas City harp wizard, John Paul Drum once told me, "and you want to stay down and wallow in it, listen to country/western music. But if you want to feel better, listen to the blues." Sunday, the enthusiastic crowd that covered the scenic sunny hilltop in Marlboro was definitely feeling better and better as the afternoon progressed. Anders Thueson saw to that by booking five great acts, each featuring a blues harp player.

Pat O'Shea and the Eldorado Kings
First on stage was the Hudson Valley's own, Pat O'Shea & the Eldorado Kings. Pat O'Shea is one of the finest blues guitarists I've ever heard, and his popularity among musicians and fans is enhanced by his conduct on and off the stage. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word; and if he has an ego, I've never seen it. Pat's paid his dues, and has earned "frontman" status several times over, but when he hooked up with Chris O'Leary he quickly recognized a way to enhance his band's audience appeal by letting O'Leary step out front. O'Leary's played bass with a number of area bands, but Pat O'Shea decided to spotlight the young musician's blues harp and vocal skills; and on Sunday afternoon, O'Leary showed the audience that he's not only a student of the old Chicago harp masters, but that he's been doing his homework.

Frank Latorre
The next harpman on the bill was Frank Latorre. Guitar slinger Midnight Slim apparently got caught in traffic, and didn't show up until the set was almost over, but not to worry. Gentleman Pat O'Shea & the Eldorado Kings graciously remained on stage to back Frank up until Slim took over. Latorre's a fine harp player, and his repertoire included several styles, but it was his rollicking West Coast "jump" blues licks that really got the crowd involved.

left: Irvin Louis Lattin
right: Adam Gussow
An act called "Mr. Satan & Adam" was due up next. I'm new to the East Coast blues scene, so I don't yet know many of these guys. As it turns out, "Mr. Satan" was under the weather, and bluesman, Irving Louis Lattin came up from NYC to play guitar with harp player, Adam Gussow. Gussow's style is highly energetic, and he worked in, out and around Lattin's mellow vocals with great enthusiasm. Irving Lattin's guitar licks were both smooth and heartfelt, and his vocals reminded me of one of my favorites, the great Keb Mo.

Richard Yescalis, Steve Guyger
Harpman Steve Guyger and guitarist Richard Yescalis took the stage next, and these guys are slick. They traded licks and vocals with practiced ease. Guyger knows how to sneak up on an unsuspecting audience. He displayed his harp tricks one at a time, the relatively germane ones early on. As the set progressed, he dug deeper and deeper until everyone in the crowd (Including the folks in the line for barbeque!) was clapping, cheering, and/or dancing. This duo goes on my "Must See" list.

Midnight Slim, Little Sammy Davis
The headliner act was Little Sammy Davis and Midnight Slim, and if you've ever watched "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC, you've probably seen Davis singing and blowing his harp. He is often referred to as Don Imus' "house band." He's been around for years, and he'd know his way around blues and R&B wearing a blindfold. His set was a delightful tour of familiar favorites, and Davis' fun loving style captured the audience from the outset. When the set was over, Little Sammy and Midnight Slim invited all the other harp players back up on stage and then led them in a "blowout" jam that allowed everyone to decide for themselves what style they liked the best. By the amount of dancing and clapping, I'd say they liked it all just fine.



MORE PHOTOS Harp Fest Website Blues Society Benmarl Vineyards

Kevin Robinson is a freelance writer/photographer, and the author of three "Stick Foster" hardback mystery novels. A former syndicated columnist for the Detroit Free Press, his byline has appeared over 100 times in national and regional periodicals. Kevin is a partner at No Bull Productions, and his PR credits include promotion and booking work for several of Kansas City's top blues bands. Kevin can be reached at Ellie Apuzzo owns and operates Ellie's Consider It Done. She provides "on-site oversight for absentee owners" here in the Florida Keys; and so far, this lifelong New Yorker just can't seem to get into "Keys time!" Ellie can be reached at

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