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New faces at Nashville’s Underground Jam (Video)

Nashville’s Music Underground Jam normally plays host to what might be called the “usual suspects”. They are players from The Jam’s former incarnation as the Play It Again Jam—Nashville’s longest running Rock ‘n’ Roll jam. I’ve mentioned just about every one of them in previous articles.

Joe Ortiz: Guitarist, Blues harpist and singer
Frankcine Harvey

Since The Jam’s last relocation, there have been some interesting new faces appearing. One of them is Blues harmonica-player Joe Ortiz. His talents have helped change the musical color of The Jam to a deep shade of blue, which you might recall to be my personal cup of tea.

Joe’s story is quite unique. In all my years involved in ‘learning while playing’, I have never heard of a person taking music lessons on the phone. But, incredibly as it may seem, Joe learned to play Blues harp in just that way. I’m still pretty amazed.

Joe, an over-the-road trucker for many years, comes from a musical family in rural Southern Michigan. His mother sang, his father was a Country Music lover and his stepfather was a front man in a band, in which he also played guitar.

Joe’s first instrument was actually accordion, which he played in the third grade. Fifteen years ago he started playing harmonica and guitar; then about three years ago, he began singing.

Here are Joe’s own words, on learning to play the Blues harp:

Back in 1997, I wanted to learn how to play blues on the harmonica, but couldn't find a teacher until I found a man on line who lived in Austin, Texas, named Jimmy Lee. So, over the phone, this man taught me the harmonica by playing a song over the phone, which I would then practice while truck driving at night. I'm sure I was quite a sight behind the wheel of a big rig, with the harmonica rack around my neck, playing with everything I had. Jimmy Lee advised me to go to Blues Jams and just keep practicing and playing. So I did.

There are more than a couple of us, at The Jam, who are very glad he did.

--Ken Utterback is a long-time musician who writes a blog on MySpace as well as the occasional essay for other publications. You can email Ken at:

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