Carlos del Junco first heard a harmonica in Grade 9 and it was love at first note.
“I was immediately caught by the sound he [friend] made bending a note,” del Junco said as he recalled the moment he fell in love with the harmonica.
In no time del Junco was imitating the sounds of the top bluesmen such as Little Walter and Paul Butterfield.
Although Neil Young and Bob Dylan had popularized the harmonica in their music, harmonica player Howard Levy, who played in Bela Fleck and The Flecktones, advised del Junco to seek inspiration elsewhere.
“That was the best piece of advice I have ever received,” del Junco said.
“Brilliant songwriters that they are, they are the guys who have given the harmonica a bad name.
“The public perception is of a very limited sound to be produced on this unassuming instrument.”
del Junco took the advice to heart and forged ahead listening to an eclectic mix of music and working on his technique and he began to push the boundaries, drawing inspiration from other instruments such as the saxophone, guitar and piano to produce what has been called a, “musical rainbow,” of sounds.
“I love seeing the expressions on people’s faces once they have experienced a set of music,” del Junco said.
“I always hear from people, ‘I had no idea it could sound like so many different instruments.’”
del Junco’s mastery of the harmonica has been recognized world-wide, with gold medals at the World Harmonica Championships in Germany and multiple nods as Harmonica Player of the Year at the Maple Leaf Blues Awards.
There is no question the foundation of del Junco’s musical style is firmly based in the blues standards, but he gives those songs a serious makeover.
“I love taking old blues standards, flipping them upside down and breathing new life into them,” del Junco said.
But del Junco’s musical roots run deeper than the blues as he also enjoys slipping into jazz, blurring into Latin or even some hip-hop.
“We play an incredibly eclectic program that can go from a quiet ballad, world beat folk, or spiritual to a romping up tempo blues,” del Junco explained.
Providing the counterpoint to del Junco’s harmonica are The Blues Mongrels, bassist Henry Heillig, guitarist Paul Pigat and Mark Mariash on drums.
del Junco and The Blue Mongrels are performing at the Old Church, Sunday, March 18 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 per person and available at Mountain Eagle Books.
The Old Church is a small venue, akin to the small blues and jazz clubs of New Orleans and that suits del Junco just fine, saying he is looking forward to the intimate setting and, “Being able to easily see the smiles on people’s faces.”