don’t let the right hand know what the left hand do “Al Kooper described a typical Charlie McCoy incident which took place during the sessions for Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” Album. One song called for a trumpet part which should have been an easy overdub, except that Dylan didn’t care for overdubs. So McCoy, while playing bass with his left hand, played trumpet with his right hand, without missing a beat. Kooper points out that Dylan stopped in the middle of the song, amazed.” (The song was probably not “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, based on the sound and reports such as MYSTIC NIGHTS: The Making of Blonde on Blonde in Nashville. [Update cinco de Mayo 2022: just bought Kooper’s book which says it was “You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”.1])

As a harmonica player myself, perhaps I pay special attention to great harp work, but not enough attention to Charlie McCoy. When I first became conscious of Charlie McCoy, when I bought Highway 61 Revisited and heard his guitar part on on Desolation Row, I probably still didn’t know of his harmonica prowess. And I probably didn’t know it was him playing the harmonica riff on Obviously Five Believers in 1966, though I played that album over and over that summer. I missed out on McCoy’s Nashville break on Orbison’s Candy Man in 1961. But when Dylan recovered from his motorcycle accident and released John Wesley Harding, I noticed the bass playing, all by Charlie McCoy. And the next year (1968) it was hard not to notice McCoy’s harp on Jerry Lee Lewis’ What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me). But I didn’t notice it was McCoy playing. The list of credits at doesn’t seem complete, but it is voluminous.

The other day I was trying to remember where (which recording) Johnny Cash chanted “I don’t care if I do die do die do die…”. With help from Google, my mistaken memories were corrected to the right answer, Cash’s recording of Orange Blossom Special, with, who else, Charlie McCoy playing more notes than seems possible on a diatonic harp. There’s are YouTube versions of McCoy showing even more tricks, one with maybe Johnny Gimble on fiddle, but I prefer the McCoy (Cash) studio version of the song.

Anyway, today I’ve listened to all of the above, plus more than a few other McCoy tracks, notably Dolly Parton’s My Tennessee Mountain Home, which seems like time well spent.

P.S. Of course, the title of this post refers to the song by Sonny Boy Williamson II and another harp influence, Tony Glover.

P.P.S. Imagine the Desolation Row session. Or all of the John Wesley Harding sessions. There’s Dylan playing harp with hardly anyone else there but McCoy. There are those (not me!) that dis Dylan’s harmonica playing. Images of those sessions suggest Dylan must not lack for confidence in his own playing.

P.P.P.S. I think I understand what McCoy is doing on Orange Blossom Special, mostly playing an F harp, switching to B to get an octave lower F chord and the B chord. Understanding what he’s doing and playing like that are a little different though…

1. Al Kooper, Backstage Passes & Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock ‘N’ Roll Survivor, Hal Leonard Corporation, updated edition (February 1, 2008) pp. 67-68.

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