| Blues |

Bill Tarsha and The Rocket 88s Back a Blues Harmonica Blowout

Keep New Times Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Phoenix and help keep the future of New Times free.

Bill Tarsha and the Rocket 88s led the 18th annual blues harmonica blowout last week at the Rhythm Room.

More than 35 blues harmonica players performed. Tarsha and his band opened with a couple tunes. The blues harmonica players put their names in a hat and after each performance they would pick the next name out of the hat and that blues harmonica player would play two songs.

The Rocket 88s backed up most of the harmonica players. The harmonica players started at 7 p.m. and didn't stop until almost 1 a.m.--and a few harmonica players still didn't get to perform.

The others included Rhythm Room owner Bob Corritore, Larry Polk, John Semora, Hans Olsen, Paul Clapper, Gypsy and six-year-old Sonny Boy Hayden.

"The kid was pretty good for his age and the crowd loved him," Tarsha says. "Three pretty women came up on the stage, walked right by me and went right for the kid. I learned that you never want to come on after a good-looking girl or a young kid."

Tarsha emphasized that the blues harmonica blowout was not a contest. He has watched harmonica and guitar contests in Los Angeles and thought some ruined their songs trying to impress judges. So, this harmonica blowout was just for fun.

"The crowd can make their own decisions on who they like best," he says. "The harmonica players put on a really good show. It gets better every year."

Tarsha started playing the drums when he was nine years old, but he had a relative who owned a club who introduced him to the blues.

"I started listening to Little Walter, Big Walter, George Harmonica Smith, Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo. By the time I was 15, I got going on the blues harp," he said. By the '70s, his band was touring with Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and several other famous blues bands.

"It was incredible. I was born in '48 so I was around when many of the legends were still alive. Now, there are few legends left," he says.

Tarsha played the blues harmonica for 46 years before switching to drums three years ago. His three piece band includes his wife Susie on bass and drums and Dave Forester on lead guitar and keyboards.

The trio in the Rockets 88s can all play drums.

"There's a real lack of good blues drummers in the Phoenix area--maybe a handful, but not many," he said.

Tarsha also noted that most musicians in the Phoenix area have day jobs, but the Rocket 88s are full-time working musicians.

Singer Gary Beloma often joins the band.

Tarsha and the Rocket 88s lead several jam sessions in the valley. There's one almost every Monday night at the Rhythm Room.

Every Sunday from 6-10 p.m., the blues jam session is at the Blooze Bar in Phoenix. Blooze Bar owner John Tumbleweed plays the harmonica and loves promoting the blues.

Tarsha and the Rocket 88s will start with four or five songs and then the other blues musicians will join in.

Tarsha and the Rocket 88s also lead a jam session every fourth Friday from 7-11 p.m. at the Desert Eagle Brewing Co. They perform periodically at O'Connors, Queen Creek Olive Mill, Dillons, Janey's in Cave Creek and every Wednesday at Wineburgers.

9 Tips for Using A Fake ID To Get Into A Show Here's How Not to Approach a Journalist on Facebook The 10 Coolest, Scariest, Freakiest Songs About Heroin The 30 Most Disturbing Songs of All Time

Like Up on the Sun on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for the latest local music news and conversation.

Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.


Join the New Times community and help support independent local journalism in Phoenix.