Just Twangin’ Along With Mike Seeger

One of the drawbacks of using personal experiences to put together nostalgia-themed pieces is that the process is sometimes held hostage to my own patchy memory. For example, I’ve written before about how my maternal grandfather would occasionally pick up his harmonica — what he called his ‘mouth-harp’ — and play a lively song or two, delighting all the grand-kids. But I also have this vague memory of someone — possibly him, but maybe not — twanging through a song using a jew’s harp.

For those unfamiliar with the instrument, a jew’s harp is that strange little metal thingy that’s played by being inserted into the mouth, which then becomes a kind of volume enhancer and echo chamber while the center piece of the instrument is — er — twanged. It all sounds pretty strange, I know, but I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard the sound more than you realize. For one thing, it’s often used on soundtracks — especially those related to rural or Western locales and bygone times.

Although I’ve always thought of it as a jew’s harp, it has no particular connection with Judaism, and in some areas it’s called a jaw harp (which might be the origin of name jew’s harp) or an Ozark harp, which would seem to point to its ‘hillbilly’ past. But this type of instrument has actually been known to exist since ancient times and has shown up in just about every corner of the world. And it’s so popular currently that it even generates festivals. (Video below.)

Not surprisingly, it’s one of the instruments mastered by Mike Seeger, the multi-talented brother of the legendary Pete Seeger, and a guy who became a national treasure in his own right. During his long career he often specialized in the many sounds of Americana, and this instrument would certainly qualify — as would the old traditional song he performs here.

Mike Seeger – “Sallie Gooden”

2 thoughts on “Just Twangin’ Along With Mike Seeger

  1. Oh, its so fun to find all the people I had “forgotten” about over the years. Thank-you so very much

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