He played in the studio band for ABC Television in Detroit for twenty-three years, accompanying guests that included Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Jack Teagarden, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre, Pepper Adams, Donald Byrd, Eddie "LockJaw" Davis, Frank Rossolino and Dizzy Gillespie, among others.***
Joe started playing guitar at the age of thirteen, taking two lessons from an accordion player who told him, "Learn all your scales!" Joe did just that and went on to become the outrageous player he is today.
In 1980 he began playing chromatic harmonica, and this particular form of Messina Madness is the result!
You can read more about Joe and the other legendary "Funk Brothers" of Motown in the December '88 issue of "Guitar Player" magazine and in the May '93 issue of "Keyboard Player", "The Historic Motown Sessions." He is also profiled in the book "Standing In The Shadows of Motown", the story of legendary bassist James Jamerson by Dr Licks, from Hal Leonard Publishing.
Joe is also the author of "The Interval Study Method", a unique and challenging method of creating music through permutations of the chromatic and diatonic scales.
This recording is another step in the evolution of a truly groundbreaking musician who, when asked to sum up his incredible career says: "I've been fortunate enough to learn something from every musician I've worked with."
Joe Messina currently plays jazz in Detroit, and is one of the happiest guys you'll ever meet.
-- from the liner notes of "Messina Madness" - 1993
BH - What - or who - was your earliest influence in taking up the harmonica? I think I can assume that you bypassed the diatonic, and went directly to the chromatic. Is that a safe assumption?
JM - Toots Thielemans was my first inspiration. Yes I went to the chromatic, because in my mind, I had to play the accidentals.
BH - What is your harmonica of choice? I would guess a 12-hole, most likely the Hohner 270?
JM - I used a 16 hole CBH Professional 2016 Hohner.
BH - What is your choice of microphone - possibly a Shure 58?
JM - My microphone was a Radio Shack mic (no battery) - cost about $20. However, the CDs were recorded with mics provided by the studios.
BH - Though I "knew" you from your days with Soupy, I believe I first met you at a SPAH convention. Were you already playing by this time?
JM - Yes I had just started playing (1980) and was in awe of anyone who could play.
BH - If my memory is correct, you were more interested in attending workshops to gain knowledge and theory of the instrument, than in the social aspect of the convention. And your intent was to learn from such masters as Pete Pedersen, etc, who were conducting workshops.
JM - Yes you're correct.
BH - I recently received information from George Wayne Istratoff, with whom I played in a trio format in the very early 1970's, who states that you and he played together in the '60s - quoting: "Joe backed my polynesian & variety show for over a year when I had my troupe there in the '60s. He played guitar only because he had not yet started learning harmonica. Considering his great musical talent, I'd hesitate to imply that he got interested in the harmonica because he was backing up my act six days a week at the old Metropole Supper Club in Windsor (Ontario, Canada). I was probably a mere blip on his radar screen."
JM - Yes, I remember George - I had a good time with him and his troupe. I remember backing him playing a song in Db and that amazed me. At that time I didn't know Db was as easy as C. That impressed me.
BH - George goes on to say he was included in the "Shadows" film as an extra in the performance scenes, and was visible in the audience shots at the Royal Oak Theatre. He told me what scenes to look for, and sure enough - there he is!
It is obvious that Toots was (is) your primary influence - are there others who also grabbed your attention along the way?
JM - Yes, anyone who played harmonica got my attention. I like listening to McCoy, and Levy. It's amazing to hear all those accidentals come from a diatonic. I think Harmonica players are special people. They are as crazy as guitar players.
BH - Have you met Toots?
JM - I met Toots briefly when we made a commercial together. I was playing guitar at that time. He's a great guy, just as you are. You guys are too nice to be musicians.
BH - And with that - thank you, Joe... Later...
***Others I remember seeing accompanied by Joe and the WXYZ-TV house band on the night-time Soupy Sales show - Soupy's On - in Detroit include Wingy Manone, Della Reese, Clifford Brown, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington - the list is endless.
The house band was "Two Joe's and a Hank", led by Hal Gordon - Joe Messina "Little Joe" on guitar, Joe Oddo "Big Joe" on bass, Hank Trevision on piano, and Jack Brokensha on drums. Hal Gordon also played piano, and personnel changes over the years included Clem Napier on drums, and various other musicians.
For more info on Joe and the 2002 film "Standing In The Shadows of Motown" go to: http://www.bassharp.com/messina.htm
Posted: June 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Danny Wilson
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