7 Sizzling Harp Riffs from 1970s Songs (with Tabs)

By Alex Paclin

Written by Alex Paclin on . Posted in Blog: Harmonica Articles, Harmonica Players

The Wizard

The Wizard is a song by Black Sabbath (released in 1970) featuring Ozzy Osbourne on the harmonica. It starts off with long restless notes and is followed by an aggressive riff played with a band. The title refers to Ozzy Osbourne himself. He became known as “The Wizard” shortly after the release of Blizzard of Ozz. And it was also said by Geezer Butler, the bassist of the band that the song’s lyrics were influenced by the wizard Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings.

D harmonica, 2nd position, key of A

Hook:
-2 -2″ -2
-2 -3’4 45 -3’4 45 -3’4 -2

Piano Man

This is a song by Billy Joel, that was inspired by his experiences playing at “The Executive Room”, a piano bar in Los Angeles. He worked there for six months in 1972 after his first solo album, Cold Spring Harbor . The characters in the song are based on real people Joel encountered while working at The Executive Room. The harmonica part was inspired by Bob Dylan. Dylan was the first person Joel saw use a harmonica holder so he could play another instrument at the same time.

C harmonica, 1st position, key of C

567 -56 567 -56 56 -56 56
45 -45 56 -45
56 -56 567 -56 567 -56 56 -56 56
45 -56 56 -45 45

When The Levee Breaks

When the Levee Breaks is a blues song by Kansas Joe McCoy that is mostly known in Led Zeppelin hard-rock version. It’s based on The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 where African-American plantation workers were forced to work on the levee at gunpoint, piling sandbags to save the neighboring towns. Hence the lyrics in the original version are “I works on the levee, mama both night and day, I works so hard, to keep the water away.” The harmonica is played by Robert Plant in a dirty aggressive style using a Jimmy Page’s backward echo technique, where the echo is ahead of the sound, which adds somewhat a psychedelic feel to it.

Bb harmonica, 2nd position, key of F

6 6 6 6 6 6 -6 -6 -6 -6 -6
-6 6 -6 -4
-6 6 -6 -4

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The River

This is song by Bruce Springsteen based on conversations he had with his brother-in-law. After losing his construction job, he worked hard to support his wife and young child. The imagery of the chorus and the end of the song were inspired by Hank Williams’ hit “Long Gone Lonesome Blues”. The song’s depiction of how economic difficulties are interlaced with local culture also presaged the 1980s popularity of heartland rock. It features a crying like harmonica melody played in 3rd position.

D harmonica, 3rd position, key of Em

-4 -4′ -4 5 -5 -6 6 -5 -4
-6 6 -5 6 -4

Heart of Gold

Heart of Gold is a song by Neil Young. Recorded in just two takes this song is by far the biggest hit for Young as a solo artist, reaching #1 on the Hot 100 in 1972. Bob Dylan complained, “I used to hate it when it came on the radio. I always liked Neil Young, but it bothered me every time I listened to “Heart of Gold.” I’d say, that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me.” Harmonica is played using chords and intervals.

G harmonica, 1st position, key of G

4 4 6 -5 5 -4 4 3
6 6 7 -6 6 -6 6 5
45 45 45 56 56
56 56 56
56 -56 56 45

Roadhouse Blues (piece)

It’s a driving boogie by The Doors that features John Sebastian on the harmonica. It mostly plays fills between the vocal lines and sometimes a phrase by phrase with a guitar. The song could refer to the Topanga Corral Hotel, a windowless nightclub in the counterculture enclave of the Topanga Canyon, where Jim Morrison lived. To get to the venue you had to take Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which is full of twists and turns – you really had to “keep your eyes on the road, your hand upon the wheel.” The song quickly became a concert staple for the group and it has been covered by numerous artists.

A harmonica, 2nd position, key of E

-34′ 4 -4 -4 -5 -4 -4 -4′ -3′ -2 -3′ -3″ -2 -2
-4 -4 -4′ -3′ -2 -3′ -2 -2

Harpin On A Riff

Harpin On a Riff is a harmonica instrumental by Charlie Musselwhite, Mississippi-born and Memphis-raised bluesman. This track comes from Musselwhite’s most fertile years when he was playing a style of music he learned with Big Joe Williams on Maxwell Street and Muddy Waters in the clubs of Chicago. This track features unique repeating riffs for each 12-bar verse. Not to mention Charlie won W.C. Handy Award 6 times, a Grammy award in 2014 for the best blues album and was nominated 13 times. He was called a harmonica master by New York Times and known as one of the best white blues musicians.

C harmonica, 2nd position, key of G

-4 -4’ -4’ -4 -4 -4’ -4’ 234
-2 -2” -2” -2 -2 -2” -1 -2” -2 -2” -1
-4 -4’ -4’ -4 -4 -4’ -4’
-3” -3 4 -4 -5 -4 -4’ 4 -3’ -2 -3’4 -2
-3’4 -2 -2 -2

-5 -5’ 5 -4 -4’ 4 -34(trill) -3 -4 36 (two times)
-5 -4 -4’ 4 -3’4 4 -34(trill) 36

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