Harmonica Convergence | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Harmonica Convergence 

Bad Brad Wheeler rallies another attempt at world-record mouth-organ multitudes.

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Fastest. Largest. Tallest. Heaviest. Loudest. Smallest. Shortest. Whatever “-est” it is, if you can conceive it, Guinness assuredly has it inked somewhere deep in the ever-increasing depths of its gigantic record book.


Have you ever wondered what impels people to strive for such lofty heights? You know, the ones whose names are proudly recorded next to their best chosen “-est”? People like, say, “Bad” Brad Wheeler and his all-volunteer army of “When the Saints Go Marching In” harmonica players?


According to Wheeler himself'the harmonica virtuoso who can be found lighting up blues clubs the state over with his Legendary Porch Pounders'the whole dream of breaking the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest harmonica band was founded in, quite literally, a dream. “At the time of my dream I had been teaching a local Blues in Schools program for about five years,” says Wheeler. “The whole point of the program was to educate kids about the blues as an American art form through teaching them how to play the harmonica.nn

In his dream, he realized that up to that point, he had taught more than 7,000 kids how to play “When The Saints Go Marching In”'and he could taste the 10,000 benchmark approaching at a lightning-pace velocity. So, as he tells it, he made a public announcement to his flock of students, gathering a virtual harmonica army together for one very dreamy rendition of the American roots classic.


As the sun broke the horizon the next morning and Wheeler woke to the reality of … well, reality, he quickly came to terms with just how ridiculous the whole dream had been. Wheeler had to face the fact that it takes a certain type of person to chase an “-est”'and honestly, he couldn’t see himself as one capable of marching in those particular boots. Such people must embody certain obvious attributes. Quite understandably, some fanaticism would come in handy. Couple that with an unquenchable drive and massive amounts of idle time in which to undertake such seemingly superficial endeavors, and all the necessary ingredients are in place to perhaps bake the world’s largest pizza, crack the eggs for a very serious omelet or even wok up one hell of a stir-fry.


Wheeler, according to his own assessment, just doesn’t fit the prescribed mold.


What he holds is sort of a trump-card trait: Passion. Passion for the blues. Passion for the harmonica. Passion for teaching. Passion for teaching the blues harmonica.


Oh, yeah: There’s also his grandma.


“Shortly after having the dream, I was talking to my 98-year-old grandma who lives back in Iowa and kind of jokingly brought the whole thing up,” says Wheeler. “But to her it was no joke, and she convinced me that the harmonica army is my calling. How could I say no to my 98-year-old grandma?”


That, in short, is why Wheeler began to feel out just what it might take to join the ranks of the world’s Guinness notables. And could you believe it, the number of harmonica players required to breech the record barrier was nowhere near the mark of 10,000. In fact, the old record was a rather pitiable number below 2,000.


Hindsight being painfully 20-20, Wheeler has to admit that like many of those brave people that came before him'people that may have tried to stuff one too many ping-pong balls in their mouth or maybe a few too many pencils up their olfactory orifices'records are records precisely because they’re difficult. It’s not as easy to best the former “-est” as one might think.


So, on October 14, 2006, the day that saw the very first call-to-arms for the harmonica army, Bad Brad was forced to hang his head low in defeat. The number of mouth organists gathered fell 600 people short of the old record, topping off at approximately half of the targeted 2,500.


“But it was beautiful,” says Wheeler. “I honestly don’t even have the words to begin to describe it. The sound of all those people, a lot of them that had just barely learned how to play the harmonica, concentrating on playing such an amazing song, it was beautiful. Just beautiful. Magic.nn

And that is why he has to try again. He was going to wait a year, mainly to try to spread the word and build some more momentum'but then he remembered his grandmother’s upcoming birthday.


“She turns 100 this year, and I’m going back to Iowa to celebrate with her,” says Wheeler. “I can’t shame the Corn State with my failing presence, and I don’t think I can face my grandma if I don’t at least give it one more shot.nn

Harmonica Army II
nLindquist Field
n2330 Lincoln Ave, Ogden
nSaturday, May 12
n3-5 p.m.

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