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Harmonious Wail

In the gypsy jazz field, no one does it any better than the Madison, Wisconsin based group Harmonious Wail. Group founder Sims Delaney-Potthoff says, I knew that wanted to play Django Reinhardt inspired music and pretty much talked to people and put the band together. We just got a bar gig and started by trying out tunes. We called it Uncle Cachuk for awhile, then we called it Junior Holstein. None of those really worked as the band kind of started getting liftoff and finding that we had just a real sympathico. The original quartet really loved doing this. We came up with different names and it was actually Maggie, who wasn't in the band at the time who's now the lead singer, she nailed Harmonious Wail and I said "That's beautiful, let's do that." So it started with just playing acoustic string jazz from a Reinhardt point of view.

Sims says Reinhardt has been an inspiration to him for a long time. He says, we love the music of Django Reinhardt. You can Google Django and there's gobs of things about him. He is one of the musical geniuses of our time. He's just an absolute wonder. When the Wail started, as a mandolin player, I learned from Jethro Burns, who is a huge Django Reinhardt fan. So I learned from a mandolin approach Django's music. Gypsy jazz is primarily guitar and violin and we've taken this influence and made it our own.

Sims, who also plays tenor guitar and ukulele, says Maggie Delaney-Pothoff is an important part of Harmonious Wail. He says, Maggie, who has been in the band ten or 15 years as a singer, also plays percussion instruments. We discovered one day that she was playing brushes on a snare drum. This sounded too metallic and we walked around the house trying desk tops, guitar cases and phone books. It was a cardboard box that just sounded right, so now she plays brushes on a cardboard box. There is a great song that's coming out on this new record and as we were looking for something cutting, something just to mark the back beat, we added scissors. It just add this wonderful, snappy, cutting sound. So, she uses that as an instrument.

Tom Waselchuk is the guitarist for Harmonious Wail. Sims says, Tom and I are old compadres. We played bluegrass together 25 to 27 years ago. Since the bluegrass days, Tom and I played jazz together. Tom has kind of gotten into the whole Djhango Reinholdt thing. He has a couple of different Djhango guitars. Tom, Maggie and I have been just dear friends for many, many years as we're growing old together.

The group has had a couple of upright bass players throughout the group's 21 years. Sims says, the bass player at the time of the recording was John Christensen, who spent around three years with the band. John was a hot shot bassist from San Francisco, a Colorado native that was just gobbling up all the jazz gigs in San Francisco. He moved here to Wisconsin, is a teacher and travels around the world. We just fell in love with each other from the get go. Watching the rise in the popularity of the band and traveling more and wanting to teach about four months ago, John said he should just stay home and find a bass player that could travel. We seamlessly moved into working with Matt Rogers. It was just a gorgeous transition. We love each other, John and I and everybody and we will remain friends for life. He is now our webmaster and Rogers has just slid in and doing an absolutely wonderful job of bringing in a youthful and fresh ideas into the band.

Harmonious Wail's first release for Range Records is called Resist Temptation. Sims says, the record previous to "Resist Temptation" was pretty much all gypsy swing, half vocals and half instrumentals. It was really great to find the guys at Range Records who really caught the core of what Harmonious Wail was all about. Working with the guys at Range has just been really uplifting. They understand the guts of what the Wail is doing. It's a great relationship. For an artist, to find guys in the business that think artistically like this, we just feel so wonderful about this. We're excited about this one and many more. I don't see any reason why we're going to stop making records with these guys.

Resist Temptation was a different kind of record for the band. Sims says, Aaron Levinson is our producer. He really got into the band and it's such and honor to work with a genius like that. He's the guy that said, "Look, I am going to pick the songs, the lyrics, melodies and chords and they you do them in your own style." The concept that they put forward was a gypsy swing band playing tunes that are kind of from the last part of the last century instead of the earlier part. So there's a Tom Waits tune, a tune by The Band and a tune by some cutting edge rock and rollers. I wouldn't call it a cutting example of what gypsy swing is at all. It was really fun to take those tunes and listen to the originals and then just play them and realize that it's not going to sound anything like the Velvet Underground or Ricky Nelson. They're just good songs.

Harmonious Wail is a group that know what they want to do. Sims says, We're just a band playing songs. We've got this history and we also respect this artistic legendary history of Django Reinhardt and American jazz and gypsy music. We're trying to bring our guts, our souls to it and breathe life into it. It's uplifting and so great to play this music and to realize that these guys at Range are behind it and they love it. All of us feel the same way as well.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Harmonious Wail
  • Subtitle: Gypsy Jazz With A Twist
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