‘Harmonica’ Bean plays and lives the blues while preserving its history
Those at the Union County Heritage Museum recently got two hours of blues – both the music and the philosophy of it, thanks to Terry “Harmonica” Bean.
Bean, of Pontotoc, was on track to be a successful baseball player. He could pitch either arm – 85 mph with one and 95 mph with the other.
Two accidents put an end to that, however. He hit a utility pole and also had a tire blow out causing his 1984 vehicle to roll four times. “I didn’t go to the hospital. We didn’t go to hospitals,” he said, but that ended his chances at the big leagues.
“My dad, a blues guitarist himself as well as a sharecropper, had said ‘You’re good at baseball but the Lord has something else in mind for you,’” Bean said.
That was music, and the blues.
Seeing Robert Lockwood Jr. proved to be the catalyst for Bean to begin playing full time.
Beans refers to himself as a one-man band and played at various joints for several year eventually plaing with the likes of T-Model Ford, Asie Payton and Lonnie Pitchford.
“I’ve been all over the world playing the blues,” he said. “ I’ll be the first Black man on the moon playing the blues.”
Bean would talk for a few minutes, then play for a few minutes as he talked about his life and music.
The blues is not just the blues, he said. In Mississippi we have both the Delta blues and Hill Country blues. “It’s all over the world and it all came out of this circle,” he said. “You can’t be here on this earth without having the blues.”
“Everything has got the blues to keep a normal mind. Don’t have to go to the doctor,” he said.
Bean said proponents of the two styles, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, sometimes squabbled. In the end, Waters combined the styles and took that out of Mississippi. “It exploded when that happened,” Bean said. “Chicago folks didn’t understand because they weren’t from this area…Chicago blues is just Mississippi blues with a big sound.”
Bean said his baseball and blues “kind of went together.” “I was gonna play baseball whenever I could so I played with black folks and I played with white folks,” he said.
Bean has played a lot internationally, although the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on that. “But I’m getting back on the road soon,” he said. “I’m supposed to be in Spain or Germany or somewhere. I get to do a lot of stuff.”
Bean has a blues band, although it seems the composition may vary from time to time. “But the guitar and harmonica are the real deal,” he said. “I’m a northeast guy but the harmonica is more in the Delta.”
Bean said Waters and the Hill Country style won out “because of the drive they had.”
Bean said he was seven years old in 1968 and had no TV. When he learned that Elvis Presley was doing a documentary in Memphis. “Folks went to homes with TVs to see a white boy play the blues,” he said. “A lot of Blacks didn’t like it because they made a lot of money off the blues.”
He said Black preachers began to lose attendance (and money) since they could have music elsewhere, calling Presley’s “devil music.”
“But Grandpa said it was a good thing,” he continued. “Black music was not allowed on the radio but after Elvis was carried around the world it’s wide open now.”
Still, Blacks had to stay at juke joints and honky tonks with their music.
“I do get high like this,” he said. “I look around at the people and that’s how I get high. I get high playing baseball.”
“Baseball would have made me a lot of money,” he said. “I was something with that ball. But the blues has carried me places all over the world. I’ve go friends all over – some I haven’t even seen yet.”
Bean has recorded seven albums and appeared in three blues-related film documentaries.
Right now, he is sold out of CDs and waiting on replacements. “They’re stuck in Germany,” he said. He has no agent; people just call him up and he’d rather play for a small group than 20,000.
He still works full-time at a furniture factory but the blues is an inescapable part of his being.
“If you ain’t got no blues in your music, you ain’t got no music at all,” he said.