Peter Wolf aside, the real spark plug in the J. Geils Band was a harmonica player named Magic Dick. His solo blowout “Whammer Jammer,” performed with all of the random energy of a beehive on crank, was to a generation of youth what Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” or Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” solo was — the defining moment of a career.
“Whammer Jammer” placed Magic Dick squarely within the pantheon of great harpists, and it made him a rock star. But when I say this to him, he is quick to correct me. “Bob Dylan was not a virtuoso, but he had a unique way of playing the harmonica.” Dick is on his cell phone, at guitarist Tommy Castro’s house, waiting for the tour bus to arrive. They are working a revue-style gig where one player gets a set, the other player gets a set, and then in the end they come together and jam. I tell him I’m not sold on Dylan as a harp god. Dick says it was more about the way Dylan used the instrument. “He was truly one of the absolute supreme rock stars.”
Magic Dick is Richard Salwitz; this year he turned 63. In 1968 he cofounded the J. Geils Band while at college on the East Coast. His harp playing shaped their sound, and with his giant ’fro and stage antics it was as if the band had two front men. “Some of it came from people egging me on. Some of it came from James Cotton.” He names the septuagenarian as an influence. “I heard he did somersaults onstage.” It turns out that we’re both huge fans of the late Little Walter, a Chicago harp player who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year. “For as out front as he was as a player,” Magic Dick says, “I’m amazed at how few people remember who he is.”
MAGIC DICK, Belly Up, Saturday, October 4, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $15.