Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with harmonica player Terry Cottrell of Danville. In the Sept. 30 newspaper, we'll have a visit with artist Maria Lux.
Q: That giant harmonica in the photograph Marvin Lee sent me — is it real? Is it playable?
A: No. It was a giant plastic display item in the Thomas Music store that closed several years ago in Danville. My sister bought it for me. I just kind of use it as a thing of interest.
Q: When did you first take up the harmonica?
A: Probably in my early 30s.
A: Well, I played bass, and I figured I needed another instrument to play. I thought the harmonica would be easy. I found out different. But I liked it so much that I just kept at it.
Q: I saw online that you won second place in the harmonica division of the Official Kentucky State Championship Old Time Fiddlers Contest in 2011.
A: Oh, yeah. It was a fiddlers contest. They had a harmonica division. Maybe four or five or six harmonica players competed. No big deal. The guy who beat me is a very good professional. So I didn't feel bad. They said it was a tossup between him and me. Some of the others were good, too. The Illinois Country Music Association has contests in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and I've got some awards down there, too.
Q: What bands do you play in?
A: The Highway 341 Band out of Wallace, Ind. We have regular gigs on Thursday and Saturday evenings at the Highway 341 Cafe/Wallace Opry in Wallace. On Mondays, they have a gospel night. I play that, too.
Q: How far is Wallace from Danville?
A: About 30 or 35 miles. It's hard to tell because it's not near anything. The cafe is on Highway 341; that's why they call it that. It's a really popular place. A lot of people know about it. A lot of people from Champaign come over. Marvin comes over himself.
Q: How long have you been playing music?
A: A long time — about 40 years.
Q: What bands did you play in back in the day?
A: DJ and the Initials. Another called Hot Sax. Sidewinders was one. Lots of others.
Q: You played with Marvin Lee the other night in Philo. How did that go?
A: I play with him fairly often, when I can. It went really well. Marvin always gets a good crowd. We were blessed with good weather.
Q: Do you teach harmonica?
A: No, I'm self-taught. I would never dare teach anyone. I couldn't lead them through the maze I went through by finding my own way. I just listened to harmonica players on records and picked it up. And I know a little bit about music, changes of chords and such. First I listened to Charlie McCoy, a country harmonica player. That's what got me really fired up. I got his albums and incorporated as much as I could.
Q: Do you have any other influences?
A: Ronnie Murphy. He's the guy who beat me in that contest down in Kentucky. Terry McMillan. Mike Caldwell. Those are the main ones. I listen to them mostly.
Q: How many harmonicas do you own?
A: I take with me about 25, for the 13 keys. And then I take a backup. I have well over 100 at home.
Q: How old is your oldest?
A: My oldest? I think I have the first one I bought. It's a keepsake. People through the years have given me old harmonicas, but I don't know as much about them as I should. I have some antiques.
Q: What kinds of music do you play?
A: What I play mostly, because of the circles I move in, is country. And with a harmonica, you have to play the blues. I play rock, too. I try to play a little bit of everything.
Q: Marvin Lee said you're the best harmonica player in the area.
A: Oh, he's nice. I always like to hear things like that. I still practice and try to learn more.
Q: Do you still play bass?
A: Rarely. Sometimes people ask me to play. I will, but I don't very often because I'm mostly busy playing harmonica. I never got really good on the bass because I learned what I had to learn, then I went home and practiced the harmonica.