D. H. “Bert” Bilbro / Steam Train Imitations


If you never heard of D. H. “Bert” Bilbro, I’d like to introduce you to one of the most fascinating harmonica players I have ever heard.


In 1928 Bert recorded a steam train imitation on the harmonica that was done in one take, that at times sounds like two harmonica players  playing at the same time. How he creates this illusion as well as the other textures he gets out of his Bb Marine Band harmonica has been a mystery I have been exploring off and on  for quite a few years. Here it is:




The diatonic or blues harmonica has one of the richest forests of sound and overtones of any instrument ever created. If you want to take a break from playing melodies and rhythm backup on the harmonica, there is nothing quite like exploring the sonic landscape of the steam train imitation.


It gets you listening to pure sound as you shape it and turn it into an impressionistic story.


If you want to “roll your own” steam train, here is a way to go to the source – a great archive of steam train recordings:




So this for a while and when you go back to playing music you may surprise yourself with the new life you put into your notes and chords.


It is also fun cause there is no “wrong” way to do this. Can be a real rut-buster…


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