It’s probably a good thing Carlos wasn’t there when the harmonica appeared in North America in the 1860s. Neil Young and Bob Dylan can probably roll with it when he says they are very mediocre harmonica players. Aspiring harmonica players Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid might have overreacted and pulled out their pistols…
Carlos is one of those players whose music is so advanced that when it comes to awards, it’s either retire the category or rephrase the question to “Best Harmonica Player Not Named Carlos”. This includes two Gold Medals from the Hohner World Harmonica Championship in Trossingen, Germany, as well as multiple national awards in Canada.
To say he plays the harmonica is like saying “Jimi Hendrix plays guitar”. He blows the blues harp through a prism — suddenly it seems he’s holding every color in the musical rainbow right there in his hands.
Simultaneously sophisticated and raw, his playing blurs the boundaries between blues and jazz (hence the name for his band “The Blues Mongrels”). The emphasis is on blues, but Carlos and his band are not afraid to merrily traipse off in other directions delivering a seamless fusion of New Orleans second line grooves, swing, Latin, hip-hop or ska melodies, to swampy roots rock.
Born in Havana, Cuba, del Junco (loosely translated “of the reeds”) immigrated with his family at the age of one. He bent his first note on a harmonica when he was fourteen, making his debut with his high school math teacher at a student talent night. In his early 20’s del Junco was immersed in a visual arts career; he graduated with honours from a four year programme, majoring in sculpture ( click here to see photos ) at the Ontario College of Art. Sculpture has definitely had an influence on his outlook on music: “Music is just a different way of creating textures and shapes.”
Playing a ten hole diatonic harmonica, Carlos has developed the unique ability to play chromatically by using a recently developed “overblow” technique taught to him by jazz virtuoso Howard Levy. Overall, this approach to the diatonic harmonica, although much more difficult to achieve, is in many ways more expressive and communicative than the mechanized tone produced by the chromatic harmonica . Carlos is one of the few pioneers of this overblow method, bringing musical credibility to what has still been considered by many in the music industry – a fringe folk instrument. The sophisticated sound produced by del Junco is at once sensitive, soulful, and sexy while never forgetting the rawness inherent in blues music.
During the 80’s del Junco performed with many bands including Latin/reggae/r&b band “Eyelevel”, “Ontario College of Art Swing Band” with Bill Grove and he had a 6 year stint with rhythm and blues group “The Buzz Upshaw Band”. With Kevin Cooke in 1990 he formed a blues/jazz/fusion band, “The Delcomos”. He has recorded with Bruce Cockburn, Kim Mitchell, Cassandra Vassick, Oliver Schroer, Zappacosta, and has also worked with Dutch Mason, Hoc Walsh (Downchild Blues Band) and Holly Cole.
In 1991 del Junco performed and composed the music for Tomson Highway’s Dora award winning play Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing. The production toured Canada and was held over for seven weeks at Toronto’s Royal Alex Theatre.
In 1993 Carlos del Junco won two gold medals at the Hohner World Harmonica Championship held in Trossingen, Germany. He was judged world’s best in both the diatonic blues category and the diatonic jazz category.
With the late Bill Kinnear, Carlos del Junco released his first CD, Blues on independent label, Big Reed Records in November 1993. The rich collection of blues classics was a collaborative effort with Kinnear playing acoustic and dobro guitars and handling lead vocals. Five out of six reviewers in the Toronto Blues Society, selected Blues for their top ten releases of 1993.
In March/April 1995 del Junco travelled to Chicago with a Canada Council grant to study with Howard Levy. This year saw the release of of the critically acclaimed Just Your Fool a sizzling live session with Kevin Breit on guitar, Al Duffy on bass, and Geoff Arsenault on drums. It was this CD and the collaborative effort with Thom “Champagne Charlie” Roberts Big Road Blues,that won Carlos the 1996 Blues Musician Of The Year Award…
…del Junco continues to produce an eclectic palette of music on Mongrel Mash, his 6th recording in a band setting on the BIG REED RECORD label. It features an energetic set with 3 straight up blues numbers and his usual hybrids of fun and quirky roots influenced instrumentals. This is an “almost live” CD that lets the band stretch out as they would in front of a live audience. Some jaw dropping harmonica work from Carlos. Remarkable guitar work by Kevin Breit, one of the most sought-after session players in Canada and now in the U.S. thanks in large part to his work with Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson, adds beautiful textures to the 9 track collection.
Carlos has toured Canada regularly since 1996 and tours often in Germany and the United States. He has played all the major jazz, blues, and folk festivals across Canada.