Every fisherman has a story about one that got away.

Tim Gonzalez has a fishing trip story about one that was given to him. A fish? Nah. A harmonica.

Gonzalez was 13½ years old when he accompanied his brother and a brother’s friend on a fishing expedition. When it was time to clean the fish, he said, “I’m not doing that. I’m the cook.”

Gonzalez said he was a little bit lazy at the time and didn’t have an interest in doing anything except trying to catch fish. He relented and cleaned one or two fish.

The brother’s friend, a musician named Gilbert Vela, pulled out a harmonica and gave it to Gonzalez with this bit of advice: You need to start playing this and maybe you’ll lose a little weight and maybe you won’t be so lazy.

Gonzalez said he took the harmonica home and, 45 years later, has never let it go.

“That harmonica has taken me all over the world,” he said.

Gonzalez packed 81 harmonicas for a trip to Tulsa this week. Tulsa is the site of the 2019 Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH) Convention. The convention — Gonzalez described it as the Super Bowl of harmonica events — began Tuesday and continues through Saturday at the Hyatt Regency. For information about the event, go to spah.org.

While in town, Gonzalez will perform at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at Mangos Cuban Cafe, 317 S. Trenton Ave., as a special guest of the Tim Shadley Trio.

The “kid” who was once called lazy is now called the Carlos Santana of the harmonica.

“That’s what my peers (are saying),” Gonzalez said. “I am going into the Latin urban movement. These guys that play in Colombia and Puerto Rico and all over the world, they are coming into America now. ... I’m trying to be the pioneer and innovator, bringing the harmonica into the Latin music.”

Self-taught (“I was given a gift to play and I use it”), Gonzalez was exposed to music heroes like George “Harmonica” Smith, Little Walter, Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield and Lee Oskar while growing up in Texas. He began his professional career at 18 and eventually moved to Nashville.

Gonzalez said he has been privileged to perform or record with country artists like Toby Keith, Ronnie Milsap, Doug Stone, Pam Tillis and Lee Roy Parnell, as well as blues artists like B.B. King, Carl Weathersby, Burton Gaar, Mark Selby, Larry McRae, Chubby Carrier and Anthony Gomes. Other collaborators include Oskar, the Rev. Jimmie Bratcher, Del Castillo, Los Lonely Boys, The Brew and Adrian Belew.

“B.B. King told me after a show once when I played with him, he said, ‘Hey man, I have traveled all over the world and heard a lot of harmonica players, but you are a mature harmonica player.’ That meant more to me than him saying, ‘You’re great,’ or anything because ‘mature’ in music means you are accomplished.”

Gonzalez said there are good harmonica players in Tulsa. One of them was Jimmy “Junior” Markham, a Tulsa Sound music figure and member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. Markham died in September 2018.

“Junior was very instrumental in bringing me to Tulsa and introducing me to the Tulsa Sound,” Gonzalez said. “Because of him is why I am here, really.”

Jimmie Tramel



Twitter: @JimmieTramel

Scene Writer

Jimmie is a pop culture and feature writer at the Tulsa World. A former Oklahoma sports writer of the year, he has written books about former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer and former Oklahoma State football coach Pat Jones. Phone: 918-581-8389