Bio

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Revered as a master player, teacher, custom harmonica pioneer, researcher and historian, Joe Filisko is arguably the world’s foremost authority on many aspects of the diatonic harmonica and a key figure in today’s harmonica scene. Over the past 20 years he has had a tremendous influence on the developments in all aspects of the culture of the instrument. His much sought after custom harps are used by a truly remarkable roster of players and are prized for their superb response and tonal qualities by a client list that includes a large proportion of the world’s diatonic harmonica elite. Since the early 1990s, his groundbreaking work in improving the playability of the instrument has directly affected the production of all major harmonica manufacturers. In 2011 Joe Filisko entered into a close cooperation with Hohner as Head of Certification Process for the company’s new Affiliated Customizer Program, a bold move to guarantee standards for purchasers of custom harmonicas which is without precedent in the harmonica industry. He also made important design contributions to the latest model of Hohner’s Marine Band range, the Thunderbird, which bears his signature and has been cited as the finest low key harmonica available on the market today.

Fueled by his desire to preserve historical harmonica styles from extinction, Joe Filisko has amassed not only an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire gamut of traditional harmonica techniques, but has mastered them to an extent unrivaled among contemporary players. His passion for both the well-known and the unsung heroes of the 10 hole diatonic has made him a riveting performer in his own right, with a fluid command of a wide range of styles and possibly the most powerful hand effects ever heard. A master of tone and complex, nuanced tongue block rhythms, he has for many years shared his knowledge with students on five continents and so contributed enormously to the widespread understanding of traditional harmonica styles among a new generation of players.

In recent years, Joe’s reputation as a performer and recording artist has been catching up with his legendary status as a customizer and teacher. Since he first hooked up with guitarist/vocalist Eric Noden in 2003, the duo has released three highly regarded CDs and has performed at concerts and festivals around the globe. Reflecting their deep affinity with the tradition, their exciting explorations of seminal pre-war styles styles have won them an enthusiastic international audience and cemented their reputation as one of today’s premier acoustic country blues acts. Joe Filisko was awarded “Harmonica Player of the Year 2001” by the SPAH organization in the USA and performed at the induction of Grand Ol’ Opry star Deford Bailey into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006. Documentaries that feature Mr. Filisko include: “Harmonica Summit”, “Imagination is Limitless,” “In the Reeds,” “Tin Sandwich” and “Pocketful of Soul”. A native of Joliet, Illinois, Joe lives in the shadow of Chicago, the Windy City and performs there regularly as well as teaching popular weekly classes at the city’s Old Town School of Folk Music.

Though his work as a scholar and a craftsman have rightly earned him a place in the harmonica pantheon, it is as a player that he truly shines. Joe Filisko coaxes sounds from the harmonica which few before him have ever created and which open up new perspectives for countless players and lovers of this remarkable little instrument.

-Steve Baker