As an advertising copywriter who just happened to have a passion for playing the harmonica, Jim McLean sought out freelance gigs as the Harmonicopywriter. In one pocket, he carried his trusty Hohner harp, in the other a flash drive containing digital samples of his work.
“I’d put my spiel inside a harmonica box, and I’d carry a flash drive around for my work,” McLean said. “Then I thought, ‘Duh, why not put them together?'”
Thus was born the FlashHarp, a combination harmonica and flash drive that McLean invented and is now marketing. The 3.25-inch fully functional harmonica also doubles as a 2 or 4-GB flash drive. When in use as a musical instrument, the USB can be covered to protect it.
“When you look at a flash drive, it’s a vacuous, soulless utility,” McLean said. “The harp gives it an identity. And a lot of people use flash drives to save music; artists have released music on flash drives.”
The device can come loaded with an instructional video on how to play the harmonica, specifically the folk standard “Oh, Susannah!” There’s even a PDF document loaded onto the drive with standard tab notation (with sound) to walk you though the song.
The 2G device with the instructional video loaded on the drive is $49.95, or $44.95 without the video (the 4G price is $59.95/with or $54.95/without). McLean is even selling a “Plug and Play” edition, which includes the FlashHarp and a full-size harmonica ($69.95 for the 2G and $79.95 for the 4G).
“You don’t have to be an expert at the harmonica to get some enjoyment out of it,” said McLean during an interview at his Riverside home last week.
“If you don’t master it, it’s not going to end up in the back of the drawer, because it has another use.”
On the video you’ll see McLean as his alter ego, the Backyard Harmonica Teacher, decked out in his baseball cap and red bandanna.
“I play a lot in my backyard; just ask the neighbors, I probably drive them crazy,” said McLean, who said he and his alter ego are really one and the same. “I like the moniker. I’m not a master of the instrument; I’m a lover and evangelist of the instrument. The backyard moniker captures it for me.”
McLean has been playing the harmonica since he was a 13-year-old kid growing up in Munster, Ind.
“I walked around the corner and saw it in the window of a music shop,” McLean said. “It just spoke to me, the compactness and utility of it.”
He learned tunes recorded by blues harpist Sonny Terry and guitarist Brownie McGee. He loved the rural blues sound the duo created. While going to school at Indiana University in Bloomington he took lessons from Larry Wexer, now a musical instrument dealer in New York.
“He was a real influence on me, and he probably doesn’t even know it,” McLean said.
It was at Indiana University that McLean met his wife, Alice (a musician in her own right). The couple has twin 9-year-old daughters, who are also musically inclined.
McLean said he tried to impart a hands-on love of music to his kids.
“I made a conscious effort to play the harp more, and now they’re both engaged musicians at 9 years old,” he said. “I didn’t care how I sounded. I was not going to preach to them; I just thought, ‘Play like crazy and they’ll get the point.'”
The idea for the FlashHarp came as a “eureka” moment in 2008, said McLean and it took him a full year to patent the idea. He’s now the proud owner of U.S. patent number D602940 and has trademarked the name FlashHarp.
Since he put the device up on his Backyard Brand Web site (www.backyardbrand.com) he’s received lots of attention from the online gizmo/gadget press and is trying to make inroads into other traditional media. And he’s begun to get orders for the FlashHarp from all over the world, including Australia, England, Canada and Italy as well as the U.S. It’s also available for sale locally at A Sound Education, 9433 Ogden Ave., in Brookfield.