THROUGH YEARS of travelling, my harmonica and guitar have proved far better than any credit card. They’ve done nicely almost anywhere in the world and in any currency, they never seem to get overdrawn, and have always been good for providing drinks, meals and – the one thing that money can’t buy – friendship.
It’s a cliché, sure, but music really is an international language. And, like all languages, whether you speak “music” fluently or stumble a bit through a simplified version – so whether you’re a jazz sax virtuoso or a three-chords-and-a-holler kind of musician – just making the noises with a bit of enthusiasm and joining in the musical conversation is enough to make you a part of other cultures.
That’s the thing about travel and music. Ending up somewhere foreign, or even at home, and being able to pick up an instrument and play a tune, or sing a song, or – better still – give a full-throttle performance with plenty of slots for sing-alongs can lead to all kinds of adventures. And one doesn’t have to be that good at music to grab a guitar at a party on a Spanish beach to get a song going, or bang out some boogie-woogie on a Berlin bar’s piano, or sit in with a club band. Just do it and you’ll certainly get your drinks on the house, and who knows what else.
I first started mixing music and travelling as a teenager in the late 1970s, heading off with a guitar I could barely play, on long trips across Europe. I was inspired partly by the free-wheelin’ hobos of American folk music, such as Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, who made hitting the road with a guitar and a harmonica sound like a passport to adventure, adoring girls and free drinks.