SPAH Archives

by Manfred Wewers

Click on the links to see the photos.


Earl Collins Jr. (1924-1988), a harmonica player and Ford employee, in Dearborn, Michigan, had a vision (page 1, page 2, page 3) to form an organization for harmonica players. He found more like-minded people at Ford,  after all, Henry Ford (1863-1947) was a harmonica player, and also ran ads in his local newspapers in the Motor City area, looking for others. This was the birth of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH). On December 27, (page 1, page 2) the first SPAH meeting and concert was held in the Ford Central Office Building Auditorium, provided by the Ford Motor Company. About 150 people attended (Harmonica Happenings 22.3: 3).  The Harmonicats performed for those who attended, including present-day SPAH member Eugene Hansen (l-r: Eugene Hansen & Bob McFarlane).


This is the story of "Big John". Built in 1932 by Larry Stagg (l-r:Larry Stagg & Vince Melosky) and Bill Forsyth, it was brought to SPAH in 1963 and made the local Detroit news (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3). Then "Big John" went nationwide, flying to New York (l-r:Earl Collins, Larry Stagg, Gordon Mitchell, Dennis Paperd, Ginny & Vince Melosky) and appearing on Apr. 8, 1963, on Gary Moore's I've Got a Secret and at the Hohner Company (l-r:Earl Collins, Dennis Paperd, Ginny Melosky, Gordon Mitchell, Larry Stagg & Vince Melosky). By 1967, "Big John" had travelled to Toronto for a CanSPAH gathering where it was played by a SPAH group (l-r.: Vince Melosky, Richard Harris, Chuck Moll, Ginny Melosky, Gordon Mitchell &  Al Fogel). Vince Melosky (l-r:Vince Melosky & Earl Collins) acquired "Big John" in 1975. Where is it now? Hopefully, another harmonica-loving home like this one was.

It was also a big year for SPAH, starting with a meeting on Jan. 20, to discuss SPAH's future incorporation (page 1, page 2). On October 23, SPAH became SPAH Inc. Along with Earl Collins, the co-founders and co-signers of the incorporation documents were Gordon Mitchell (1927-2001) and Richard Harris (1938-2015).  Prior to the age of emails, mailing lists (page 1, page 2) and letters from the President of SPAH (page 1, page 2) to the membership were constant requirements in order to move the organization forward. As the membership grew, SPAH divided itself in Chapters, based on geographical boundaries, making it easier for members to attend meetings. Each Chapter had individuals responsible for local administration and events (page 1, Page 2), including holding Chapter meetings, keeping minutes (page 1, page 2, page 3) and sponsoring shows. The Lincoln Park Chapter hosted a SPAHtacular on Dec 10. The 1st prize for the draw, 15 lbs. of silver dollars, would be worth about $3,500.00 today. On Nov. 1, SPAH's Board of Directors presented a concert featuring the Harmoni-Kings (l-r: Hank Graham, Gene Broglie & Bob Bauer). Here they are at rehearsal.


Earl Collins gets more newspaper coverage.


On Mar. 21, SPAH presented a concert of SPAH talent. The program (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) included included Vince Melosky, Eugene Hansen and Fred Stowers. And SPAH continued to grow as the Chapters were formalized (Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 6). Further growth came from north of the US border. CanSPAH, the Canadian branch of SPAH, was created on Sept.1. The certified document, a Declaration of Business, #55142, was signed by Maurice Godfrey (1913-1984), the founder and Administrator of CanSPAH and was registered in the County of York, Ontario. Fred Mather (1910-1999) became the Honorary President of CanSPAH while Bob Ferguson (1933-2017) took on the President role. Soon thereafter, on Nov. 13, CanSPAH held its first harmonica concert in a Toronto high school. The St. Kevin School Harmonica Band, led by Bob Ferguson, performed, as did SPAH's Harmonicasuals (l-r:Gordon Mitchell, Richard Harris & Earl Collins). 

Both SPAH and CanSPAH members attended the April 23, SPAH show, April Shower of Harmonica Artistry (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4), at the Dondero High School Auditorium in Royal Oak, Michigan.  The SPAH Board of Directors and the Chapter members were busy setiing up shows or working on ways to advance the harmonica. The Northside Chapter met on Apr. 26 (page 1, page 2) and Jul. 26 (page 1) keeping minutes of the meetings. To help new members with their harmonica and music skills, lesson packages were developed to be handed out. CanSPAH hosted An Evening of Harmonica Stylings (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) on Nov. 12 in Toronto that was well attended by SPAH members.


Due to scheduling conflicts, CanSPAH's May 12 concert featured only Canadian players. They again performed on May 25 at Harmonica Harmonies  (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) at St. Lawrence School where Bob Ferguson was the Principal.  Consequently, SPAH's Sunday Seminar  (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) show, on May 28, had no Canadian content. However, CanSPAH and SPAH came together agiain on Nov. 4, at Birchmount Collegiate, Scarborough, where CanSPAH presented Echo 1967 (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4). It was at first wrongly advertised for Nov. 13, but a correction appeared in local Toronto papers. SPAH members, the Meloskies, Ginny and Vince performed as a duo as well as the Canadian trio, the Brass Reeds (l-r:Hank Kloek, Laurie Beischer & Tony Boerekamps). CanSPAH members were very busy, performing at another show, Now and Then (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4), on Nov. 17 and 18, and next attending a CanSPAH Annual Meeting on Nov. 19.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 1, SPAH presented the first issue of Harmonica Happenings, the SPAH newsletter. The annual subscription fee was $1.00. Gordon Mitchell was listed as SPAH President, a position he held for 22 years, and Eugene Hansen, as Treasurer, a postion he served in for 25 years since 1967.


The year started off with a SPAH Dinner-Dance on January 20, held at the Dearborn Elks Lodge. CanSPAH members, having just elected a new Executive Board, paticipated in the 5th annual Happy Show  (page 1, page 2, page 3) on May 24. However, the event of the year was September Serenade in Blue (page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4) on Sept. 28, hosted by SPAH in Detroit, Michigan. The price of admission was $1.50 to hear the Rhythmaires (l-r: Gerrit Oostlander, Fred Merill, Dan Eberle & Phil Acquaro), the Interludes
(l-r:Bill Wesley, Eugene Hansen, Richard Harris, Larry VanDorn, & J. McMinn), Canada's Harmonicaires (l-r:Doug Pell, Bob Schrader & Bill Wright) and many more and to participate in a SPAH/CanSPAH jam (photo 1, photo 2).


SPAH member Karl Listerman is featured in a newspaper article. Another SPAH member, John Grist, also makes the news (clip 1, clip 2, clip 3 & clip 4).  Other members play without media coverage.


On Jun. 9, CanSPAH hosted a large SPAH group in Galt, Ont. This was followed by a celebration of SPAH's 10th Anniversary on Oct. 20. The banquet was followed by playing until the early hours (photo 1, photo 2).


SPAH tells its story (page 1, page 2 & page 3)  and continues to seek more members through different ads like "What is SPAH" (page 1 & page 2) and a more humorous approach.  Emil Vogirty joined  (clip 1 & clip 2). Then SPAH celebtrated its 11th Anniversary (l-r:Dick White, Fred Stowers, Danny Wilson, Dan Eberle, Al Fogel, Celeste Mitchell, Bob Bauer & Gordon Mitchell).


Built by Al Fogel (1925-1988) and measuring in at 9 ft. 4 in., "Freddy" blew away "Big John" at 8 ft. 1/4 in. The harmonica attracted attention to both the Lincoln Chapter (clip 1, clip 2 & clip 3) and SPAH (clip 1 & clip 2). "Freddy" also caught the eye of the camera. But, playing a more serious role, "Freddy" attracted young people to the joys of playing the harmonica (photo1 & photo 2). After an appearance at the 1976 Michigan Harmonica Week, "Freddy" seems to have disappeared.

Harmonica Player and Group Photos

Earl Collins (1924-1988):
Photo 1 1963 (l-r: Gordon Mitchell, Jean Mitchell & Earl Collins)
Photo 2 1963 (l-r:Earl Collins, Trudy Janise & Gordon Mitchell)
Photo 3 1964 (l-r:Pete Cece, Fred Stowers & Earl Collins)

Herb Eck (1935-2017):
Jazzmonics 1954 (l-r:Herb Eck, Jack Allison & Jimmy Diana),  Jazzmonics
Kromatics 1960s (l-r:Herb Eck, Jack Allison & Pete Wallen),  Kromatics, Kromatics

Richard Harris (1938-2015):
Interludes 1968
Harmonicasuals 1968

Stan Harper (1921-2016):

Ron Kalina (1928-2016):
Photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4 (l-r:Ron Kalina & Pete Pedersen), photo 5  1980,
photo 6 2015 (l-r: Judy Wolman, Tom Stryker & Ron Kalina)
New World Trio (l-r:Michael Burton, Ron Kalina & Danny Wilson), New World Trio

Gordon Mitchell (1927-2001):
Harmonica Dons 1947 (l-r:Gordon Mitchell, Joe Curtale & Gene Jones)
Harmonica Dons (t-b:Gordon Mitchell, Joe Curtale & ?)
Harmonica Hi-Fi's 1980 (l-r:Gordon Mitchell, Jack Crifasi & Danny Wilson)

Pete Pedersen (1925-2002):