It was the perfect Christmas gift which kept on giving, leading the recipient to a career spanning more than 50 years and world-wide travel doing what he loves best—playing the harmonica.
Growing up on Chicago’s south side, Bud Boblink received that first harmonica from his dad when he was 13.
“I fell in love with it and I have been playing ever since,” Boblink says.
His inspiration back then was a the legendary harmonica trio, the Harmonicats, known best for their recording of “Peg O’ My Heart,” which sold more than one million copies by 1950 and reached number one on the U.S. Billboard Chart. Little did Boblink know back then that one day he would have the opportunity to play the harmonica with his idols.
At age 18, Boblink and two friends, Bob Laas and Al Fontana, formed their own harmonica trio The Bobcats. The trio toured Europe, the Far East and the United States entertaining at United Service Organization (USO) shows. While in Europe, the Bobcats performed over Radio Free Europe. There, Boblink met retired two-time world middleweight boxing champion, Tony Zale, who also participated in the traveling show.
“Tony was a great guy and from Gary,” Boblink says. “He had worked at U.S. Steel and was known as ‘Man of Steel.’ Tony would play a couple comical notes on his harmonica with the Bobcats. It was humorous and fun. The troops loved it.”
Through the years the self-taught Boblink entertained audiences alone and with other groups eventually working with the original Harmonicats, Jerry Murad, Don Les, and Al Fiore.
“It was an honor to play with them,” Boblink says. “I became friends with all of them. I was very fortunate to have known them.”
The Harmonicats lived in the Chicago area, Boblink says. He recalls visiting Murad at his south side apartment, drinking Kool Aid and thinking “life doesn’t get any better than this.”
“They were all very friendly guys and very encouraging to us when we were younger,” Boblink says. “Al Fiore had a connection with Wrigley Field so we were able to play at the park with him a couple times before ballgames.”
Boblink says Les, who was partially blind most of his life, lived in Marina City.
“He was a great base harmonica player,” Boblink says. “I did shows with him in Pittsburgh.”
Boblink toured Florida with Harmonicats leader Murad performing 21 shows across the state in 1996.
“I got to know all of them during my life,” Boblink says. “I am really glad I did. They were all great guys.”
In 2004, Boblink was honored by the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica (SPAH), as the Harmonica Player of the Year.
Boblink says he loves playing all types of music whether classic, country, popular rock, or even the blues. He plays all types of harmonicas from the two-foot long chord harmonica, which he plays in the groups, to the one-inch pee wee.
“Careful, don't swallow it,” Boblink says.
Boblink, who retired from Sears after working there 38 years in various jobs, has shared the stage with many individual harmonica artists including Pete Pederson, Howard Levy, Harry Bee, Madcat, Lee Oskar, Stagg McMann, Cappy LaFell, Sandy German, Mo Vint, Frank Warner, Don Klein, Buzz Krantz, and Joe Filisko.
For several years, he joined Don Allen and Dan Wilson to judge and perform at the Yellow Pine Harmonica Festival in Idaho. Boblink and Warner joined Pederson to record ten of Pederson's original compositions. He has spent years performing on radio, television, cruise ships and stages across the country and around the world. Around 2007, Boblink toured with Mo Vint and Michael Burton on the Holland American cruise line for several weeks traveling from Florida through the Panama Canal then flying to Honolulu and performing on another cruise ship sailing back to Vancouver, British Columbia.
“While on the cruise ship somebody asked me if I was one of the original Harmonicats,” Boblink says. “By that time the original Harmonicats were gone. I says ‘if I were one of the original Harmonicats, I would have to probably be 100 years old.’ So he says ‘are you?’”.
To keep his performances entertaining, Boblink says he can't resist adding humor and even some magic, all relating to the harmonica, to his shows.
With the Windy City Harmonica Trio, Boblink, Ron Agnew and Bill Morris, have volunteered to play at Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn for the Easy Breather's club.
“The best exercise for those with lung problems is playing the harmonica,” Boblink says. “It's the only instrument that you must blow and draw to play.”
In 2005, with Phil Caltabellotta and Warner, known as the Yellow Pine Trio, Boblink toured to Singapore and Malaysia putting on concerts.
“It was a wonderful experience,” Boblink says. “At the end of one of our shows, and during a standing ovation, young girls brought bouquets of flowers up to the performers and musicians on stage. It was heartwarming and emotional. The folks there were very warm and hospitable.”
Boblink recently returned from Florida where he performed at the Lakeland Center and on one of the town squares in the Villages with Mo Vint and Warner as today's current Harmonicats.
Boblink suspects there are many Northwest Indiana residents living at the Villages, a community catering to adults 55 and older, because when it was announced he was from Schererville Indiana there was a burst of applause from many audience members.
Boblink was also a featured performer at the 2014 Virginia Harmonicafest in March at Virginia Beach
On March 14 the Windy City Trio appeared on Harry Porterfield’s "Someone You Should Know" TV segment. This trio performed at North Western's Pick-Staiger concert hall on April 4 at an all-harmonica concert with harmonica greats Howard Levy, Corky Siegel, Pablo Fagundes, and Jim Conway.
Almost every Saturday, during the summer, Boblink joins three talented close friends, Art Handley, Marty McCarthy, and former Crown Point Mayor Jim Forsythe, to entertain the crowd with their music at the weekly Farmers Market in the shadow of the historic old Lake County Courthouse. Handley, McCarthy and Forsythe all play the guitar with McCarthy playing base guitar.
“Stop by and say ‘hello,’” Boblink says. “We have a great time together.”
For videos and more information about Boblink and his upcoming performances visit his web site budboblink.com.