Don Brooks, a harmonica player who recorded widely
as a studio musician in New York City, died of
leukemia Wednesday at Cabrini Medical Center in
Manhattan, said his widow, Anne. He was 53 and lived in
Mr. Brooks grew up in Texas and took up the harmonica
after hearing an album by the bluesman Sonny Terry. He
played in Dallas coffeehouses in the 1960's alongside
songwriters like Mance Lipscomb, Lightning Hopkins and
Jerry Jeff Walker.
In 1967, he moved to New York City and became part of
a Greenwich Village folk scene that included David
Bromberg and John Hammond Jr. He recorded and
performed with Judy Collins and Harry Belafonte, and in
1973, he joined the country singer Waylon Jennings's
band, in which his harmonica playing helped create the
sound of outlaw country music.
"He influenced a lot of people," said Mickey Raphael, the
longtime harmonica player in Willie Nelson's band.
"What made him distinctive is the simplicity of his playing
and his great tone," Mr. Raphael said. "He played the right
thing at the right time. He was also a very rhythmic player.
He mastered a technique he called chucking, a popping of
the harmonica that sounded like a rim shot on a snare. It
can be very useful when you don't want to play a lot of
notes all the time, so the harmonica becomes a rhythm
instrument. If he didn't invent it, he surely perfected it and
passed it on."
Mr. Brooks established himself as a leading studio player in
Through the years, he recorded with Billy Joel, Cyndi
Lauper, Carly Simon, the Talking Heads, Ringo Starr, Tim
Hardin, the Bee Gees, Diana Ross, Bette Midler and Yoko
Ono and the Plastic Ono Band. He was a musician on
Broadway in "Big River" in 1985 and "The Gospel at
Colonus" in 1988, and was heard in the Ken Burns public
television documentary "The Civil War."
"My job was always to make other people sound good,"
Mr. Brooks once said. "Everything I do, everything I play, is
He is survived by his wife; a son, Leonard; and two