James Harman: Those Dangerous Gentlemens
“ I'm just writing short stories about the human condition. The main difference in stories for songs and stories for print is they must be really short stories and to the point, in order to fit into songs. ”
James Harman is a senior member of the first wave of white American musicians who entered the blues during the 1960s, starting when he was only sixteen. With a pasted-on mustache, he was slipped into black night clubs in Panama City, Florida, promoted as "That boy who sings like a man. Within a year, he started his own band. In the years to follow, he restarted several times by moving to Chicago, New York, Miami, New Orleans and, finally, California. He ran an ongoing business, recording and touring all the way through 2000, at which time he gave up carrying his own band everywhere and started taking only fly-in festival dates and being backed by different groups of players everywhere. Although he is today generally associated with the west coast sound, he has remained loyal to his Alabama roots. This can be heard in many of the lyrical tales he spins in his songs.
In this forty year career he recorded thirty records, with his first released in 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia. He had nine singles (45 RPM) out in the 1960s before releasing an LP. "Some were CDs after that technology became the standard. Some have been re-released as CDs, but most were records," Harman says He has recorded under a host of assumed names. He has worked as King James and the Royals, Disciples of Blues, Soul's Disciples, Icepick James and The Rattlesnakes, Snake Doctor, HUBB and, finally, Icehouse Blues Band when he came to California. He eventually accepted some advice given to him by B. B. King in 1972, and " became myself the blues artist, not some made-up name.
Seventeen of his songs have appeared in movie soundtracks. Most recently he played harp on the soundtrack for the movie The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), with ZZ Top's guitarist, Billy Gibbons.
As for awards, he has either been nominated for, or has won, as he says "Well let's just say far too many [awards] to remember and certainly too many to list here."
After forty years, he is still a vital and contributing member of the blues community. Today he recognized as one of the very finest blues harpists in the world, one of today's most brilliant lyricists, a prolific songwriter, a moralist and a philosopher. And if you have ever seen him perform live you know he is still rocks the house with the best musicians half his age.
All About Jazz: You have just gotten back, if my timing is right, from touring, doing a number of festivals.
James Harman: Yes, I did just get back. Actually I was all over the world all year just doing festivals. I did three long tours of Europe and played in as many as eight countries on each tour. I managed to fit-in about 12 of the 21 countries I still work.
AAJ: Where did you go?
JH: Well, let's see: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain and Italy...doing several cities in most countries....doing some countries more than once for the year. I also did several festivals in the US and Canada this year, in-between these European tours.
This fall, I returned to North America and did the W.C. Handy Festival in Henderson, Kentucky, the Smoky Mountain Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Ribber Festival in Madison, Indiana and Quebec, Canada's big Power Blues Festival, before hitting my only two California festivals for the yearthe Dohney Festival in Dana Point and the 33rd Annual San Francisco Blues Festival. I finished up the year by flying into Memphis and heading down through the delta to Helena, Arkansas to have the privilege and honor to perform, as one of the featured front men, on my pal Mark Hummel's Traveling Harmonica Blow-Down show, on the 20th anniversary of my favorite American festival: The King Biscuit Blues Festival. Even though the official name has been changed to the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival, it will always be "The Biscuit" to all of us who have played there; this was my fourth visit.
My old buddy Larry Boehmer had asked me to join his band, the Arkansas Tablerockers, for a mini-club tour in the Midwest, after the King Biscuit Blues Festival; I happily agreed. We have done this a few times since I quit ground touring back in 2000. They picked me up in Lula, Mississippi and we drove up to Lincoln, and Omaha, Nebraska...... Des Moines, Iowa and Kansas City Missouri, before I flew back to California Oct 16th . Again, I had a ball playing with my friends. I should tell you that I will be re-joining Mark Hummel's Traveling Harmonica Blow-Down for several shows again next year, including the west coast Mexican version of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise later in October of 2006.
AAJ: Were you able to do some of these with your band?
JH: Not my whole band, but a few of my guys were on some of the tours this year. Few promoters today will pay to fly in a whole band. I do most of my work with favorite regional bands, or bands put together for me in the area where I'm booked or bands put together for me, by the agent or promoter.