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.
I maintain a band in Copenhagen [Denmark], that back me on my Scandinavian shows; my buddy Tee's great band in Antwerp, Belgium handles all my central-European dates. When the budget allows I fly in certain favorite American players like Kid Ramos, Junior Watson, Stephen Hodges and Nathan James who all joined me on certain dates this year. We always have a ball traveling together and playing all these different countries all spring, summer & fall.
AAJ: More and more of the gigs that you do will pay for you to attend but not your band, unless I am completely off base here. Isn't this the case for most major entertainers who attain a certain stature and demand a certain dollar for doing a gig?
JH: Yes, I suppose so. Many of the festivals have suffered the loss of important governmental backing and lucrative corporate sponsorships. They must put together shows they can afford to guarantee. If, say, ten artists each bring four to eleven players, who all need rooms and meals, it really builds up to an astronomical budget to cover. However, if they can put together a couple of really good bands, who are able to back several artists, well, they can then book the ten artists alone, to be backed by these two good bands and reduce the overhead quite a bit, you see. That way the audience gets to hear all ten artists sing, in their own styles, yet the festival is only paying those ten artists, to sing with these two hand-picked bands, as opposed to another fifty guys! I guess this system has kept the festivals alive, which is far better than the alternative, don't you think?
AAJ: Do you find this as much Stateside as you do overseas?
JH: Yes, just like in Europe, I have great bands, in several geographical areas, who are willing to back me when I get there. I have a band on the east coast, Midwest, down south and on the west coast.....it's just the way it must be done nowadays.
AAJ: Who is currently in your regular band?
JH: My regular west coast band? That would be mainly Nathan James, but could be Junior Watson, Kid Ramos, Kirk Fletcher or Rick Holstrom on guitarit all depends on who's off and who's in town. Buddy Clark is still pretty much my main bassist when I'm in the west. Mike Tempo is the percussionist of choice. When my gigs fall into the same timeframe as John Hammond or Tom Waits, Stephen Hodges becomes unavailable so I usually try for another JHB [James Harman Band] alumnus, Steve Mugalian for drums, when Mr. Hodges is gone. To my knowledge, there are only a few good piano players available today, so I will use the one that's off when I call. My friend Kim Wilson works so much that it's difficult to get my long-time piano playing partner, Gene Taylor often, but I ask Sonny Leyland or Bob Welch as well.
AAJ: When did you start in music?
JH: In 1962 I stopped singing in church and started taking money to sing.
AAJ: It seems I recall seeing something, I don't recall where, promoting a "sixteen year-old James Harman."
JH: Yes, I was sixteen in '62. I had been slipped in, with a fake moustache, to see Little Junior Parker, and started hanging around a number of black night clubs in Panama City, Florida where I lived. I managed to get myself heard and they all started calling me "That boy who sings like a man. Within a year or so I started my own band.
I've pretty much had a band since then. I've restarted several times by moving to Chicago, New York, Miami, New Orleans and, finally, California. I ran an ongoing business, recording and touring all the way through 2000, at which time I gave up carrying my own band everywhere and started taking only fly-in festival dates and being backed by different groups of players everywhere. In order to survive today you must learn to roll with the punches and reinvent yourself.
AAJ: In the years that you have been in the business, what are the biggest changes you have seen?
JH: A white blues audience came only after a very long struggle. Pickings were slim in the early- and mid-60's; I used to play dances for teenagers. We would start playing at 7:00 PM then at 10:00 PM they ran the kids out, swept up the floor and put out the booze, charging a more adult admission and selling booze. We would play all the way until 2:00 AM, when they threw everybody out again and took away the house alcohol, creating a "bottle club. Then we started playing again at 3:00 AM while they charged a whole new crowd to bring in their own bottles and start paying for bowls of ice and Cokes etc. The setup charge was smaller, but hey, they were still open and collecting money. When the bars and liquor stores started closing at 2:00 AM, you could see this mob running to buy a last bottle and make it over to the Red Rooster Club or the Cork & Bottle Club.
We would have to play until 7:00 AM, when they shut it all down to sweep out the debris and mop up the blood, whiskey and beer. I think they would re-open at 11:00 AM for a lunch crowd and start the whole damn deal over again, seven days a week, but we didn't have to start playing again until 7:00 PM for the kids.
Man, those were some crazy days but I learned a lot about what I can and can't do. It was rough, but I got away with singing my own songs between the Bobby Bland, Jimmy Reed, B. B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson and Slim Harpo covers. At least I was playing blues. I've never played the current pop hits of the day through four decades and about to head into the fifth; and I'm proud.
In the late '60s I used to play "Love-ins" in the park in Miami, then go play black nightclubs in the evening. I was the first white guy to ever sing at the extremely hip Jet-a-Way Lounge there. They had a sixteen-piece black jazz band upstairs in tuxedos and my mixed-race six-piece blues band downstairs wailin' out, doing Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James tunes for an all-black audience who were dressed to the nines. My friends Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musslewhite were drawing the white collage students into the north side Chicago clubs and young blacks started going to rock events etc. It all started mixing up more.
By 1970 my buddy Albert Collins and I both had drifted to California, encouraged by Bob Hite and the Canned Heat guys. We both opened many shows for them. Albert and I would do noon gigs together on a college campus, then go play a regular club gig at night and, believe me, the audience was defiantly mixed by then. There were plenty of young black guys with a necktie around their heads shooting for a Jimi Hendrix look, trying to be hippies and young white guys in stingy brims and shades, trying to be cool blues cats....go figure? In 1972 I lucked into a 24-city tour with B. B. King and just kept on workin' hard, never lookin' back.
It started turning around in the '70s when some of the audience apparently got tired of the same old rock bands sounding and looking alike. I guess the loud Les Paul/Marshall amp with long hair and bell bottoms deal got....well, er, um, ah, old! I don't know, man...I sure can't think for 'em....I've never been part of that audience, so it's all pretty much a mystery to me. Anyway I watched as more and more white folks came to hear blues.
My new friends Rod Piazza ("Bacon Fat") and John "Juke" Logan ("Brother Chaos") and my band The Icehouse Blues Band got all the good gigs backing black artists at all the SoCal gigs that featured any blues. I would be backing Big Joe Turner and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson at The Ash Grove while Juke's band backed up Lowell Fulson at the Topanga Corral, and Rod and George Smith would be working "The Corner" down on 53rd and Avalon, or opening for Buddy Guy and Junior Wells down at The Golden Bear in Huntington Beac. Shoot, man, blues was happening.
I've had T-Bone Walker drop in to my gig and take over the piano or guitar, for my whole last set. I've had Freddy King show up and play guitar and sing with me the rest of the night. I was down hangin' with Rod and George one time when Lightnin' Hopkins dropped into this little neighborhood joint! He sat in and played alone for a set, then called up Rod's band... it was a wonderful mess out here. Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties were all swingin' for awhile.
In the late '70s it got quite skimpy, I remember Gene Taylor and myself playing duo party-gigs at people's homes, we were just passing the hat and making $50 each. Of course then we'd go to some silly talent contest at some Long Beach folk club. When we walked in, they just gave us the $10 first prize, called off the rest of the contest and we would drink up $40 more while we played the rest of the night and all the real contestants gave up and partied.
It seemed to kick up into overdrive around '79-'80. Phil Alvin and Bill Bateman quit my band and started The Blasters, playing more of a rock-a-billy sound. I replaced them and went on, but I was the one who recorded them and wrote "Blasters on the tape reel for the first time. Phil and I mixed that stuff down and he sold Rollin' Rock Records on an album project. Later the next year they came back and stole Gene Taylor, which was only fair since I had stolen him from Phil's band, Night Shift, back in '72.
I replaced Bill Bateman with Stephen Hodges, who went on for twelve years with me until our pal Tom Waits picked him up. Tom just beat me out of himha ha ha! I replaced Phil Alvin with "Soup" Bradshaw, who had been playing guitar with The Johnny Otis show. Later in 1980 I replaced "Soup" with a twenty-one year-old Anaheim guy named David Ramos, who we nick-named "The Kid.
Also in 1980, the first Fabulous Thunderbirds album came out. Suddenly all these rock guys started getting haircuts and buying thrift store bowling shirts, suits and cool shoes etc....all of a sudden everybody tried to act like they'd always been in on it. When I see Kim or Jimmie I still mess with 'em saying "Alright....you started all this crap, man....now what 'cha gonna do about 'em all?
I think it's funny to hear a southern California suburb guy talking with a phony southern accent. I remember the late James "Shakey Jake" Harris, Magic Sam's uncle, used to elbow me, point at some new white blues guy and ask, "Now where's that motherfucker from? Listen to him....he's probably form Glendale or Pasadena, but he's trying to sound just like you!" It got weird, but at least there were more gigs for blues music.
During the '80s a touring blues club circuit became a reality, so we all did well. It was great through the '80s and into the late '90s but it peaked out about 1997; it's been in decline since then. People got bored with mediocre blues cover bands and stiff drunk driving laws, plus many died off and were not replaced with a new batch of young blues seekers. Most folks started saving their money for the festivals and the clubs have thinned out. It's pretty hard to connect the dots and make a driving tour that makes any sense now, so, I fly.
AAJ: In all that time, how many records have you recorded?
JH: I started making records in 1964 in Atlanta, GA. I had nine singles (45 RPMs) out in the '60s before releasing an LP. I have thirty releases in all, some were CDs after that technology became the standard. Some have been re-released as CDs, but most were records. Also, they are not all under my name, I used band names until about 1977. I've 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 I came to California. I used so many stupid names, until I wised-up and became myself the blues artist, not some made-up name. B. B. King gave me that advice in '72 and it still took me five more years to realize he was absolutely right.
AAJ: One source says that the earliest recording you had made with the "Dangerous Gentlemans" was 1987.
JH: OK, first of all I had an album titled Those Dangerous Gentlemens in 1987 on Rhino Records. Note it's Gentlemens on purposenot men, not man's, not anything but like the announcer at a real R&B show would say: "Ladies and gentlemens, I have-a-pleasure to ba-zent, er...um....ah....Mr. so-and-so, how 'but a roun-a-ma-clauz fer 'em, from tha whole aug-lee-ance!
That's an album title not a band name. It says: The James Harman Band and the title is: Those Dangerous Gentemens. That was just a catch phrase or watch word, just like ZZ Top, "that little old band from Texas," or J. Geils Band, "those bad boys from Boston." It's not and never has been the name of the act. It was just a little nickname for a few years. Just like this "Icepick James" thing, it's not how I book or promote myself; it's just a nickname people gave me. People tend to rewrite what they saw into what they wish it had been....your guess is as good as mine why. Anyway, yes, I did have a release in '87, on Rhino Records, but it was by no means my first album.
I've seen far too much wrong information about me and my career in print. Especially in books claiming to be about the blues scene etc. I can't stand it anymore. I wish all writers had to do the research before they could write a word. If they had just looked at my website they could have read the official bio, which is 100 % correct. I think they all just ask a few friends who read something a long time ago, written by the girlfriend of an old roommate's cousin, they had gone to school with, or something like that. In the words of the great Sid Nathan, of King Records fame: "It's a-lotta-bunch-a crap!"
AAJ: I was dumb-plussed as to why you would wait so late in your career to make your first recording.
JH: I certainly didn't. '64 baby! Do the math....I was eighteen when a talent scout tapped me and took me to Atlanta to record four songs in 1964. 1987 was twenty-three long years later and many releases over the dam. It's been forty-two years now since I became a recording artist.
AAJ: In your recording career you have been nominated for and have taken awards for your music. Which songs, which CDs?
JH: Well let's just say far too many to remember and certainly too many to list here. I'm in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, you gotta like that. I've been nominated for eighteen WC Handy Awards. Lonesome Moon Trance (Gulf Coast/Pacific Blues) in 2003 added four to the fourteen I had from before. I'm one of the few white guys to be nominated for re-release of the year (Extra Napkins LP in '88 and CD in '98, on Rivera).
I've been nominated for best song, best single, best band, best harmonica player etc. but never the one that would mean the most to me: male artist of the year. That would make me an artist, not just a guy playing harp in a band. I don't play live in America enough anymore to get that one. I have won best album, best artist, best song and best harmonica player awards from Canada's Real Blues Magazine. In 2003 I won the coveted #1 spot on the French Blues Collective. That meant all the blues writers and all the radio folks in France voted me as #1 that year.....that's mighty cool! I always have a ball in France. As a matter of fact, I just found out yesterday that I have won that one again, with this re-release of my 1985 live album. Strictly Live in '85...Plus (Rivera, 1985).
AAJ: Also, in your time you have gotten into licensing songs you've written to the film industry. Do you recall your first reaction to being contacted by them for your music?
JH: OK, I guess you don't know how that stuff is done. See, my songwriting and publishing are administrated by Bug Music, in Hollywood. They have a team who plug songs from their catalog to the teams who buy songs for movie and TV projects. That's how that's always done; I had nothing to do with that end of it at all.
AAJ: You have licensed seventeen songs to the film industry. What were they and in what films did they appear?
JH: OK, it's not licensing songs. Movie producers ask these song brokers for songs, listen to several and pick the ones, or just parts of songs, they want to use in movies, and TV. It's not at all like when somebody licenses a song for release on a product like a CD.
Hey, I don't ever think about that stuff too much. Let's see, I'll try to name one you might recognize. OK, The Accused (1988), with Jodie Foster. If you saw it, there is a rape scene in a biker bar, that's my song, "Kiss of Fire," playing in the background. I've never seen it, but that's what they tell me. The checks have all been good, so that's all I know about that. My song "Jump My Baby" has been used in three movies. I remember the name of one was Trouble Bound (1993). I don't remember who was in it or when it came out. My songs end up in lots of movies where a couple of southern kids steal a car and go on a crime rampage and when they stop at a roadside cafe he gets into a fight and they crash into the jukebox and my song comes on for the rest of the fight or they make love against the jukebox, and my song comes on; type-casting I guess.
AAJ: You have been a prolific composer and lyricist. Where do you get your inspiration for what you write?
JH: I get it all from watching people and listening to things they say in everyday life. Blues is a folk music, a storytelling idiom. 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. I see it as short storytelling. A lot of my sense of humor came from my parents, who were a couple of wise-guys, quick of wit and always with a funny yet profound meaning. I inherited most of it, then went around the world chasing more adventures and collecting stories to tell. I've been at it most of my life....no...hell, all of my life. I can't imagine my not doing this. Other than cookin' and drag racin', it's really all I know.
AAJ: Most recently you played the harp playing with Billy Gibbons on the soundtrack for the movie The Dukes of Hazzard. Tell us about this experience.
JH: Ah, just the same as always. Old Billy F. called me up, asked when I'd be off. I told him, he told me what studio, we chatted about records, cars, guitars, women etc for a few minutes, then went to the correct studio and played all the music for another movie.
Billy F. Gibbons is a very good buddy; we've had many adventures around the world. I played all the harp on their last seven albums. We go way back, meeting as blues record collectors a thousand years ago, in another era and dimension, down on our knees lookin' through boxes of old records.
AAJ: How does someone go about selling their stuff to the movies, or television?
JH: There is only one way I know: Have your songwriting and publishing administrated by a good firm, like Bug Music. Remember: you cannot do it yourself, it's virtually impossible. Just like festival talent buyers do not hire bands, they go through serious agents who represent talent. Movie and TV buyers do not want to talk to songwriters, they only work through song placers from good publishing houses. Movie and TV music is bought by people who do only that 24/7/52, from people who only do that 24/7/52 except holidays.
AAJ: Talking of movies, you have been asked to play the part of a pirate in an upcoming movie for which you have grown your hair and beard. Tell us about this. When can we expect to see this movie?
JH: I am not at liberty to tell you anymore than about what you seem to already know. I can only tell you that I've learned this: movie people are quite secretive. In order to get these jobs you must swear to not ask questions and never tell anybody anything you might find out during the shooting of your parts.
It's a strange, odd-ball way to work; nothing is shot in sequence. I show up at 5:00 AM, get made-up, get into my ragged, smelly old pirate in prison clothes and lay about all day, three days at a time doing the exact same thing over, over and over seemingly 8,000 times a day, while they move the camera around after every twenty-to-thirty takes of the same scene. It is boring, tiresome, grueling work on my end. But, they have picked eight of us to be pirates who have been in prison for twenty years and have this horrible long hair and beards.
I hate every minute of it, hate the waist length hair and horrible long beard I agreed to grow. I wake up every morning with hair in my mouth and eyes....I will be so happy when it's over.
As to when a movie, with a title, would be in release? That's not something I would even know, or be able to tell, if I did. It's just a mess this movie stuff. It's all done in units, so far I've never seen any famous people, who may also be in it. All I've seen is the other seven long-haired, bearded pirates and the 150 people behind the camera and lights. I think somebody said they were shooting stuff for three more pirate movies at the same time. When any of it might be released, who knows?
AAJ: You have recently re- released your first live CD, Live in '85...Plus. Tell us about this release.
JH: After my Thank You Baby album on Enigma in 1983, I was talked into doing a live album by my good friend Bob Rivera. I don't like live recordings and was not really interested in doing one. I told him I'd do it if he'd also give me more money to do more studio recording. We made a deal, I cut two nightsfour setsat my favorite big club in SoCal at the time, The Belly Up Tavern Since it was mastered for LP, it couldn't be more than twenty-two minutes per side. It came out and did well, for a small independent label release.
Later after Those Dangerous Gentlemens and Extra Napkins, we re-released Strictly Live ...in '85 on Rivera as well. I put it out again on CD in '90 without changing the LP master to digital, so it remained the same forty-four minutes long. I was already on to making my next release on another label by then. I moved on to Black Top Records out of New Orleans for Do Not Disturb in '91.
I have been swamped non-stop, by letters, emails, phone messages and notes on napkins ever since the early '90s from people who didn't get it in '85 or '90! It seemed everybody wanted that live album to come out again on CD...so Jerry Hall, (my engineer/partner for 30+ years) and I thought: Hey why not? We had to bake those twenty year old tapes to get them through the 16 track heads one last time without falling apart, but we managed to transfer all four sets to digital disk. Since it could now be an hour long, I picked out three more songs, mixed 'em & fixed 'em up to sound almost the same as the original release. There you go! Try it, I hope you'll dig it.
AAJ: You have a unique approach to creating a new release. You've said that it doesn't work for you to go into a studio for weeks on end to complete one record. Rather you record tracks and store them in the vault until you want to release something new. What of this?
JH: It only seems like the most reasonable approach to me. I've never been in the same mood long enough to make a release in one period of time. I don't needs the pressure of getting something done on a schedule, seems crazy to me. Plus, I far prefer to have the players I want on each song. I see no advantage to having the same musicians on the whole release. For me it's about songs, not bands. Every song calls for special playing, and although every guy I use on my records is a great player, I know each has strengths and weaknesses. I only want to use the right player for the right song. Think artist, not band; it's a record of songs not a demo for a group. I'm pushin' sixty years-old and did all crap that in the early '60s, baby!
AAJ: This CD is marked Volume 1. Do you plan on releasing anymore in this series? When?
JH: Whenever I decide, but not until I've released at least one more new project of new stuff. It's a burden having so much old unreleased material on hand. You must be careful what order you put it out in, don't over expose yo' self! That's a mistake a lot of younger guys makeCDs with seventeen or eighteen songs on 'em; come on.
AAJ: We would be remiss if we didn't ask you about your equipment, we have a readership that is interested in the mechanical aspects of what you do. What kind of equipment do you play?
JH: I sing and play acoustic harp into a Shure SM58, not Betathat's for the hump in a female voice, like anybody else. When I play amplified harmonica, I play through the same bunch of amps I've been using since the mid -'60s. I was using a tweed 1958 Fender Pro Amp through 1963. When the new Fender Vibroverb smp came out with reverb built in, I bought one and loved the amp, but hated the two ten-inch Oxford speakers that came in it. I experimented with plugging the '63 Vibroverb amp into my one fifteen-inch Jensen speaker in my '58 Pro Amp. I loved that sound!
I loved that so much I built a custom made "combo cab" with the Vibroverb amp and fifteen-inch Jensen together. Fender was also making a stock one fifteen-inch with two 6L6 [power tubes] amp called a Pro amp, in the '63 brown hide, but I had already made my little monster. See the Vibroverb had a different pre-amp, with a hotter gain stage to run that built-in reverb. I broke all those reverb pans too many times to keep using them, but I still love that amp.
Through the years I found and modified three more original 1963 Fender Vibroverb amps. Those are the only amps I've used; I have four identical amps, all alike. When I'm flying to festivals, I ask for a new reissue Fender (4 X 10") Bassman amp on my rider. I don't really like 'em, but I can cop a tone on one and the promoters all seem to be able to get them for me these days. That's easier to deal with than trying to play harp through a stinkin' Twin Reverb amp. Twins are always way too loud and clear for harp and Super Reverb amps are too trebly and bright for me. Live and outside I can make those Bassman amps work for me on a festival backline.
I have owned thirteen original late '50s Bassman amps, but never really could get into them. Nothing is as good as my modified 1963 Vibroverb with the one 1958 Pro amp speaker. In the studio I sometimes add another smaller, older amp to my one fifteen-inch Vibroverb amp, just for having control over the amount of crunch. If I want a rawer, dirtier sound on a particular song, I just add more of the small amp then for a cleaner sound, I add less or turn it off altogether; works for me.
AAJ: Do you have any current causes near and dear to you that you would like to address? This is a chance to bang your drum.
JH: Ah, not really....I'm always so busy being me that I don't get involved in too any causes. I did a few benefits for the hurricane victims, but mostly I just feel awful for them. I would love to see everybody act right and behave, so it would be nice for us all. My message to whoever is out there thinking of messing up is: If you are involved in being a jerk, just stop it right nowyou're not the only one breathing here! I would also like to see everybody treat dogs well, for cryin' out loud.
AAJ: What big things can we expect from James Harman and the band?
JH: All you can expect out of me is a dozen or so new songs from time to time and seeing me in a festival near you when it works out. The rest of the time I'll be busy shopping, cooking, eating and listening to records at my house.
AAJ: We understand that you have political aspirations
JH: Not me, baby. Politics just leave me with a bad taste. I'm not apathetic, but would rather keep my leanings private and just talk about stuff I might be able to do something about.
The only 100% correct source of information on James Harman can be found at his website.
James Harman, Lonesome Moon Trance (Gulf Coast/Pacific Blues, 2003)
James Harman Band & Buddies, Mo'na'kins, Please! (Extra Napkins Vol II) (Cannonball, 1999)
James Harman, Takin' Chances (Cannonball, 1998)
James Harman, Extra Napkins Vol. I (Cannonball, 1997)
James Harman, Icepick's Story (Continental, 1996)
James Harman Band, Black & White (Black Top, 1995)
James Harman Band,Cards on the Table (Black Top, 1994)
James Harman Band, Two Sides To Every Story (Black Top, 1993)
James Harman Band, Do Not Disturb (Black Top, 1991)
James Harman Band, Extra Napkins...Strictly the Blues (Rivera, 1988)
James Harman Band, Those Dangerous Gentlemens (Rhino, 1987)
James Harman Band, Strictly Live in '85 (Rivera, 1985)
James Harman Band, Thank You Baby (Enigma, 1983)
Icehouse Blues Band, Can't Get Goin" (Freewheelin', 1975)
Icehouse Blues Band, Here We Go, Baby (Continental, 1974)
Icepick James and the Rattlesnakes, This Band Just Won't Behave (ABC Dunhill, 1972)