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Hype's No Turn-On to Earthy Harman Band

November 29, 1987|RANDY LEWIS

The folks at Rhino Records are anticipating big things with this week's release of "Those Dangerous Gentlemens," the sizzling new album by the James Harman Band.

Pictures of Orange County's dynamic quartet virtually leap off the cover of the new-product newsletter Rhino is sending out to radio and press people around the country this month.

And come January, after the hectic Christmas holiday is over, the Santa Monica-based record company best known for its superb rock reissues will focus its marketing savvy and promotional energy on the Harman Band's album.

Rhino, the label that helped veteran bar belter Billy Vera land his first hit in two decades in 1986 with "At This Moment," feels that the Harman Band is strategically poised to follow in the commercially successful "roots-music" footsteps of Los Lobos, the Robert Cray Band and the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

But don't think that Harman, guitarist David (Kid) Ramos, bassist Willie J. Campbell or drummer Stephen T. Hodges are preoccupied with reaching for the heavens in this new phase of their long partnership.

They would still rather be reaching for a plate of ribs and an ice-cold brew.

Indeed, while Harman is every bit as pleased as his three cohorts about the rapt attention they are getting these days from Rhino, he laments that some everyday pleasures are getting lost in the hustle.

"I miss my barbecues," Harman, 40, said during a recent interview at the Huntington Beach home where he lives with his wife, Ella, and their sons Jimmy, 2 1/2, and Jordan, 7 months.

"That's my least favorite part of this," said the Anniston, Ala., born singer and harmonica player extraordinaire. "Basically I'm a family guy now. I should have more time to goof off with my family; more time to party with my friends; more time to have those famous traditional barbecues. My favorite one was the pre-barbecue barbecue to make the tape to play at the barbecue--just a panel of experts to pick the tunes that would be on the giant reels of music we play at the big barbecue. Those are the greatest."

That sense of uncontrived earthiness is at the heart of the Harman Band's music, a lip-smacking gumbo of blues, rock, R&B and gospel that has grown out of each man's unflinching love for any music born of someone's soul, not their pocketbook.

It's also helped keep them from surrendering to all manner of professional and personal setbacks--including the death of former Harman Band guitarist Mike (Hollywood Fats) Mann--over the seven years since the group began frequenting Southern California bars and clubs.

"I think we have a built-in safety factor because we're all real guys," Harman said. "Nobody here has ever had stupid teen-age fantasies of being rock stars. We're all into cars and welding and painting; getting together and playing records at a barbecue--real stuff. It's not based on something happening after we make it and we get all this money. It's always been, 'Let's get together at so-and-so's house and do a brake job.' "

Commented Ramos, taking a respite from installing a new seat on his beloved motorcycle at his house in Anaheim earlier this week: "Personally, I try not to take myself so seriously on this music that you start thinking you're some great thing. I'm just another guy who is playing music instead of digging ditches or running drill presses. We're just lucky enough to love what we do."

That's not to downplay the band members' hopes that their first record in four years will attract as big an audience as possible, a goal that should be helped along by the varied musical ground covered in the album's nine songs. (The compact disc will include an extra song--"No Count Dollar"--not found on the LP or cassette.)

The group's rock muscle comes through strongest on "My Baby's Gone," a reworking of an old country song, and the Bo Diddley-influenced "Kiss of Fire," a riveting show-stopper often used to climax their gigs.

The band's R&B roots can be heard on "Won't Be Going Again," a gritty ballad that spotlights Hollywood Fats' monumental talent. Fats also turned in exalting guitar solos on the relentlessly swinging "Jump My Baby," in a remixed version with a new vocal from the track that was on the band's 1983 EP "Thank You Baby."

But the tracks that perhaps best capture the essence of the James Harman Band are "Voodoo Love," "Snakes" and "Goatman Holler," songs with differing musical textures and tempos but that share a compelling down-home swamp-bred charm.

Because "Those Dangerous Gentlemens" album--the title is the group's longtime nickname--was designed to sell in the commercial rock marketplace, the group is also readying a straight blues album. Entitled "Extra Napkins," this rip-roaring second album is aimed at the hard-core blues fan and due for early 1988 release from Orange-based Rivera Records.

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