Let's forget the exposition this week and cut to the facts. The James Harman Band, "those dangerous gentlemens," will be headlining this week's Blue Monday presentation at Alexander's in Ventura. Harman has been playing his version of the rockin' blues since he was a teen-ager in Alabama in the '60s. Be there. Trust me this time. He shreds--just ask him, or let me.
How's the tour and all that?
Well, we're in Atlanta right now. We're someplace different every day. This is our "Staying Warm" tour--I hate to be cold. First, I chose the Bahamas, but that didn't work out, so here we are in the South--and it's cold--so much for staying warm. But it's better than that time we played in Finland about 50 miles from the Soviet border. Anyway, we just spent January and February working on a new record; so here we are on the road again.
How many James Harman records are there?
Man, I don't really know--I just make 'em. I made quite a few 45s in the '60s on a lot of different small labels. A couple of them even charted. I don't have too many of those old singles myself, but my mom's got a lot of 'em. One of the Enigma albums I recorded in the early '80s had a song on it that got into a Chuck Norris movie, "Invasion U.S.A." An album I did on Rhino Records got a couple of more songs into movies. One of them was used in "The Accused," unfortunately during the rape scene. Next, I recorded 52 songs for Rivera Records, plus two nights live at the Belly Up in Solana Beach. From those we released "Strictly Live" and "Extra Napkins," and there's enough left over for "Strictly Live II" and an "Extra Napkins II." Right now, I'm signed with Black Top records out of New Orleans
How did you get started in the music biz?
Well, you get what you get and you only get what you go for, and you only get part of that, anyway. It's all a very random system. I'm just a product of my environment. I was born in 1946 in Anniston, Ala. In the '50s, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were getting it going, but I was already into black radio. I'd buy records with my lunch money. I'm a record collector. My idea of a good time is a big glass of iced tea with a bunch of friends, just sittin' around listening to records for 10 hours. Anyway, I was in the school choir--I always sang. When I was 16, we moved to Panama City, Fla., where I'd see somebody different play every week. I was steeped in rhythm and blues--I didn't care about the Beach Boys and the Beatles. I thought they were amateurish and silly. I formed my first band down there--I always had mixed bands, black guys and white guys.
How did your band get the nickname "those dangerous gentlemens"?
Part of it is the look. It ain't about lookin' like Bob Dylan in an alley--it's about lookin' good. Back in 1977 or 1978, the Blasters used to be in the James Harman Band. Anyway, Phil Alvin and Bill Bateman split to form the Blasters. All these bands back then wore ragged blue jeans and tried to look like destitute street poets. That's not my scene. I think more in terms of B.B. King, Bobby (Blue) Bland--all those blues guys wear nice clothes. My band won't have no beat-up hippie look--we don't behave like the Grateful Dead. Anyway, to answer your question, people would announce us as "those dangerous gentlemens" and it just stuck. It's like the small print under our name.
Describe James Harman music.
My job's playin' it, not describin' it, but I guess we're just a mixture of what we know and what we like. I sing urban and down-home blues, and I need musicians that can do it all. I take the different parts I have, mix 'em up, and there it is. I try to make songs that are fairly short and tell a story.
Is American roots music more popular in Europe?
Oh, yeah, we're all bigger in Europe. Over there, I'm 7-foot-3 and Screamin' Jay Hawkins is 8-foot-2. Europeans appreciate American music more than Americans do. Europeans love jazz, blues, bluegrass, soul, hillbilly music--they recognize the hipness of all that stuff. Americans go for the latest thing that someone told them is hip, like Madonna. And older people in America, they like the stuff they heard when they were young. People over there appreciate what's good and hip and real, not what's trendy and lightweight and will be gone in a week. I think blues is finally starting to get the respect it deserves. It's where rock 'n' roll came from.
What's the best and worst thing about being a musician?
The best thing is that moment that happens often enough to keep you doing it. It's when you're playing and that moment happens and the audience is swooning. The worst thing is being away from home so much. I've lived in Huntington Beach since 1970. You miss your family, your own refrigerator--but it happens when you play 275 nights a year.
What would be your dream gig and your nightmare gig?
I've already had many, many dream gigs. But if I had that time machine, I'd go back to 1952, 1953 or 1954, somewhere in Arkansas and be there for the Howlin' Wolf or Sonny Boy 15-minute radio show. Then maybe a trip to Chicago to hang out with Muddy Waters and those guys. My nightmare gig is when I get to town and my name is spelled wrong on the marquee and the soundman has waist-length hair, wearing a pair of flip flops with the Grateful Dead cranked up real loud telling me how it should sound.
Why should people go see your band?
Because it's a lot of fun. We're not preachy--we're just playing from our hearts and having a good time. I write all of the songs, plus we do a couple of covers. You can dance and it's not too loud, so you can talk if you want to. People think blues is an old and sad thing. It's not. Blues is how you shake off that yoke of depression--it's a way of escaping your problems. The blues never forgets and the blues never goes away. The blues are fun.