While vacationing in Paris, France, I had a chance to attend a blues show featuring D.C. Bellamy, whom I wrote about in the last issue. This issue will feature the headliner that performed at the same Paris show held at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club.
This jazz club is the most revered of jazz venues in Paris. It is named after Lionel Hampton, who still is considered a favorite jazz musician among the Parisians. The Lionel Hampton Jazz Club is located in the Le Meridian Hotel, a five star facility in the northwest part of the city. This is the venue that hosts the world’s biggest names in jazz and blues.
The night I chose to attend a show at this venerable club, it happened to be the last night that Zac Harmon & the Mid South Blues Revue were performing in Paris. They, along with D.C. Bellamy, were completing a two week stint in Paris. Prior to their Paris show, they had been in the Bahamas. After Paris, these wonderful musicians were slated to tour Canada.
D.C. Bellamy set the performance bar very high during the first half of the show. By the time he left the stage, he had the audience clapping wildly on its feet. By the time Zac Harmon took the stage, it was clear that we were all prepared to be disappointed. After such a spirited performance, it was hard to imagine anything to surpass it.
Zac Harmon took the stage quietly. He looked rather subdued and somber as he stood quietly. The audience connected with his quiet demeanor and silence fell over the large and crowded room. This quiet moment gave all of us an opportunity to study Zac Harmon’s tall frame. Age and the challenges of life were easily visible on his face.
Zac opened up with an impassioned gospel song. He and the band played the song as if they were deep in a prayerful trance, in a state that ignored the presence of the audience. This was raw emotion and spirituality and the audience understood. The musical wizardry that the band was capable of was forgotten as they prayed on with their instruments.
After the gospel rendition, Zac Harmon & the Mid South Blues Revue brought Zac’s native Mississippi sound to the multi-national crowd. The band’s sound was intense and unrelenting. Zac’s Fender Stratocaster wailed loudly at times, and it moaned softly at other times. At no time did the band release its iron grip on the audience.
Harmon’s roots ooze out of his music and are the foundation of his experiences. Even when talking to the diverse audience in the club, he used colloquialisms from Mississippi. For those who did not understand either Zac’s language or the Mississippi vernacular, the music did the talking. Harmon’s long life of experiences came through in his music. We re-lived the ebb and flow of his life through his performance. As a performer, he is a "no frills" musician. Those who want the most music out of a show would be very please by Zac Harmon. Although he does not waste precious time talking endlessly, he does share enough of himself and his background for the audience to know who he is and where he is from.
In appearance, Zac Harmon could be mistaken for a preacher. The large and prominent cross on the front of his guitar strap only helps to confirm the suspicion. He is clean cut, conservatively dressed, and clearly is a very disciplined man. His love of gospel and the way he plays gospel songs is proof of how much time he has spent in church. However, the gospel Harmon is preaching around the world is that of the blues. In many ways, it is not so far fetched to call him a preacher.
If you should be curious to find out more about Zac Harmon, his performance schedule, and his recordings, surf over to his website at www.zacharmon.com or check out his record label’s website at www.bluestonerecords.com.
That’s the word from Chicago y’all!
2004-02-04 - Blues First Weekend Best Yet!
The BluesFirst weekend just concluded and what a great series of events. The panels, the receptions, the old friends are all part of it. The Keeping the Blues Alive Awards ceremony Saturday morning had folks verklempf throughout the ceremony as one recipient after another talked about how much the award meant to them.
The marquee event of course was the 20th International Blues Challenge. With a record 94 acts, the competition was better than ever.
First place in the band contest was awarded Saturday night to Zac Harmon and the Midsouth Blues Revue (Southern California Blues Society-Los Angeles CA). Coming in second, Reverend Slick and the Soul Blues Boys (Howlin Wolf Blues Society—West Point MS). Third place went to The Matthew Stubbs Band (Boston Blues Society—Boston MA). As announced Saturday, the Solo/Duo winner is Lightnin’ Lee & the Upright Rooster (Spa City Blues Society—Hot Springs AR).
It was certainly a night to remember on old Beale Street. With temperatures outside in the 30's, temperatures inside the New Daisy began heatin' up within minutes of the night's first performance. Put 1500 enthusiastic fans and nine top notch bands and you have the recipe for a tasty winter blues stew.
The seven judges included Bruce Iglauer, president of Alligator Records, Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records, Jay Sheffield, owner and talent buyer for Huey's in Memphis, David Bennett, T-Bone Erickson, Beanie Self, and recording artist Kenny Neal.
Neal gave up four days to attend the event and told the Foundation, "These are my fans. Because they come out to see and support me when I play in their towns, it's important for me to be here and support them."
Musical highlights of the performances included the super cool swing and jump blues of Boston's Matthew Stubbs Band, the riveting performance of "John The Revelator" by the Tennessee Hat Company from the Magic City Blues Society, some cool Little Feat-styled keyboard and vocals by Atlanta's Ken Rhyne band, the earthy singing and harmonica playing of Robin Rogers from Charlotte, the B-3 work of the Partick McLaughlin band from Marrietta, Ohio, the spontaneous preachin' of Rev. Slick Ballinger from the Howlin' Wolf Blues Society of West Point, Mississippi, and the decidely traditional bluesy guitar harmonica approach of the night's winner, Zac Harmon and the Mid-South Blues Revue from the Southern Cailfornia Blues Society.
The real highlight was the enthusiastic member support every blues society brought to the New Daisy. Seeing dozens of society members rush to the dance floor when their home town bands performed and then stay to support the next band is what the blues is about.
The Albert King Flying V guitar, presented to the best guitarist of the night, went to Slick Ballinger.
One lucky fan, Boyd Chavis from Plymouth, Michigan, won the Gibson guitar that was autographed backstage at the 2003 W.C. Handy Awards that was raffled off this weekend.
And after the competition was over, parts of all the bands turned up on stages in the Blues City Cafe and Pat O'Brien's and carried the music long into the morning hours. In fact, Kenny Neal was spotted on many of these after hours stages.
The weekend also featured performances by Watermelon Slim and Joe Bonamassa and the awarding of the Keeping the Blues Alive Awards to 17 deserving recipients.
Thanks to all the blues lovers and bands that came, saw and conquered and all the volunteers that make this event not only possible, but magical.
The Foundation and all participants are grateful to sponsors King Biscuit Time, Budweiser, Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise (they are on the high seas bluesifyin' now), XM Satellite Radio, Tennessee Film and Music Commission, Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, Gibson Guitars, T. Joseph Clifton Gallery. We also want to acknowledge Big City Rhythm and Blues magazine, Blues Revue, Blues Wax, the Commercial Appeal and Memphis Flyer and all the societies that help spread the word about this "largest gathering of blues bands in the world."
Now the focus switches to the 25th W.C. Handy Blues Awards on April 29 followed by Memphis in May's Beale Street Music Festival with three days of our favorite music in the Blues Tent.
Sacramento Heritage Festival
A dedicated group of volunteers organized as the Sacramento Heritage Festival has been presenting special shows at the Horsemen's Club in Sacramento for a few years. This is a wonderful venue outside town with an indoor stage and comfortable listening room and outdoor lawn where the music is piped for those who wish to sit at tables under the awnings and eat or socialize. In connection with a series of shows, Blues Across America, the festival focused on Chicago Blues in October and Mississippi Delta Blues in November.
At the Chicago Blues show in October, featured artists were Son Seals, Byther Smith and Magic Slim. Unfortunately, Magic Slim was hospitalized with pneumonia and unable to make the show and two acts were booked to replace him (Chris Cain and Phillip Walker who actually are not Chicago blues artists).
The outstanding performance of the day was that of Byther Smith who has been a fixture in the Windy City since the early sixties playing in small clubs and recording critically acclaimed music. Smith's forte is songwriting and his lyrics reflect the struggles of life in Black America with intelligence and clarity. Smith has a congenial stage presence and on this day he had the audience captivated with the complexity of blues grooves on guitar. On the slow blues tune "Hold That Train Conductor," Smith's raw vocal style was enhanced by innovative guitar phrasing. Whether covering original tunes or standards, Smith's performance was permeated with the tough Chicago sound. Byther Smith was a delicious treat for the ears this day!
Son Seals is a blues veteran of the Chicago scene and widely acclaimed as a trailblazer with his hard-hitting raw sound. In recent years, he has been battling diabetes and various other health problems. Sitting behind a large stand emblazoned with his name, Seals performed a heartfelt set.
Contemporary blues artist Chris Cain gave a crowd-pleasing performance with his Jazz-inspired searing guitar style and rich vocals. Phillip Walker and his band closed out the show with a Texas influenced set which featured the wonderful Hollis Gilmore (photo at left) on tenor saxophone and Joe Campbell on trumpet along with the flamboyant bassist "Broadway" James Thomas. Soul singer Frankie Lee jammed with the Walker band to close out the show in a rollicking finale.
At the November Mississippi Delta Blues show, the festival presented Lil' Dave Thompson (Greenville, MS), Zac Harmon & The MidSouth Blues Revue (Jackson, MS) and Michael Burks (Camden, AK). After a rousing opening by the wonderful group W.D. Gospel singers, Dave Thompson hit the stage with his band which included a local band including Henry Oden on bass and Michael Skinner on drums. Thompson covered standards displaying a gritty guitar style and engaging vocal delivery which testified to his Mississippi roots.
Zac Harmon (photo at right) is enjoying a revitalized career thanks to his first-place win of the 20th annual International Blues Challenge sponsored by The Blues Foundation and held in Memphis in January. His show on this day affirmed all the hoopla that surrounds those dubbed as the hottest new act. Harmon paid tribute to his Mississippi roots and what has been described as the Farish Street sound (a legendary home location for many early blues artists). Harmon's soulful vocals and breathtaking showmanship were well displayed on the tune "Full Figured Woman." His flashy style guitar style belies the solid sound that he radiated on every tune. He was admirably backed by a fantastic band which included his daughter playing hard driving drums, D. J. on rhythm guitar and Jeff Stone on harmonica.
The star of the evening was Michael Burks in a two and a half hour demonstration of dynamic guitar pyrotechnics and a silky rich vocal style reminiscent of Albert King. He possesses one of the best voices in blues and the conviction of his delivery is uncommon. Burks usually lacks a personable stage presence but this day, he related to the audience with an unusual fervor. On "Everyday I Have The Blues," he demonstrated a Jimi Hendrix inspired guitar style, bending and distorted notes. On "Make It Rain," Burks displayed riveting passion on this slow burner tune. Adding to the pleasure of the adoring fans, Burks prowled his way through the audience playing with the intensity of a man possessed by the blues!
The blues are alive and well. And Zac Harmon is proof positive!
A funny thing happened on the way to trying to find a phone number I’d lost. Lewis Napper had given me permission to cite a piece of his work in my novel, “Heart Seizure” and I was going to call him about something. But I couldn’t find his number. I did a Google search for his wife’s name (she and I had gone to school together back in Jackson) and ended up on the message board for a guy named Zac Harmon who, it turns out, is a musician. Then I saw the names of several other old school mates on the board and I was intrigued. Zac’s name seemed familiar but I couldn’t place it. But based on comments left on the message board I thought he might have gone to St. Joe (class of ’75). Coincidentally, in the mail that day I received a copy of St. Joe’s alumni directory. Sure enough. Zac was a year ahead of me at St. Joe.
So I looked at Zac’s performance calendar. Turned out he was playing at a club (Cozy’s) in Sherman Oaks. So we went. He and his band blew us away. In addition to a good set of standards (One Way Out; Got My Mojo Working; John the Revelator) he did a Hendrix set (Machine Gun, Them Changes, Little Wing) that was astounding. If Zac gets within driving distance of where you live, get on out and see him! You’ll be glad you did.
His website is: www.zacharmon.com .
Tell him I sent you.
Mon, August 22, 2005
They blew the roof offFest wrap like a cannonball express
By MIKE ROSS, EDMONTON SUN
Willie 'Big-Eyes' Smith was just one of many legends at the fest. (PRESTON BROWNSCHLAIGLE, Sun)
Like a southbound train on a one-way trip to blues nirvana, the last day of the Edmonton Labatt Blues Festival started slow, hit a little congestion, commenced to cruise, kicked into high gear and ended with a great big bang.
Or maybe that was CN Rail.
Anyway, a train is a perfectly acceptable blues vehicle. Stops along the way included Chicago, Detroit City, Mississippi, New Orleans, Texas and even Portland, Oregon. Took the scenic route.
The big bang came courtesy of the Delbert McClinton Band, which closed the seventh annual event in Hawrelak Park with a straight-ahead set that made up with in-yer-face volume for what it lacked in soul.
Opening with a pair of standards - Take Me to the River and Shaky Ground - the headliner had no trouble packing the dance floor with 90 minutes of rocking, bluesy goodness. But there still seemed to be something missing. While McClinton's shoutin' pipes were in good order and the six-piece band hot, the arrangements were generally far too busy and far too obvious.
There was little space, little subtlety, little dynamics. Every note was in exactly the right place. They basically pushed the pedal to the metal and went for it the whole time. It was easy to hear what the Blues Brothers heard in Delbert McClinton. The movie band was actually modelled after the real band - and that's what a good deal of this set felt like: Movie band blues.
Earlier, the Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin Band came off like the best Saturday Commercial Hotel blues jam ever, a "Sidemen to the Stars" sort of thing. The band featured Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, former drummer for the great Muddy Waters - here in spirit, it was pointed out several times yesterday - along with the red-faced Garcia-ish shouter Margolin on vocals and bassist Mookie Brill, mentioned primarily for his excellent blues name.
They started as a trio, with Willie on harmonica and vocals (and no drummer) before he took his place behind the kit. There were a few sparks of greatness, but these guys clearly needed help - the scheduled special guest, the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz, had to bow out because of a bout of kidney stones - and they got it. Delbert's amazing pianoman Kevin McKendree joined in and delivered a boogie woogie element, and the blues train started to roll nicely with the addition of members of Zac Harmon's band - including Zac Harmon.
I might've preferred that Zac played longer. It was by far the best show of the day - no disrespect to earlier acts Craig Horton and the opening solo finger-picking guitar of Mary Flower, speaking of great blues names. Or folk, anyway.
But while most of the acts yesterday merely played the blues, Harmon and his Mid-South Blues Revue slammed the blues to the ground and blew the roof off the joint, which was especially impressive as this venue was outdoors. The first tune made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, always a good sign. It dealt with reincarnation, in the blues way, of course: "Don't worry about that train, 'cause it's coming on back again." There are some comforting words that fit nicely into today's theme.
Harmon, the closest the blues gets to a heavy-metal star, was intense, a force of nature, a monster. Don't cross this guy. He plugged his new album, The Blues According to Zacariah, and no one dared to argue with its intended message. He kept saying "let me tell ya something" - and boy did we listen. This was the real deal, up, down, sideways, whatever.
And the Mississippi bluesman didn't just sing the blues, he provided some personal background, too. Tales of mean mistreaters, cheatin' hearts and even a rare form of Civil War viagra were a vivid and dramatic addition to the hard, full-contact blues the band pumped out. You could sense his excitement as Harmon related a tale of travelling to Chicago as a young boy. And how did he get there? By train, of course.