“After a year of picking up my guitar and then putting it down,” says Harmon, “I finally realize that as long as I got my guitar, all is good with my soul.” -Zac Harmon
REVIEWS - Long As I Got My Guitar
Blues In The South UK
As with many others in the world, during this pandemic Jackson Mississippi born Zac lost his mum, Floreada Harmon in May of this year and has dedicated this album to her memory. It is noticeable that the customary underlying warm and soothing, smooth Southern country soul feel, usually found in Zac’s vocals, are here tinged with a discernible sadness; which gives the numbers a greater intimacy and resonance. The album was recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in, Tornillo, Texas. Zac takes lead guitar and vocals with the studio band ‘The Rays’, who back Zac on 9 of the 10 numbers here; They are led by studio owner Bob Trenchard who plays bass with Richy Puga on drums, Johnny McGhee; guitar and Dan Ferguson; keyboards.
Zac Harmon is a true embodiment of the music that emanated from the city’s historic Farish Street district, home of blues legend Elmore James also, his time spent backing artists such as; Z.Z. Hill, Dorothy Moore and Sam Myers has certainly not been wasted, for here his skillful musical eloquence is deftly displayed on the opener ‘Deal With The Devil’, the sweetly ringing, mellow jazz rich signature picking from Zac meshes seamlessly with his calmly understated vocal. The slow trenchant alluring percussion of ‘People Been Talking’, a tale of rumours and infidelity, splendidly entwines with a richly stark, low-key guitar that is underpinned by a slowly scorching keyboard. On ‘Love For You Baby’, Zac is joined by his touring band who are; Corey Lacy; keyboards, Chris Gipson, bass and Jamil Byron, drums. Together, they create a wonderfully nostalgic dreamily sensuous late 70’s smoocher, complete with an enticing girly chorus and tinkling bells. The spine tingling and thought provoking ‘Ashes To The Wind’, is a melancholic, slow burning piano and smoldering keyboard ballad that has a dour Zac requesting where his ashes should be scattered at his end. ‘Waiting To Be Free’, is a rock solid, burning blues, asking the possibly pointless questions of promises made in the 19th century again in the 21st, of fairness, honesty and especially emancipation. ‘Soul Land’, is an unashamed comforting memory of the past, which included family, love, safety and security. Self-delusion is one thing but, when you can play the guitar anywhere near as good as Zac then ‘Long As I Got My Guitar’, is more of a statement of fact, for this attractive, withering and starkly played modern blues tale is nothing less than tasteful and endearing.
Zac Harmon's Warm Vocals Are a Treat
When an album has the word guitar in its title, you tend to assume it's going to be fairly guitar heavy. Zac Harmon is a soulful guitarist, but his voice is the real treat, giving songs a certain ease without taking away any of their emotional impact.
Harmon came up through LA session work before deciding to back himself in 2003. Long As I Got My Guitar is bluesy, but with generous dollops of funk and soul that give the album a complexity. Which makes the warmth of his vocals appreciated. His music pushes, while keeping the tracks listenable and mid-tempo. But his voice comforts. It's a perfect match.
There are also some nice surprises. "Crying Shame," a 50s-influenced tune, features accordion. The accordion isn't manic zydeco, but rather an interesting, Cajun texture. His voice is sad but not despondent. He's not wallowing in hopelessness, so much as he's connecting the listener to a sadness he's processed. And the titular guitar, or at least the solo, doesn't come in until around halfway through the song. It's tasteful, thoughtful, and as emotive as his voice, a songwriting tool as much as it's a chance for Harmon to show off a bit.
The title track goes a long way toward explaining the album. While it can initially reads as a boastful statement, the song is really about someone losing everything, but not lamenting it, since they have their guitar. That sentiment radiates through the album. Harmon never tries to kill you with his playing, but at the same time his guitar work is special. Here, when he transitions, ever-too-briefly, into B.B. King's version of "The Thrill is Gone," it not only works for the song, but it's a sweet tribute to one of his influences.
Harmon even elevates the less sophisticated songs. "Imagine a Prayer," written by album producer Jim Gaines and Sandy Carroll, is a sweet-enough song that's also straight-forward with lyrics like: "Imagine a world where we're all one." It features 1980s keyboards that wouldn't be out of place on a David Lee Roth-era Van Halen album. The vocal melody is relentlessly optimistic, matching up with the lyrics. The song should feel cheesy, but Harmon successfully sells it, making it come off as charmingly optimistic more than anything.
Harmon floats between styles. There's a strong, bluesy undercurrent to the entire album; especially his guitar playing. But his voice provides strong waves of soul and rhythm and blues. It all fits together beautifully. The guitar might have a place of honor on the album cover, but Harmon's vocals certainly deserve a spot on the marquee, too.
Jazz and Blues Report
It has been fifteen-plus years when I first had the opportunity to meet and hear Zac Harmon on the 2005 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. Harmon, the winner of the 2004 International Blues Challenge, is one of the blues’ most expressive, soulful vocalists as well as a masterful guitarist, top-flight songwriter, and impressive showman. Jim Gaines produced Harmon’s latest album. Bassist Bob Trenchard leads the Rays in backing Harmon on most of this album. Harmon’s band plays on one of the ten tracks. Harmon and Trenchard collaborated on most of the songs with a couple from Sandy Carroll’s pen.
Harmon brings together straight guitar blues in the vein of Albert, Freddie, and B.B. King with a strong soul sensibility. After all, he first played with Sam Myers when he was 16, toured with soul-blues artists such as Dorothy Moore and Z.Z. Hill and was a studio musician and songwriter in Los Angeles for a number of years. His personal musical approach is evident, starting with the opening “Deal With the Devil” and the slow, brooding blues “People Are Talking.” He brings a deep soul vocal approach and highly charged guitar to these songs with intriguing melodic lines and lyrics that he performs so heartfully.
A favorite track is “Crying Shame,” a swamp pop flavored number with Dan Ferguson’s zydeco accordion adding atmosphere. One might expect Harmon’s take on Sandy Carroll’s “Soul Land” to be popular among beach music aficionados along the Southeast Atlantic coast. Another bluesy soul performance is the soft, slow dance ballad, “Love For You Baby,” the song performed with Harmon’s band. The title track is about how Harmon could lose almost anything he possessed yet still be a star as long as he has his guitar. His playing, somewhat evocative of Albert King here, is fiery and focused. Also memorable is his trenchant topical blues, “Waiting To Be Free.” “Imagine a Prayer” is a pop-flavored song with a hope for a world of peace and perfect love.
A first-rate gospel blues “Ashes To The Wind,” with keyboardists Dan Ferguson and Corey Lacy (of Harmon’s Band) helping take the listener to church behind Harmon’s plea that we remember all the good he has done as he won’t pass this way again. It closes another top-notch Zac Harmon recording which will be of no surprise for those who have been following Harmon for years. For those unfamiliar with Harmon, this album is as good as any for an introduction to his body of memorable blues recordings.
SFL Music Magazine
Peter "Blewzzman" Lauro
As is known, when Zac Harmon jumped into the blues pool back in 2005, he didn’t just make a splash – he created a tsunami. His debut release – “The Blues According To Zacariah” – not only won “Best New Artist” in the XM Radio Awards, but the release also brought home the gold in the “Best New Artist Debut” category at the 2006 Blues Music Awards. With that said, it was well before all that when he blew the Blewzzman away. That happened on May 1, 2004, at the Beale Street Music Festival during the Memphis In May festivities. As the 2:00 PM opening act in the Blues Tent, with a lineup that also featured; Delta Moon; Robert “Wolfman” Belfour; Renee Austin; Ellis Hooks; Eric Sardinas; and Bernard Alison; Zac Harmon & Mid South Blues Review put on a powerfully energetic and incredibly entertaining performance that I actually believe may have stole the show. As the set ended, I’ll never forget the tribute he paid to his then right hand man – harmonica player Jeff Stone. After the last song, Zac walked over to Jeff and putt his arm around him as he told the crowd “This man is to me what Junior Wells was to Buddy Guy.” What a classy compliment from and to a real class act. From that day, until this day, I’m still a big fan of these fine artists and gentlemen.
That was a seventeen years, hundreds of shows, and a lot of albums ago. Now, Zac is back with what I believe is his ninth release – the one he says “Is probably the most memorable record of my career” – “Long As I Got My Guitar”. Eight of the disc’s ten tracks are originals with seven being penned by Zac and label owner, executive producer, and bassist, Bob Trenchard; and one written by Zac and Corey Lacey.
On nine of those tracks, Zac Harmon – on lead guitar and vocals – is joined by Bob Trenchard on bass; Richy Puga on drums: Jimmy McGhee on guitar; and Dan Ferguson on keyboards. Collectively, they are known as The Rays. Appearing on the other track are Zac’s touring band: Chris Gipson on bass; Jamil Byron on drums; and Corey Lacey (on other tracks as well) on keyboards and background vocals. Other performers include SueAnn Carwell on background vocals and Munyungo Jackson on percussion.
Just hearing the name of the opening track kind of lets you know there isn’t much explaining to do here. The song is called “Deal With The Devil” and anyone who knows anything about blues folklore knows how that turned out. Musically, it’s a rhythm fueled blues rocker with Bob, Richy and Munyungo in a progressive groove on the percussion and Zac – who while flirting with a falsetto vocal style- nails a handful of stinging guitar licks. Nice opener.
Simply because of it is old school fifties style R&B type presentation, “Crying Shame” is surely one of my personal favorites. Everything about this toe tapping, head bobbing song just reeks of smoothness. Had I been seeing this one done live, I’d be stretching my neck looking all around the stage for the accordion player. Since none was credited, I’m just going to assume that Dan is baffling me with some masterful organ work.
Before I get to the real title of this one, its alias could very well be “The Axman’s Anthem”, and here’s why…..
“I had to pawn my watch, I had to pawn my ring;
I don’t care what time it is, it don’t mean a thing……..
“I lost all my money, there went all my friends;
They didn’t care for me, it was all just pretend………..
“They cut off my cable, and repossessed my car;
Knocked on my door, I can’t take it no more………
“But I’m still a star, ‘”Long As I Got My Guitar'”.
Now that you know some of the title song’s lyrics, it’s the song’s guitar work you really need to hear. After all, Zac still has his guitar and is still indeed a star.
“New Year’s Day” – it’s not just the song’s title but it’s a day that most of the world thinks will suddenly and magically change everything. Break it to them gently, Zac:
“It’s New Year’s Day and nothing’s changed;
everything remains the same.
I got no plans, I got no solution;
I got no New Year’s resolutions.”
And there you have it.
On the other hand, the song does make some cool musical changes: with Zac’s scorching guitar intro – and several times throughout the song as well – it’s got a strong traditional blues vibe; the soulful lead and backing vocals give it a definite soul blues vibe; and with the rhythm and percussion groove the rest of the band have going on you’ll surely feel the funk.
The disc closes out with a ballad on which Zac pretty much lays out his own epitaph. Wanting to be remembered for his good deeds more than his sins, since he won’t be passing this way again he’s requesting to scatter his “Ashes To The Wind”. From Zac’s somberly sung opening lines; to his mid song spoken words; to the songs powerful crescendo; and the addition of SueAnn’s heavenly sounding background voice, as well; this one is all about the vocals.
Other tracks on “Long As I Got My Guitar” include: “People Been Talking”; “Soul Land” (Sandy Carroll); “Love For You Baby”; “Waiting To Be Free” and “Imagine A Prayer” (Sandy Carroll & the album’s producer, Jim Gaines).
To find out more about Zac Harmon, just go to – www.zacharmon.com – and should you have not yet received your copy of “Long As I Got My Guitar” for airplay, please contact Betsie Brown at www.blindraccoon.com. Remember, wherever you go and whoever you contact, please let them know The Blewzzman sent you.
Making A Scene
Long As I Got My Guitar is the latest from Texas-based blues singer/guitarist Zac Harmon who returns to Bob Trenchard’s Catfood label and again taps producer Jim Gaines, recording at Trenchard’s base studio, the Sonic Ranch, near El Paso. Although Harmon is based in Texas, he originally hails from Jackson, MS and spent a good portion of his career in Los Angeles. His guitar sound reflects Chicago, soul-blues, west coast, classic Southern sounds, as well as those from Texas, Freddie King being an influence. This is his label follow-up to 2019’s Mississippi Bar BQ and features a similar cast, The Rays, who are Bob Trenchard (bass), Richy Puga (drums), and Dan Ferguson (keyboards), plus SueAnn Carwell and Corey Lacey on select tracks. Harmon’s road band of Cory Lacey (keyboards), Chris Gipson (bass), and Jamil Byron (drums) all play on “Love for You Baby” and Lacey adds his keys to two others.
Most tunes are co-written by Harmon and Trenchard, beginning with the down and dirty “Deal with the Devil.” Harmon is one of the strongest, though not widely heralded, contemporary blues artists on the scene, combining soulful vocals and searing guitar lines that make him an acclaimed live performer. His stinging guitar is prominent from the outset. “People Been Talking” takes on more on a soul-blues hue with its background vocals while “Crying Shame” touches on zydeco as Ferguson plays accordion. “Soul Land” returns to the smooth urban croon. “Love for You Baby,” featuring his road band, surprisingly stays in a similar breezy soul groove.
The title track rather obviously accentuates his six-string and has some echoes of Albert King’s “I’ll Play the Blues for You.” “Waiting to Be Free” carries that same gutsy, stinging vibe while “New Year’s Day” with its background vocals” and searing guitars is one of the best examples of how Harmon meshes the two styles. “Imagine a Prayer,” though, is a merge of gospel and soul that sounds just a tad too slick compared to the others. The closer, “Ashes to the Wind” is a heart-wrenching ballad where Harmon summons his deep vocal strengths, making it perhaps the most memorable track.
Surely there are some pandemic thoughts behind the title and even some of his songs, but in the end, Harmon sounds rejuvenated delivering his intoxicating signature mix of blues and soul. Lest there be any doubt, the Trenchard-Harmon pairing is once again a winner.
Rock & Blues Muse
by Chris Wheatley
A living link to blues history and an award-winning blues singer, guitarist, Zac Harmon is set to release Long As I Got My Guitar on October 1st on Catfood Records, produced by Grammy-winner Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Journey). Long As I Got My Guitar features ten songs performed in Harmon’s inimitable funky, soul-blues style. Backed by his regular touring group plus Catfood Record’s owner Bob Trenchard (bass), Richy Puga (drums), Johnny McGhee (guitar) Dan Ferguson (keyboards) and SueAnn Carwell and Corey Lacey (background vocals), the tracks were co-penned by Harmon and Trenchard. The new album is a follow up to his 2019 Mississippi Bar BQ, released to critical acclaim.
Harmon started a solo career after working as a studio musician, then songwriter and producer. He contributed to major films, TV shows and national commercials. Harmon wrote songs for Troop, Karyn White, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Freddie Jackson, the Whispers, K-Ci & Jo and the O’Jays. He wrote and produced songs for reggae band, Black Uhuru’s Grammy nominated album, Mystical Truth. After composing and performing blues songs for a movie score, Harmon embarked on recording his first blues project, 2003’s Live at Babe & Ricky’s Inn. Multiple awards later by The Blues Music Awards and others plus several acclaimed album releases, Harmon’s new Long As I Got My Guitar is a fine record, showcasing why Harmon has become one of the Blues’ strongest live performers.
Harmon grew up in the Farish Street district of Mississippi, home of Elmore James. Harmon’s mother played piano and, in her role as pharmacist, tended to such legendary figures as Muddy Waters, Albert King and Little Milton. Next door lived a music instructor who regularly hosted Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. Another neighbour, Bill Farris, recorded Skip James in his home.
“Deal With The Devil” wastes no time in stirring up some fine, smouldering blues-rock. Harmon’s guitar is front and centre, effortlessly spitting out fiery licks. Harmon’s vocals are a delight, smoother and more rounded than many a blues singer, veering more towards the classic Stax soul sound. The band keeps the arrangement airy and light, with plenty of shuffling percussion and moments of nuance, lending a wonderfully polished sheen to the track. Trenchard is no slouch on bass, but Harmon is undoubtedly the star. “Crying Shame” shifts the pace a little, slowing things down to a lovely country-blues tempo. The song washes through like a cool breeze. Harmon’s voice alone would be enough to keep you hooked, but the relaxed ensemble playing feels just as fresh.
“This probably is the most memorable record of my career,” reflects Harmon. “Bob Trenchard and I were so much on the same page with all that we went through in 2020 that it spawned some incredibly emotional song testimonials.” “Ashes To The Wind” is a fine case in point, a remarkably affecting blues-soul number which rolls by with loving energy, stirring up shadows of the great 60s and 70s soul-men. It’s the little touches which will draw you in, but the glue that binds this music tight is the aforementioned unity between the players. Honesty and togetherness imbue this entire album with a warm radiance which is never less than charming.
The title-track smokes and swaggers. Harmon displays wonderful acumen, firing off riffs and runs with consummate ease. “Soul Land” brings more of a laid-back, 80s style, reminiscent of the work of Stevie Wonder. “Everything around me sings in harmony,” sings Harmon and you can’t help but agree. “Imagine A Prayer” sparkles with keyboard vamps, passionate vocals and harmonies. The variety here is part of this album’s appeal. Paired with fantastic playing and open-hearted delivery, there’s much to savour. “After a year of picking up my guitar and then putting it down,” says Harmon, “I finally realize that as long as I got my guitar, all is good with my soul.”
Listening to this album will be good for yours too.
Bman's Blues Report
I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, Long As I Got My Guitar, from Zac Harmon and it's a guitar soaked blues/soul/R&B/funky release. Opening with "Deal With The Devil", a slick, Latin sprinkled blues with a funky bottom. With Harmon on lead vocal and guitar and backed by Bob Trenchard on bass, Richy Puga on drums, Johnny McGhee on guitar and Dan Ferguson keys, it's a really cool opener. On easy soulful ballad, "People Been Talking", Harmon really shows off his silky smooth vocals with SueAnn Carwell and Corey Lacey on backing vocal. Easy funky, "Soul Land", has a real nice melody and backing vocals making it a prime radio track for this release. Title track, "Long As I Got My Guitar" has a real slinky Albert King or Robert Cray like R&B feel and he really soars on his guitar leads. Very nice. With a funky R&B bass line, drums and rhythm guitar, "New Years Day" is bound to get you moving in your seat (if not onto your feet). Harmon, Carwell and Lacey blend nicely on vocal and Puga's percussion work over the drums really adds nice spice. Wrapping the release is "Ashes To The Wind", a soulful ballad, showcasing Harmon on lead vocal and gospel like piano and organ by Ferguson. This is a warm, rich closer for a solid release.
Ben Vee Blues
Soul Blues Chillin' with Zac Harmon
For those of you who haven’t heard of Zac Harmon, he is an award winning bluesman who comfortably resides in the Robert Cray wing of the contemporary blues. In 2006, he won the Blues Music Foundation award for Best New Artist for his album The Blues According To Zacariah. In the years since six more albums have followed including the new recording Long As I Got My Guitar.
Zac has a voice and a guitar style that can best be described as ‘chillin with the soul blues’. His songs on the new album are in parts upbeat, funky, pensive, spiritual, and socially aware. He even ventures “down the bayou” a bit with the delightful accordion accompanied Crying Shame. Zac was born in Jackson Mississippi to parents who schooled him in music. His mother played piano and his father, the first black pharmacist in Mississippi, played harmonica. His dad tended to the needs of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Albert King, Ike & Tina Turner, and Little Milton at times and all those combined influences have made Zac Harmon one of the great blues & soul men of the roadhouse blues.
Now based in Texas, Zac worked with the renown music producer, Jim Gaines, who most notably produced Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, and Journey, to create the soulful music magic on this recording. Backing Zac on most of the tracks are the Rays consisting of Bob Trenchard (bass), Richy Puga (drums), Johnny McGhee (guitars), Dan Ferguson (keyboards and accordion) and backing vocals by SueAnn Carwell and Corey Lacey.
My favorite recording on the album is the title cut, Long As I Got My Guitar. Over the years, I have heard guitar players time and again talk about having survived their days payin’ their blues dues and facing the brutal choice of pawning their guitar for money to pay bills. Zac captures that melancholy experience with some exquisite guitar licks and real world lyrics. I also loved the guitar work on the socially conscious Waiting to Be Free. Another favorite of mine on the recording is People Been Talking which is soul blues at its very finest.
Over the last 18 months all of us have dealt with enforced periods of isolation as a result of the pandemic. It has given most of us a new appreciation of family and friends and, in Zac’s case, he says it gave him the realization that “as long as I have my guitar, all is good with my soul”. All I can add to that is that just listening to Zac sing and play on this new recording had a nice calming effect on my soul best exemplified by his song, Soul Land. Give it and the rest of the songs on this album a listen as you chill to some mighty fine soul blues.