James Harman: Those Dangerous Gentlemens
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.