One of the final blues events at the Blues Saloon in St. Paul was the 25th Anniversary celebration, featuring the James Harman Band. Unfortunately, I missed the event and was sad to learn not so long after, that the Blues Saloon was closing. When I mentioned that fact to James Harman before his show at Tobacco Road in Miami, he expressed similar feelings and indicated that such closings were happening far too often for him. Luckily, Tobacco Road in Miami, Florida is very much alive and well, giving me the opportunity to see James Harman for the very first time.
Harman, who is fondly referred to as "Icepick," has been blowing the harp since 1963 and has twenty-seven records to his credit in that time. He was born in Alabama and now lives in California, appearing at various West Coast clubs on a regular basis when he is not touring nationally. With a new CD out on Cannonball Records entitled, "Mo' Na'kins Please!," Harman's appearance at Tobacco Road was one of several that he was making in Florida and the Southeast. Prior to the show, Harman informed be that he was suffering from a bad case of bronchitis, fortunately it did not seem to slow him down too much in putting on a very entertaining show for the evening's guests at Tobacco Road.
Backed by a three piece band that included Nathan James on guitar; Alan West on drums; and Lucky Medina on bass; Harman ripped through his sets, demonstrating his distinctive style of harp and vocals. Harman is an amazing harp player and proved it as he ripped through an entire song on his sound check without his bassist. When the show actually started at 11:00 p.m., The James Harman Band blew everyone away with their combination of blues, boogie and a touch of 50's rock n' roll.
During the show, Harman covered a number of songs, performing songs from several of his recordings, including his latest, "Mo' Na'kins Please!". Harman struck up an excellent rapport with the audience, especially the ladies seated at the tables closest to the stage. Exhibiting a casual and humorous exchange with the audience helped to keep everyone entertained during and between numbers. Halfway through the first set, Harman stepped down to change shirts and turned the stage over to his backup players. During the three song "break," guitarist Nathan James demonstrated his excellent guitar style and his vocal talents.
All through the evening, Harman's in your face harp stylings made it clear why he is recognized as one of the best harp players on the blues circuit. I was especially impressed by his ability to dominate the stage whenever he wanted to and then to let Nathan James carry the songs with his guitar. James is an excellent guitarist whose style reminded me of that demonstrated by Mike Morgan of Mike Morgan and the Crawl. With the strong backbeat provided by Medina and West, the band kept everyone's attention for the entire evening. Two of my favorite songs were performed early in the evening; the title track from "Mo' Na'kins Please!," where Harman begs for more napkins to keep the BBQ sauce off of his clothes and the 2000 W.C. Handy Award nominated "Best Blues Song," "Walk Around Telephone Blues." Prior to performing this song, Harman lamented how hard it was now for a man to tell if his lady was staying faithful to him at home because now she could call from anywhere, or be called anywhere, and say she was sitting in front of the TV waiting (even if she wasn't). The result was a very humorous and entertaining song.
The James Harman Band provided a great evening of entertainment and high energy blues music guaranteed to make Tobacco Road the place to be on Friday evening. "Icepick" James Harman the crowd everything they wanted and left them wanting a whole lot more of what he had to offer.
This review is copyright © 2000 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.