Archive for the blasters

Roll ’em, Gene: Boogie woogie master Gene Taylor dies in Austin, Texas

Posted in related music with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2021 by J.J.

Gene Taylor, whose fiery boogie woogie and classic blues piano graced decades worth of classic albums and stages around the world, died Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021.

According to social media posts from family and friends, Taylor, who lived in Austin, Texas, had been without heat or water for days during the devastating winter storm this month. Associates are saying that Taylor, 68, died in his sleep Saturday but, at this time, there is no obituary posted or any official cause of death published.

With his death, we lose a vital throughline to a half-century of what Taylor’s Blasters brothers termed “American Music”: That brew of R&B, blues, country, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll that has defined much of the world’s popular culture. 

For faithful readers of this site, Taylor’s journey includes his guest spot on The Red Devils’ 1992 album, “King King” — though an (intentionally?) unsympathetic mix makes Taylor’s contribution one of the least in his catalog. (The times that his piano parts are audible is a reminder of how little spotlight this “special guest” has on The Devils’ only record.)

Taylor will best be remembered for his incredible, authentic contributions to classic albums by The Blasters; his association with long-time running buddy James Harman, and his stint in the 1990s edition of The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Any musician would gladly sell her/his soul for a spot in just one of those situations. But add associations with Canned Heat, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, Gary Primich (a favorite here at No Fightin’), Doug Sahm and Amos Garrett, and dozens more … that’s legendary. (And don’t sleep on the various solo, duo, trio and small band ensembles under the “Gene Taylor” brand.)

There is much to say about the man, but it is best to let him say it himself, for now. Here’s “Gene’s Boogie Woogie,” with the late, great Richard Innes on drums:

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James Harman needs our help. (Icepick’s Story 2021)

Posted in related music with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2021 by J.J.

In a parallel universe, James Harman is a superstar.

An in-demand artiste who plays command performances for kings and queens. A poet laureate whose lyrics are studied in college courses. A giving mentor and bandleader whose roots have grown the fruits of generations of musicians. A vocalist whose records stop all diner conversation when the needle hits his latest song.

But in this here-and-now, James Harman — blues raconteur extraordinaire — is 74, without the means to earn a living, and beginning chemotherapy for Stage 4 cancer.

Harman is not a household name — unless your household is real hip. Those who know, know.

To the true believers of “The Red Devils, Lester Butler and California’s (and beyond’s) blues, rock and roots music,” James Harman is the Godfather.

Some of this is by talent, and some of it is by proximity. Harman is one of those threads of connective cool from his native Alabama, to the post-Woodstock Canned Heat California scene, to Big Joe Turner, Hollywood Fats, MTV, ZZ Top and a touring schedule in the 1990s that rivaled any act on the planet (“She wrapped my sandwich, boy, in an old road map”).

Harman has always surrounded himself with whipcrack musicians, and entire James Harman Band lineups have gone on to form or evolve into other killer bands, from The Blasters (Phil Alvin and Bill Bateman were early bandmates, as was Gene Taylor), to The Fabulous Thunderbirds (whose early ‘90s incarnation was a literal James Harman Band with Kim Wilson) to Lester Butler’s various 13s.

His most well-known ensemble was the early 1980s version of the James Harman Band … Those Dangerous Gentlemens: Hollywood Fats, Kid Ramos, Willie J. Campbell and the incomparable Stephen Hodges on drums (you might know Hodges from the Tom Waits band). Yes, Hollywood Fats and Kid Ramos in one lineup, under the direction of one James Harman.

Recommended: Extra Napkins, Strictly Live … in ’85!, Thank You Baby, Those Dangerous Gentlemens

James Harman, The Blasters, X, The (original) Red Devils, Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, Canned Heat, Dwight Yoakam, Tom Waits, Los Lobos and many others shared common DNA, even if each leaned on nurture more than nature (punk rockabilly, experimental roots … or “American music”).

Harman would tell you (and has told me and my pals) that he is not a harmonica player. He is a singer and a songwriter who uses the harmonica when needed to tell his stories. And those stories are clever and compact in a way that demonstrates the craft and care he puts into his art. His musical ethos align more closely with artists and outsiders such as Waits and Los Lobos than the average “Tuesday bluesday” crowd — even though he gets the job done down behind that city dump, presiding over a real blues party.

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