A few weeks ago I ran across a sight that seemed totally incongruous: a concert by bluesman Zac Harmon that wasn’t filled to capacity.
It’s not that any musician can’t have a poorly attended gig; it just seems it’s a shame when the musician is as good as Harmon.
I caught him August 3 at a show organized by the D.C. Blues Society at the American Legion Post 268 in Wheaton, Maryland. As you can hear from the videos I shot, the problem certainly wasn’t his performance.
And the D.C. Blues Society worked hard to promote the event, as they do on everything they put together.
If Zac Harmon is a well-kept secret, he shouldn’t be (I don’t really think he is; it’s just that I can’t figure out what cosmic forces led to the event being so poorly attended). I’m here to say that, whether you’re a fan of the blues or no, you need to pay attention to Zac Harmon, either through his live performances or his recordings, the latest of which, Music is Medicine, was released in July on Urban Eagle Records to very positive reviews.
First, the guy has a pretty interesting background. He’s a person who, at least professionally, split away—but eventually returned—to what he loves:
According to his website, Harmon was born in Jackson, Mississippi, home of the Farish Street district, which nurtured blues legends like Elmore James.
In high school, he played gigs with Z.Z. Hill, Sam Myers and Dorothy Moore.
But he had to follow a more pop-oriented course after moving to Los Angeles in the 1980s, becoming a writer and producer for rhythm and blues acts such as the O’Jays, the Whispers, Karyn White and Alexander O’Neal.
Still, the blues in his blood continued to call, and in 2002 he recorded his first blues project Live at Babe and Ricky’s Inn. Two years later, he and then-band the Mid-South Blues Revue won the title of “Best Unsigned Band” in the International Blues Challenge.
The rest is blues history, with perhaps one high point being his involvement in the 2008 Bluzapalooza tour which brought top blues talent to Iraq and Kuwait to perform for U.S. service personnel.
I interviewed Harmon just outside the door of the American Legion hall: you can actually see him graciously opening the door for folks who passed us as we talked.
He talked about how Music is Medicine is dedicated to his father, George “Doc Harmon” Harmon, who passed away May 29 and whom he described as “the most important man in my life.” George Harmon was also important to the history of the city of Jackson. Known as the city’s first African-American pharmacist, he owned a store on Farish Street for over 60 years, according to his son.
Harmon also talked about his friendship with the late guitarist and fellow Bluzapalooza alumni Michael Burks, who died in May and with whom he was supposed to tour this year:
Well, can’t let you get away without hearing some of the show. He starts this one off by introducing the band:
And here he is with his 2008 release “Hattie Mae:”
Anyway, the point of all this is that if you have a chance to hear Zac Harmon, take it. With him on stage, there shouldn’t even be room to dance...