Music News

ARIZONA'S MR. MICROPHONEBLUES HARPISTS ARE BLOWN AWAY BY JOE HARLESS' HARMONICA MIKE

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"The coolest thing is that Joe's ego's not involved--too much," Olson says with a dry chuckle. "I mean, anytime a harp player mentions something to him, he's open to change anything. He doesn't get mad or hurt. He honestly just wants to make it better."
Texan Gary Primich agrees. "The guy's a freak. But I mean that in a good way," Primich says from his home in Austin, Texas. Having just released his second album, Primich is one of the younger generation of harp players that has taken to the mike.

"He's bucked the norm. What he's up against are the blues purists who'll only use the old mikes. That and competition from the big microphone companies," Primich says.

So far, Harless has sold 1,600 Shakers. He's still a long way from jumping into a higher tax bracket. In fact, now that Shaker is the sole source of income for his family, he's scraping to make ends meet. Harless knows that to survive and prosper, he must diversify beyond the limited market for harmonica microphones. A guitar company has shown interest in some sort of distribution agreement. And Harless has already brought out a higher performance model of the original "Crystal Shaker" which he calls the "Dynamic Shaker." Harless also claims to have designs for five "new musical products" that he hopes to begin manufacturing. He says he's had requests to modify existing Shakers for use at racetracks and with other public address systems.

Two weeks ago, Harless made a move he hopes will allow Shaker to grow. Unable to find an affordable work space here in the Valley, Harless moved his family and business to Payson. On September 6, he opened a combination music store, microphone factory and showroom near downtown Payson. Along with Shakers, the store carries a variety of bizarre musical instruments--everything from handblown crystal flutes from Florida and cherry wood banjos from Tennessee to a selection of African stringed and percussion instruments. Whether such a music store will survive in a small town like Payson remains to be seen.

Harless has already discovered one problem about living in Payson-- the long drive back to the Valley. Now that he's a celebrity of sorts, Harless comes back to see blues shows, partly for business reasons and partly because he enjoys his newfound access to the music business' privileged circle. He yearns to recount his brushes with greatness.

"I went to the Cardinals game two weeks ago and sat in seats that Huey Lewis gave me," Harless says. "After the game, he came up and we played harp and talked about my microphone. He loves it. And I love being able to meet these people. Three years ago, people like Huey Lewis wouldn't have even talked to me, and now he's calling me.

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Robert Baird