The blues didn't get his attention until he was almost grown, he said, when he saw B.B. King perform. "That shit like to kill me. I told everybody I wanted to be like B.B. King and Elmore James . . . They laughed."
Big Jack Johnson and the Oilers are scheduled to perform on Thursday, February 13, at the Rhythm Room. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Big As He Wants to Be. Maybe.
James "Icepick" Harman is a method man. Every winter, he retreats to the warmth of California to record a blues album, and then spends the rest of the year driving his van cross-country to play and promote it.
But not last year.
"I have this rule of thumb," he said last week from his Huntington Beach home. "Every four years when there's a presidential election, I don't make an album, particularly if there's an Olympics in an American city, because that's a tough year to get any ink."
So Harman's back on the road this week, hawking his '95 release Black & White (Black Top), singing, playing his harp and telling shaggy-dog stories. A native of Anniston, Alabama, Harman, 50, says he always knew what he'd be.
"I was painting on a mustache and going in black nightclubs when I was a kid. I sang in a church choir. My dad played harmonica. My great uncle, Fate Norris, was a famous country musician. When I'd go to family barbecues, there'd be 150 people playin' instruments. And these old ladies would warn my mom, 'Don't let Jimmy be a musician! He'll be a rounder and a womanizer . . .'"
Harman walked out of the church and into a bar in 1962. He cut a string of soul and blues 45s through the '60s, under such names as King James and the Royals, the Icehouse Blues Band, and Icepick and the Rattlesnakes. Most were on labels so small you'd need a microscope to see them.
"Back then, record companies were owned by the guys who owned car lots, they were just crooks. You've heard of Colonel Parker, but every town in the South had a guy with patent leather shoes he ordered out of a catalogue and a big mouth, who believed he could make it to The Ed Sullivan Show with something."
Harman tours with a three-piece band, currently composed of guitarist Bobby Eason, bassist Joe Leaon and drummer Paul Fasulo. Asked about the difficulties of keeping a band together, he touts the Mussolini line:
"They're my ideas, my songs, my voice. You never hear anybody say, 'Awww, Bobby Bland broke up.' But the greatest rock band of all time couldn't stay together because two of them brought their girlfriends to rehearsals. I rest my case."
Lastly, I offered Harman this space to tell Phoenicians why they should see him on Valentine's Day:
"Ah, lovers--we're a great show for lovers to come to. Anybody that has somebody they really want to put their hands on, get up close and personal with, comin' to a James Harman show would be the thing to do. It's fun, it's not too loud, it ain't no blues history lesson. It's a party, featurin' YOU. And if you don't come out and support these kinds of shows, you'll be going out to hear somebody you went to high school with playin' Madonna songs. How's that?"
James Harman Band is scheduled to perform on Friday, February 14, at the Rhythm Room. Showtime is 9 p.m.