Back in the days when I played only in blues bands, I wanted to be James Harman because James Harman was cool. He was an Alabama-born singer, songwriter and harp player, and unlike most of the latter people, he wasn’t all about the harp. Now, he had enormous, fantastic tone, but like a lot of my favorites, the tone supported the song instead of the other way around. And he could flat-out sing. Even when he got old, he was cool as hell as he shifted to a big ol’ beard and a fez on stage. James Harman had style.
I loved a lot of his songs and played a few in various bands, but my cover of his “If the Shoe Fits, Wear It,” was my favorite. I liked it so much that I played and sang it at my wedding, even though the lyrics were not exactly of the type a freshly minted husband should be singing. But it didn’t matter.
Coolness radiated off of James Harman. He was friends with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top (among many others) and if you heard a harp cut on a ZZ album, it was problably James. Phil Alvin and Bill Bateman left one of his bands to form The Blasters, and his bands backed dozens of classic bluesmen. Through it all was his punchy voice and his punchier harp, and I’ve stolen a lot of his riffs over the years.
But Harman fell on hard times. Thieves broke into his storage space a few years back and stole thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of vintage stuff, including his brownface Fender Vibroverb amps in custom cabinets with a 1×15 speaker that helped him generate his big, deep tone. His health declined. Gigs dried up. He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in January and he died yesterday.
Let’s tip one for James Harman. Enjoy: