Friday, August 17, 2012

Music IS Medicine - Ten Questions With Zac Harmon

Zac Harmon was born and raised in Jackson, MS, cutting his musical teeth at Jackson's historic Farish Street District.  As a teen, he gigged with local legends like Z.Z. Hill, Sam Myers, and Dorothy Moore.  He moved to L.A. in the 80's and worked as a studio musician, writer, and producer for artists like the O'Jays, the Whispers, Alexander O'Neal, Karyn White, and Black Uhuru.

Though he enjoyed success, Harmon longed to return to his blues roots and, in 2002, he released a live disc, Live at Babe & Ricky's Inn, a strong release that put Harmon firmly in the "Next Generation" of blues artists.  In 2004, his band won the IBC's "Best Unsigned Band" award, and followed up that release with 2005's impressive The Blues According to Zacariah, which won the BMA for Best New Artist Debut in 2006.  The disc mixed the blues with R&B, gospel, funk, reggae, and soul.  Harmon followed up with a pair of releases, 2008's Europe-only Shot in the Kill Zone, and 2009's From the Root.  

He's done a lot of other things in the interim, acting in the movie, Black and Blue, participating in the Bluesapalooza tour of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, and touring Sicily, Italy, and Egypt as part of the "Pizza and Pyramid Tour" in 2009, even performing on site at the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.

Recently, Harmon released what is probably his best CD to date, Music Is Medicine.  His music has always been biographical at times, but Music Is Medicine is probably his most personal album yet, with songs like "Grandma's Prayer," and "Country Boy."  There's a healthy dose of R&B on tracks like "Miss American Girl" and "Talk To Me," and Harmon shows some sizzling guitar skills on tracks like "Blue Pill Thrill," "Running From the Devil," and "Drowning in Hollywood."  I figure you'll be seeing this disc on a lot of Top Ten lists at the end of the year....mine for sure.  This is some great stuff.

Mr. Harmon was gracious enough to sit down and answer Ten Questions with Friday Blues Fix this week and we appreciate it very much.  Check it out below.

The Zac Harmon Band in front of the Alamo Theatre in Jackson, MS
(L to R) Buthel, Corey Lacy, Harmon, Cedric Goodman

You have a very diverse background as a composer, producer, and performer that encompasses a lot of different styles and genres of music.   This obviously developed over a period of time, so who are your musical influences and why? 

My very basic musical influences are blues musicians like Muddy Waters, Howlin; Wolf, Albert King, BB King, Albert Collins, and Jimi Hendrix. I was also influenced by jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and George Duke. Then, because I was a 70’s teen, I was influenced by Sly Stone, Bob Marley, and Bobby Womack.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?

Funk, Jazz, Reggae, and of course the Blues. 

When did you decide that you wanted to be a musician?

When I first touched a harmonica at 5.

What is your favorite part about playing music for a living?

Healing through music.

Jackson, MS Blues Royalty - King Edward, Zac Harmon, Jessie Robinson, (front) Jarekus Singleton

You’ve played with a lot of great musicians over the years….do you have any cool stories about your playing with all these musicians, either in the studio or onstage?

The most humbling story is when I played with Dorothy Moore. She was on tour opening for BB King and Bobby Bland. After our set, I was always looking for the party and never hung around to listen to BB. I thought I was such a hot guitar player and of course could learn nothing from BB. Well one night we were in Kansas City and a storm came up. We had to stay in the auditorium and I was forced to listen to BB. He totally blew my mind. He played with such articulation and feeling that it really put me in my place. I spent the remainder of the tour trying to get as much as I could from BB and of course he was such a gracious person. I truly learned how to be a bluesman.

I think your newest release, Music is Medicine, is your best yet.  It’s loaded with great songs that cover a pretty broad range of styles.  Can you tell us the story behind a couple of them?

The songs on this CD are my conversations with the world. "Grandma’s Prayer" is about my Grandmother. She was a very strong religious woman that believed in the power of prayer. She didn’t have much but her prayer’s fueled a generation in my family. "Country Boy" is the story of my early years leaving Mississippi and going to the west coast. My Mother’s words were the source of my strength.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to fish.

Musically speaking, is there anything that you want to do that you haven’t had the opportunity to do yet?

I would love to play with Eric Clapton. I love the freedom in his music.

What are some of your favorite albums?

My favorite albums are Endless Boogie by John Lee Hooker. Albert Collins' Live, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix, The London Sessions by Howlin’ Wolf, "Let’s Cut It" by Elmore James, Feel by George Duke, Soul Almighty by Bob Marley, Life on Mars by Dexter Wansel, and After the Gold Rush by Neil Young. Actually there are too many to mention.

Your father, George “Doc” Harmon, passed away earlier this year.  As owner of Harmon’s Drug Store, he was a much-loved figure on Farish Street in Jackson and touched a lot of lives, both young and old.  What lessons did you learn from him and your mother that you’ve taken with you in your life and tried to pass on to others?

My Dad had the heart of a servant. He dedicated his life to helping people. This I have taken up from him. I have dedicated my life to healing through music because Music IS Medicine.

Zac Harmon - Discography

Live at Babe & Ricky's Inn

The Blues According to Zacariah

Shot in the Kill Zone

From The Root

Music Is Medicine

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