An Interview with guitarist Sarasota Slim: All music evolves in time and I enjoy hearing the evolution

"I love big band salsa and Cuban stuff and would like to play some of my slide and bluesy lead in a group like that with those killer singers and horns."

Gene "Sarasota Slim" Hardage: Southern Comfort
Sarasota Slim's disc last year "Get Up Get Down," is commingled blues, funk, boogie, slide guitar and heaps of warm Southern charm. Gene Hardage, who grew up in Sarasota, is as authentic and talented as they come, having worked/ toured with Lucky Peterson at late eighties and earning his "Sarasota Slim" nickname from Rock Bottom (with whom he played, in The Jungle Bushmasters and The Cuttaways).

Internationally acclaimed, Hardage released four albums on Italian label Appaloosa throughout the 1990s, and toured Europe. He also started (with the now-defunct Gulf Coast Blues Society) the long-running Monday night blues jam at Tampa's Green Iguana. Sarasota Slim talks about Lucky and James Peterson, Nitro, the late Loretta Glover, Tampa's Green Iguana, Damon Fowler, Rock Bottom and Cuban Salsa.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Gene, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues?
My blues interest grew as I started listening to blues oriented rock radio with bands like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and The Allman Brothers.  A chance to see Freddie King at Tampa University gym was a great turning point as well.  I saw my first concert at 13 - it was The Allman Brothers and they were a new band with one album out.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
That's a deep question for a very shallow mind.  Like Gatemouth Brown I prefer to think of myself as a musician but I guess I'm more of a blues musician than anything else so on the plus side you don't have to be young and pretty to play the blues.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
There are a lot of best moments in my career.  Lately I've been hearing from people who are learning my songs and playing them and a few people have even recorded their own versions of them - that's very rewarding.  Thanks to a lot of opening act slots a long time ago I got to meet a lot of my blues heroes like Bobby Blue Bland, Little Milton, Gatemouth Brown, Etta James, Koko Taylor, Gregg Allman, and Johnny Winter.  
My worst moment was when our friend and featured singer Loretta Glover died at a gig.  

What are some of the most memorable jams and gigs you've had?
We had some great moments at the old Green Iguana jam in Tampa on Mondays. Opening for Johnny Winter in Zurich was a blast.  The recent Bikini Blues Bash with Lucky & Tamara Peterson was a lot of fun.

What are some of the most memorable tales with Lucky Peterson?
I really enjoyed listening to Lucky talk about his gigs in Memphis with Little Milton and 2 or 3 other bands like Tyrone Davis, Johnnie Taylor, or Bobby Bland.  Even more interesting was listening to James Peterson talk with Koko Taylor about when Lucky was a little boy and they were staying upstairs at the Governor's Inn that James owned and had touring blues bands play and little Lucky would sit in with them.  Lucky loved Koko and Pops and would sneak upstairs to climb in bed between Koko and Pops at night after the gig - you know the things children do.  It was the love and family side of them that few people get to see.

What's been their experience from “studies” with the blues?
Sorry - don't know what to say here.

What is the "think" you miss from the “OLD DAYS OF BLUES”?
I wasn't around for the old days of blues but when I play guitar for my old friend Nitro we get a nice old timey sound. 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?
All music evolves in time and I enjoy hearing the evolution.  

Give one wish for the BLUES
I wish the blues would give me a dollar.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Find a 2nd and 3rd way to make money along with playing so you don't starve.

Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?
Lucky Peterson continues to amaze me with his Hammond work and all around funkiness.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
There have been good and bad things in every part of my life and music.  We had a lot going on in the early 90's when my first records came out and we were traveling all over the place.  That was hard work and a lot of fun.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN?
I'll quote Jr. Boy (Freddie King's old rhythm guitar player) from a conversation we were having while eating lunch at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Atlanta one day about 1989 between Lucky Peterson, Jr. Boy and me listening.  "If you wanna play the blues you need a mean old lady, and a bad drug habit” We all laughed.  Back then crack was killing people left and right and a lot of people were hurt by it.   

Cool nickname “Sarasota Slim”. How did you come up with it?
I didn't - Rock Bottom gave everyone a nickname and it stuck.  

Are there any memories from Rock Bottom, which you’d like to share with us?
There were a lot of good times playing with Rock Bottom.  He was part comedian and we were like Laurel & Hardy on stage.  We all had our little parts we had to do and crazy clothes to wear.  He had a thing about old guitars and amps and we always stopped at every pawn shop looking for some old junk that he would have to buy.  He loved little amps with 8" speakers for harp and he had lots of them.  His 2 favorites were an old Fender Champ and an old white Epiphone.  He had a handicapped sister that lived in a large group home with other handicapped kids.  He would play concerts for them when we had a Friday or Saturday off and one time they brought out a bunch of deaf kids and gave them all big balloons.  They told them to hold them up near our speakers and told us to CRANK IT UP!  These kids were loving it and they made shreeking sounds when they felt the sound from our music.  It's like a guitar player's dream come true when they tell you to TURN UP REALLY LOUD!!!

Do you know why the sound of the slide is connected to the blues & what characterize the sound of Sarasota Slim?
Not sure why slide is so bluesy but it is.  I listened to a lot of slide players growing up like Duane Allman and Johnny Winter but I'm self taught with a little help from my childhood buddy and early guitar mentor Jack Clark.  Later I stole a few licks from Max Drake when he showed me how to use my fingers to play notes and chords along with the slide.

Tell me a few things about your expirience at "Band on the Sand" and the meet with Rick Derringer.

When I was young I saw Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer at the concert in Dania, FL when they recorded that live album together.  Rick Derringer now lives in Bradenton, FL and I met him at a benefit for Damon Fowler back when he had his car accident.   His guitar playing is still unbelievable.  Playing out on the beach near where I live.  Treasure Island (St. Petersburg/Tampa Florida area) does a concert series called Bands On the Sand.  While we are playing there is a HUGE STORM approaching and we are very worried and trying to finish so we can tear everything down before it hit. Please check the video: The old geezer on keys is Dave Friebolin and he is from Chicago and has played keys as a band member with many of my blues heros - Otis Rush - James Cotton - Buddy Guy - he has since moved to Jakarta.  The other guitar player Josh Nelms is very gifted and plays in a variety of local bands. 

We met when he was a teenager and he is now 30ish.  He has played hundreds of gigs with me over the years and we have some nice parts worked out - harmonies - dueling guitars etc. 

From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between the Folk Blues & modern Blues?
Don't know - you stumped me there.

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Monday night blues jam at Tampa's Green Iguana?
How about a funny story I like to tell about a very young Damon Fowler just getting out and meeting people for the first time with his uncle bringing him to our Monday night jam which at that time was wild and well attended.  Tampa has some world famous strip clubs that must have lost one of these dancers that night and she had a brand new pair of store-boughts she was showing off as she danced right in front of the band while Damon was playing his solo.  We kept telling him to keep playing and his uncle was asking me "what do you think?" and I kept telling him he's great just keep playing!

How do you describe the local blues scene?
The local blues scene is up and down like the weather.

Happiness is……
A room full of hotties dancing while we play.

What is your music DREAM? What turns you on?
However, for the last 4 or 5 years I've been listening to a lot of Latin Pop radio and I love big band salsa and Cuban stuff and would like to play some of my slide and bluesy lead in a group like that with those killer singers and horns.  I'm also getting into the production side things with bigger PA systems for outdoor events.  I enjoy big speakers and wires and stuff.  I still have a passport and would love to travel with my current group to a few festivals in faraway places.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
Lucky and his father James Peterson had lots of great stories.  I miss James a lot (R.I.P. James) he had wonderful skills and could make his voice sound just like Jimmy Reed when he wanted to because he knew him.  James was one of the great dirty blues song writers.

Sarasota Slim's official website

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