Q&A with bluesman Zac Harmon, an ambassador of this great American classical music art form called the Blues

"The Blues is pure emotion. As long as people have souls, they will feel the blues. I wish everyone could experience this music."

Zac Harmon: Keeping The Blues Alive

Zac Harmon is an award-winning guitarist, singer, and songwriter whose distinctive style continues the lineage of American Blues Music. Born and raised in the heart of Jackson, Mississippi, Zac Harmon is a true disciple of the music that emanated from the city’s historic Farish Street district, universally recognized as the home of such great blues legends like the late, great Elmore James. While in high school and college, Harmon gigged as a guitarist for the likes of Z.Z. Hill, Dorothy Moore and Sam Myers. Relocating to L.A. in the early eighties, he worked as a studio musician and then established himself as a writer and producer, crafting songs for the likes of the O’Jays, and Black Uhuru. Composing and performing music for a movie score, Harmon was compelled to pursue his longtime dream to return to his roots and record his first Blues project. The result was 2002’s Live at Babe & Ricky's Inn, an electrifying testimony to Mississippi Blues, which showcased the sound at its best and introduced Harmon as a true torchbearer for the “next generation of the Blues”. Zac Harmon is one of the leaders of the new roots and blues music revolution.              Zac Harmon / Photo © by Darren Carroll

2007 saw Harmon named to the Blues Foundation’s Board of Directors and entering into an endorsement deal with Category 5 Amplification. Zac Harmon entertained U.S. troops in Iraq and Kuwait in 2008 as one the stars of Bluzapalooza and while headlining “The Pizza & Pyramid Tour” of Sicily, Italy and Cairo, Egypt in late 2009, Harmon and company made history with a rare performance at site of the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, making the ensemble only the second Blues act to do so; Louis Armstrong being the first. Today Zac Harmon continues to tour both nationally and internationally as an ambassador of this great American classical music art form called the Blues. "Long As I Got My Guitar" (2021 / Catfood Records), the new album from Texas-based award-winning blues singer/guitarist Zac Harmon. Produced by Grammy-winner Jim Gaines (Santana, Steve Ray Vaughan, and Journey) and recorded at Sonic Ranch in, Tornillo, Texas, features 10 songs performed in Harmon’s inimitable funky, soul-blues sound. Backing Zac’s lead guitar and vocals on most of the tracks are The Rays: Bob Trenchard – bass; Richy Puga – drums; Johnny McGhee – guitar; Dan Ferguson – keyboards; plus SueAnn Carwell and Corey Lacey – background vocals; with Harmon’s regular touring band on additional tracks. Catfood Records released his 2019 label debut, Mississippi Bar BQ, also produced by Jim Gaines, to rave critical acclaim and extensive radio airplay.


Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & from whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?

As a kid, blues was all I heard around the house. My Dad played harp and loved Slim Harpo. So I heard a lot of Slim Harpo.

What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

The first concert that I saw was Albert King and BB King. The first gig I played was in high school and the first song was Baby What You Want Me To Do by Jimmy Reed.

How has the Blues influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Everywhere I have traveled in the world, the blues has been a beacon of peace, understanding and good times. The blues is America’s most positive export. No matter the language, culture or creed, the blues is universal. This has greatly influenced my world view in a positive way because the blues brings out the best in people all around the world.

"My creative drive comes from God. Artists were gifted to provide the creative element that people need to feed and complete their humanity. I hope my songs meet people where they are in life and be fed musically by that what enriches their lives." (Zac Harmon / Photo © by Darren Carroll)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

Growing as an Artist is like the ripening of fruit. The taste just gets better with the time of the process. I think I’m ready to come off the vine. Making music from the heart and soul and not aiming to oblige anyone’s chart or target audience.

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

My creative drive comes from God. Artists were gifted to provide the creative element that people need to feed and complete their humanity. I hope my songs meet people where they are in life and be fed musically by that what enriches their lives.

Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?

Some of my favorite early influences were John Lee Hooker, Albert King, BB King, George Duke and Little Milton Campbell. Current likes and inspirations come from Gary Clark Jr, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Kane Brown.

Currently you’ve one more release with Catfood Records. How did that relationship come about?  Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album Long As I Got My Guitar?

I was introduced to Bob Trenchard, the label head, at the Blues Music Awards. We immediately bonded and decided to do records together. It has been a great relationship. Long As I Got My Guitar was in the works for 2 years. Covid prevented the recording when it was originally planned, so by the time we were able to record, we were like horses kicking in the stall. Just waiting for the word GO. The result was some really deep emotional music.                      (Zac Harmon / Photo © by Darren Carroll)

"Absolute the blues is a genre. But within any music genre, the culture that stimulates a state of mind is the fuel for that genre. The bluesman is like a daily gazette newspaper reporter. He provides the news broken down with a cultural understanding. If you don’t understand the culture, you will never understand the blues. Activism aimed at cultural issues will always be inspired by the blues."

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you think is key to a life well lived?

As I said before, my creative drive comes from God. I try to be a good steward of what he created me for. We all have a purpose and if you live within that purpose, the result will be a balanced life.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre or do you think it’s a state of mind? How can the Blues inspire activism?

Absolute the blues is a genre. But within any music genre, the culture that stimulates a state of mind is the fuel for that genre. The bluesman is like a daily gazette newspaper reporter. He provides the news broken down with a cultural understanding. If you don’t understand the culture, you will never understand the blues. Activism aimed at cultural issues will always be inspired by the blues.

What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

The highlights of my life start with the early years of being an apprentice with blues players in Mississippi that were a part of the origins of this music genre in America, then becoming a successful writer/producer of popular music, and finally returning to the blues as an artist which was the original intention.

How do you describe previous album "Mississippi Bar BQ" songbook? What characterizes "Mississippi Bar BQ" in comparison to previous?

Every Zac Harmon CD is a storybook and Mississippi Bar BQ is no different. Mississippi Bar BQ is about good times, good food, relationships (good and bad) and great musicianship. Mississippi Bar BQ is a continuation of the Zac Harmon story. Picking up from the previous CDs.                  (Zac Harmon / Photo © by Darren Carroll)

"I would not change a thing in the musical world because musicians are on the same plain throughout the musical world. I would only want the barriers that divide people in the world to be taken down so that the musicians can use their God given gifts to change the world."

What has made you laugh from "Mississippi Bar BQ" studio sessions? What touched (emotionally) you from Jim Gaines?

The relationship between the members of the Rays was quite a funny experience. They are truly a family of great studio musicians. There is never a dull moment.  Jim Gaines is the most humble super producer that you will ever meet. His approach to bringing out the best in you is like a father teaching a son to ride a bike for the first time. He is patient, understanding, loving, yet disciplined and skilled. I learned a lot about myself as an artist working with Jim.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the days when blues was more common in America. When there were always 3 or 4 blues clubs in every town and it was a larger part of the musical mainstream in the US. My biggest fear is that blues will become more of a stage act than a creative experience. Audiences are being conditioned to except the blues from actors and not authentic blues artists. Blues is a cultural experience and if you are not part of the culture and have had the experiences that created the culture, you cannot authentically present the blues. You can only pretend.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would not change a thing in the musical world because musicians are on the same plain throughout the musical world. I would only want the barriers that divide people in the world to be taken down so that the musicians can use their God given gifts to change the world.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?

I learned to never have preconceived ideas of acceptance and always trust the music.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

Music is medicine. It is the healing power that will always bring people together.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to travel to Africa in the time before Christ. I would like to see the root.

"I miss the days when blues was more common in America. When there were always 3 or 4 blues clubs in every town and it was a larger part of the musical mainstream in the US. My biggest fear is that blues will become more of a stage act than a creative experience." (Zac Harmon / Photo © by Darren Carroll)

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best moment of my career was playing with BB King. The worst is ongoing with the decline of blues music around the world from the original source.

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?

Life is my source, and mentor for songs.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and songwriter?

Growing up in Mississippi gave me a lot to write about and the connection with great musicians to learn to be a great musician.

Do you think that your music and your songs, comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?

It’s all from the soul and heart. The soul is the window of the heart.

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?

I am the blues. It’s part of my DNA.

What do you learn about yourself from the music? How do you describe the philosophy of Zac Harmon’s music?

My music is like my fingerprints. It’s unique, it’s original, and it’s mine.

Are there any memories from ZZ Hill, Dorothy Moore and Sam Myers, which you’d like to share with us?

I have many great memories of the extrodinary entertainers. From ZZ Hill I remember how great of a showman he was and how he would have the crowd in the palm of his hands. From Dorothy Moore I remember how great of singer she is and how sweet of a soul she is. From Sam Myers, I remember how much of a pure bluesman he was and how hard he was of me to keep the tradition alive.

"Everywhere I have traveled in the world, the blues has been a beacon of peace, understanding and good times. The blues is America’s most positive export. No matter the language, culture or creed, the blues is universal. This has greatly influenced my world view in a positive way because the blues brings out the best in people all around the world." (Photo: Zac Harmon on stage, Cairo Egypt, 2009)

What's been their experience from Bluzapalooza in Gulf and your performance at the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx?

Bluzapalooza was an incredible experience. This tour proved to me that the Blues is loved all over the world. At the Great Pyramid, we performed for over 5 thousand Egyptians and they loved every minute of it.

Are there any memories from “THE ROAD WITH THE BLUES”, which you’d like to share with us? What do you miss most nowadays from Elmore James’ blues?

Yes but the only way I can share it is to play it for you live. Elmore James: That magical slide.

From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between the SOUL, REGGAE & BLUES?

It’s all the same. It’s from the African tree born of emotion.

Happiness is…

Performing!!

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES.

The Blues is pure emotion. As long as people have souls, they will feel the blues. I wish everyone could experience this music.

What is the best advice to listen from the bluesmen? What advice would you give to all us for the “Keeping the blues Alive”?

To be true to yourself. Support the Blues whenever and wherever you can.

Do you have a message like an “ambassador for the Blues” and a Blues Foundation board member?

Keep the Blues Alive!!!


Zac Harmon - Official website

Zac Harmon / Photo © by Darren Carroll

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