Gene "Sarasota Slim" Hardage talks about Lucky and James Peterson, Nitro, Tampa's Green Iguana, and Cuban Salsa

"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."

Sarasota Slim: Southern Comfort

Gene Hardage (Sarasota Slim) got a guitar at 13 and was self-taught with the help of friends and the typical teenage obsession with music. In his early 20's he started playing in bands occasionally doing gigs with Rock Bottom and eventually becoming the guitar player in his band the Jungle Bushmasters. Rock Bottom gave everyone nicknames and Gene Hardage became Sarasota Slim. In 1987 when the Chernobyl disaster was spewing radioactive fallout all over Scandinavia, a "skeerd” Slim made a last minute decision not to go on the 2nd Rock Bottom tour of Scandinavia. As fate would have it, both parties benefited from the split - Rock Bottom used several local Norwegian guitar players, one being a very young Vidar Busk - and no longer a sideman guitar player - Sarasota Slim started fronting his own bands singing and writing his own songs.

In 1988, Sarasota Slim teamed up with Lucky Peterson for a wild couple of years of playing and touring the South. When the original Green Iguana on Westshore opened, Jessie and Kimbo (Harpo), representatives from the Gulf Coast Blues Society convinced them to have a Monday night blues jam hosted by Sarasota Slim.  Slim collected tip jar money at the blues jam and used it to fund a few events for the Gulf Coast Blues Society. That blues society folded when the "new" Sun Coast Blues Society was born. The Monday night blues jam at the Green Iguana Westshore continues today with 2 original Slim band mates - Dean Germain and Benny Sudano on B3 and bass. There are also several live "Boot Leg Blues" CDs featuring various bay area musicians and singers recorded mostly at the Green Iguana. In the early 90's Sarasota Slim released 4 CDs on the Italian label Appaloosa complete with tours of Europe. In 1999 and 2001, Sarasota Slim released 2 CDs on his own Possum Phono-Graphics label. In 2005 a quick trip to Poland produced a live CD by the bass player and organizer Mark Olbrich. A new long overdue Sarasota Slim CD should be out before the end of 2010 and it will most likely be on his own Possum Phono-Graphics label. Sarasota Slim's disc "Get Up Get Down," is commingled blues, funk, boogie, slide guitar and heaps of warm Southern charm. Gene, who grew up in Sarasota, is as authentic and talented as they come, having toured with Lucky Peterson at late eighties. 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.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Sarasota Slim sound and songbook?

My sound and songbook are basic and simple. I like many kinds of music but usually stick to basic roots type music when I record and play live. Most people think of me as a blueser because that’s what we play a lot of.  I remember seeing a nice documentary about Clarence Gatemouth Brown and he didn’t like being called a blues musician because he wanted people to think of him as a “musician”. I’m a little bit like Gatemouth Brown because I like to think that I’m more “musician” than just a “blues musician”. By the way - I was privileged to see Gatemouth play a few times over the years and had a chance to talk with him and his band a few times when we were opening for them. There are so many genres of music that I really enjoy. When I drive my van I like to listen to latin big band salsa. We don’t play straight blues all night but a funny thing happens when we do play an old fashioned basic blues tune. While some of my more advanced musical friends struggle with it trying to fit in and sound bluesy - to me it’s like an old shoe that feels good. You don’t think about how to play it - it just happens.

"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."

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

My Gigs in the USA have mostly been in the South East - Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee,and lots and lots of Florida. Playing music has also taken me to Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Italy and Poland. Hopefully we’ll play in Greece one day too.

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?     (Photo: Slim & Etta James)

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.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Back when Lucky Peterson was playing with us we had a chance to chit chat with Jr. Boy who had started is career playing guitar for Freddie King and he jokingly told us that if you wanna play the blues “you need a mean old lady and a bad drug habit”. He’s probably right about that.

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 do you miss mot nowadays 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.

(Photo: Nitro jummin' with Sarasota Slim)

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.

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.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

My earliest musical memory is watching the Allman Brothers Band in my hometown of Sarasota Florida. Their music pointed me toward blues and jazz and soul and never missed a chance to see them whenever they were around. Much later we were honored to have Gregg Allman sit in with us at a small club. I’ve had several band projects with Allman related musicians. Thom “Ace” Doucette the great harp player found on the famous Fillmore East album did a few gigs around Florida and also took a short road trip through the Carolinas one time. I played in bands with Jim Essery - harp and Tim Heding - keys who were both Allman alumni. As a young guitar player growing up in the shadow of the Allman Brothers they influenced everyone in our area. I started to learn slide guitar because of Duane Allman and Johnny Winter. I was lucky to be in the audience at Pirate’s World in Dania Florida when Johnnie Winter AND was recorded with Rick Derringer. Much later we got to open for Johnny and I have a great pic of us from a gig in Zurich. Rick Derringer now lives in our area and I’ve met him a few times and helped him jam a few songs for Damon Fowler when he had his auto accident. Every weekend there are countless fund raising benefits for musicians because the cost of healthcare in the USA in crazy. It’s kind of like the rent parties you read about from long ago - everyone gets together to help.

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.

Give one wish for the BLUES...

I wish the blues would give me a dollar.

"All music evolves in time and I enjoy hearing the evolution." (Photo: Sarasota Slim, Florida)

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.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Florida. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Before I started playing out in bands I enjoyed watching some of the older guys playing like Thom Doucette and Gregg Polous. You should contact Gregg - I’ll send you his info. He’s a fantastic player with a great blues background.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

What has touched me the most is hearing one of our young talented players here in St Petersburg doing one of my songs at a club. I have several friends my age that play a few of my songs live - some around here, another in Texas, and one in Germany.  Each one uses a different song. It’s the greatest thing ever to have another band playing your songs because they enjoy them!!!

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.

"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."

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

Music has always brought people together. Modern blues music just continues that tradition.

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

My dad used to talk about his trips to New Orleans to watch bands play all night. I think I’d like to go back there to the era of Satchmo and watch them play all night.

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.

"Music has always brought people together. Modern blues music just continues that tradition." (Photo: Sarasota Slim with Deacon Jones & John Lee Hooker)

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.

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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