Thursday, June 17, 2010
Gary Primich Lives
Wentus Blues Band
Blue North Records
Even though I plan to eventually get around to chatting about Gary, Indiana, the predominantly live recordings that Gary Primich recorded with a couple of Finnish bands, his set with Honey B & T-Bones being recorded back in 1991 sparks a remembrance of one of the most original harmonica men to ever stick the instrument in his mouth.
Back in 1991, I was aspiring to master the blues harp and had not been at it for too long a period of time. My collection of blues harp blues at that time was but a grain of sand that eventually become the mountain of music stacked around my house. Gary Primich launched his solo career that year with a release on Amazing Records and it quickly became a favorite of mine. During that same year, Gary travelled over to Bryan, Texas for a gig at The Stafford Opera House and his performance solidified my desire to keep working at torturing harmonica reeds.
It's been awhile since that gig, but I remember getting to the venue early, and Gary was poking his head out the door, and I was going in. I think he was wondering if anyone would show up. Recognizing him, I stopped and introduced myself as a blues harp fan, and novice practitioner. He took me inside, up to the stage, and showed me the tools of his trade. Marine Band harps, ceramic element bullet mic, and vintage Fender Bandmaster amplifier. At that time, I was relatively clueless as to the amplified aspects of the music, so that was a sort of epiphanied moment. He seemed as excited about do this as I was about him doing it. Or something like that.
I'm not going to lie and say that I remember exactly what they played. He did work through most of the songs from that debut album and his next. What impressed me right off was the variety of grooves that he hit upon--rockabilly, traditional Chi-Town blues, jazzy interludes, '50s rock, and even Tin Pan Alley standards from his big chromatic. He even proved to be accomplished at slinging guitar licks around. His guitarist at the time was Shorty Lenoir and he really impressed me with his Magic Sam licks and what he could do with a Howling Wolf tune. We spent some time during the first set break discussing his influences while Gary and the rest of the band walked across the street to catch a bit of Doyle Bramhall's show (yeah, who'd know that two substantial talents would end up in downtown Bryan on the same night). Well, it seems that Doyle's stepson played drums that night in Gary's band. Think his name was Chris Hunter.
What knocked me out that night (and ever since then) was Gary Primich's absolute command of the harmonica. His style was his own, although he could absolutely conjure up the spirit of both Sonny Boys, both Walters, Slim Harpo, Jerry McCain, etc... at will. We stayed in touch with each other by e-mail for quite a few years. American Harmonica Newsmagzine ran a couple of interviews that I wrote based on that correspondence. I lost touch with Gary somewhere along the way, but I'll always fondly remember that gig in downtown Bryan. I may have told this tale somewhere on the blog sometime in the past, if so forgive me for repeating the story...but, you see I've just become a granddad, and since that's what granddad's are noted for doing, then this will just have to pass as acceptable.
A couple of other "live" Primich nights stand out in my mind. One took place at one of Sonny Boy Terry's harmonica rumbles in Houston. Lots of good players were playing some kind of impressive blues harp. Then, Gary Primich stepped up and his first note was sooo fat, juicy, and toneful that he sort of separated himself from everyone else. Reminds me now of his turn on one of Mark Hummel's recorded blowouts. His tone just put him on a different plane--not necessarily worlds better, but just on another plane. The last time I saw him play, he recorded two nights at The Big Easy in Houston, and he absolutely played a fire and brimstoned performance. THAT is the "live" show that I'd like to see someone out there somewhere produce and share with the rest of the world--because it represents what Gary Primich was all about and would be a fitting capstone for his legacy.
In the meantime, we have Gary, Indiana with Honey B & T-Bones, the Wentus Blues Band, and Esa Kolonemi from different trips to Helsinki, Finland. The CD opens with a very strange studio recording with Esa Kuloniemi and Jimmie Lawson on a tune called the Hitman, which sounds like Shaft era Isaac Hayes. I really thought that the wrong CD somehow found its way into the case, until Gary's innovative amplified licks kick in and fits the vibe of the music--which ain't exactly blues, but ain't exactly ain't either. The last cut is also from the same session, with Gary holding court with an acoustic style. He pulls out mostly acoustic harp on the 2002 gig and does that style better than anyone that I've ever heard, but I love his dripping, fatbacked amplified tones even more so. The 1991 stuff gets that going a bit more.
After that shocking opener (not really shocking, but it threw me a bit), the recording shares what Gary was putting down in 2002 at a place called Cantina West with the Westus Blues Band, starting off with Hillbilly Blues. The band gets a good rock-a-billy rhythm going and guitarist Niko Riipa rips it pretty substantially. Primich works the heck out of triplets, split octaves, up and down the length of his acoustic harp on this Eddie Clearwater tune. From there he does get some of the fattest acoustic harp tones I've ever heard on a cover of Hounddog Taylor's Sadie. He goes deep and uses great expressive hand wahs and generally just tears up his first solo over the Help Me groove that the band lays down. One of the highlights of the disc for me.
The jump R&B style of Real Gone Lover puts the harp mic in his hands for some classic Primich amplified fat. He knows how to work the vibe of this Dave Bartholomew tune. The band swings the holy smokes out of the song and proves their versatility.
Good Bye Little Girl is not a Sonny Boy Williamson II song, but that's what get nailed down with the acoustic harp licks that Primich pulls out of his harp hat. The Wentus guys drive this fast shuffle as he floats across the tune with an extended solo that eventually has the band dropping the volume while he does Rice Miller's memory justice.
This set wraps up with one of my favorite Primich songs--Company Man. It is the only song on this disc that is not a cover tune. The song has a unique coda and groove and the band acquits themselves quite well with getting it right. Of course, Primich smokes his part.
The 1991 tunes kick off with a rendition of John "Juke" Logan's Hustler, on which the Honey B band sounds very Fabulous T-Birdish and on which Esa Kulomieni demonstrates that he has his book of guitar blues down pat. Sounds to me as if these guys were just flat playing outside of themselves and Primich gets out all of his amplified stops and get down with it. This is PRIMICH getting it the way I love to hear Primich get it.
The deepest tones he saves for the rumba-ish, jazzy feel of The Girl That Radiates That Charm. No, this is the one. This is PRIMICH getting it the way I love to hear Primich get it--until he amplifies Franks Frost's My Back Scratcher pulling some kind of sweet long blue notes that puts the mud in the swamp tones of the tune. Kulomieni gets the reverbed guitar vibe happening much in the same way that Jimmy Vaughan did on the Slim Harpo's version. No, never mind, this is PRIMICH getting it the way I love to hear Primich get it--done.
These tunes sort of exemplify what the thirteen songs here represent, which is the variety of musical ideas that Primich mastered. All in all, this is a good document of what Gary Primich was all about on stages that he frequented a couple of hundreds nights of the year. At 49, he left of way too early, so anything new that can be shared from his legacy has to be considered a treasure. The man was remarkable with a harmonica in his mouth. For a bonus, an interview on his blues harp philosophy ends the program. Many thanks to the Finnish Blues Society for putting this on disc for us. NOW--if someone out there will release his music recorded live at The Big Easy club, we will have much more of his spirit captured for posterity, which we can release at will. 'nuff for now.