The travelled gui­tar spell­caster talks blues, magic and the Stones.

Mojo (UK) - - What Goes On - An­drew Male

Ask­ing an in­ter­vie­wee how they are is, for the most part, sim­ple jour­nal­is­tic po­lite­ness. With Har­vey Man­del, it’s more press­ing. The 71-year-old Michi­gan-born gui­tar god has just com­pleted his penul­ti­mate pro­longed treat­ment in a three-year bat­tle with nasal can­cer. “I’m do­ing bet­ter,” says Man­del, si­mul­ta­ne­ously tough and tired. “I’m hop­ing I’ll need only one more op­er­a­tion and be back in busi­ness.” That means tour­ing Snake Pit, his first full stu­dio al­bum since 1974. Recorded at Cree­dence’s Fan­tasy Stu­dios with Ry­ley Walker’s Chicago band, Snake Pit is a storm­ing re­turn to the sin­u­ous, su­per­charged, heavy sus­tain gui­tar jazz-blues-rock-funk gumbo old heads and young crate dig­gers re­vere him for, a sound that draws on 50 years of play­ing with Muddy Wa­ters, Magic Sam, Canned Heat, and John May­all, plus a very brief pe­riod in The Rolling Stones. “I didn’t re­ally get gi­ant recog­ni­tion from that,” says Man­del.

The new al­bum sounds like you haven’t been away, which of course you have. How did it come about?

My man­ager in Chicago got ap­proached by [fan and Tomp­kins Square la­bel pro­pri­etor] Josh Rosen­thal. We set it up to­gether and Josh brought in these young Chicago mu­si­cians. They were all Grade A guys. What you’re hear­ing is live cuts, set up in the stu­dio. I’d vo­cally run down my ideas and we did it in one or two takes. It worked out great.

You’ve been se­ri­ously ill. Were you able to keep play­ing in that time?

Nowhere near like what I nor­mally would, but I’m at that point in my life where I don’t play for two or three months, pick it up for one day and I’m ready for ac­tion. It’s au­to­matic. You didn’t even start play­ing gui­tar un­til you were 16…

Al­most 16, I was play­ing bon­gos with this guy in Chicago who was do­ing the beat­nik folk busi­ness, just hav­ing fun. One day at his house I said, “Hey, show me a chord on that gui­tar.” He showed me an E chord, I played it and I was hyp­no­tised. From that day on I went crazy. For the next few years I de­voted 23 out of 24 hours, learn­ing, work­ing with records, prac­tis­ing gui­tar.

Soon you’re play­ing Chicago blues mecca Twist City with Buddy Guy.

I was a lit­tle white guy, in the heart of the ghetto, but no­body ever messed with me. I started as a be­gin­ner but af­ter a few months I was play­ing bet­ter than most guys. I jammed with all the ma­jor blues guys. Buddy was king of the hill, but B.B. King, Muddy Wa­ters, Magic Sam… I hung out there for a year and a half. I was a night per­son. I fin­ished at 4am, slept, had din­ner and was off again. Din­ner was break­fast.

When did you recog­nise that you had your own dis­tinc­tive style?

It was al­ways in my mind but it took a lit­tle while to come out. I had to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent am­pli­fiers, dif­fer­ent toys. In my head I had that sound, like a vi­o­lin, steel gui­tar and har­mon­ica sounds, that gave me the idea of the sus­tain and I kept work­ing on it un­til I could em­u­late those sounds with my equip­ment.

Your 1971 LP, Baby Bat­ter cred­its Harry Nils­son as “Wine Con­sul­tant and Bearer”, and you called your mid-’70s out­fit Pure Food And Drug Act. Wild times?

On oc­ca­sion, on oc­ca­sion. We had a lot of dif­fer­ent magic peo­ple that would come by. PF&DA was put to­gether af­ter I’d played with Canned Heat and John May­all. We would jam all the time. Un­for­tu­nately, the “drug” el­e­ment was Su­gar­cane Har­ris. There was no one on the planet who could play bet­ter vi­o­lin on rock and blues but he was a to­tal heroin ad­dict. Deal­ing with him, and the drug thing, was a real night­mare. We lost a cou­ple of gi­ant record deals be­cause of that.

Is it around this time that you de­vel­oped your fa­mous fin­ger­tap­ping tech­nique of play­ing?

I picked it up from Randy Res­nick but took it to a whole ’nother Har­vey Man­del world. I first did it with the Shangrenad­e record in 1973. Not long af­ter that I was play­ing at the Whisky and Ed­die Van Halen came in, saw me do­ing this tap­ping stuff. Next thing he’s play­ing on Michael Jack­son’s Beat It. I wouldn’t say I was an­noyed but I wouldn’t mind if I got bet­ter recog­ni­tion for do­ing that first. Un­for­tu­nately, Van Halen made all the money.

How did you end up work­ing with The Rolling Stones?

At home one night about three or four in the morn­ing I got a call from Mick Jag­ger. He said, “We’re in Mu­nich, Ger­many, we want you to come play on a cou­ple of songs. Leave to­mor­row.” The idea was I’d be a re­place­ment for Mick Tay­lor, play­ing the slick gui­tar. But there was a whole ar­gu­ment in the stu­dio. Keith wanted Ron Wood be­cause he wanted to keep it all English. Mick was lean­ing to­wards me be­cause he wasn’t look­ing for an­other gui­tar player on-stage, leap­ing around do­ing crazy stuff. Un­for­tu­nately, I lost out. I played on Hot Stuff and Mem­ory Mo­tel from Black And Blue.

Tell us some­thing you’ve never told an in­ter­viewer be­fore.

Well, when I got the call to do Black And Blue I was taken to the fancy ho­tel, get­ting ready to sleep, and, all of a sud­den, tap-tap-tap on my door, there’s Mick Jag­ger in his bathrobe. For a split sec­ond I thought, “How far will I go to be­come a Rolling Stone?” Any­way, that’s my funny Rolling Stones story.

Still rolling: in the mid-’70s, Har­vey Man­del sus­tains that long note.

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