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Gary Prirmcn & Friends Gary, Indiana Blue North Records
Helsinki, Finland

Esa Kuloniemi featuring Gary Primich &Jimmie "Bluesman Lawson Gary Primich & Wentus Blues Band
Gary Primich with Honey B. & The T-Bones
Esa Kuloniemi & Gary Primich

A Musician's Review
Patrick Recob Bass Player, Gary Primich Band February, 2011

Experiencing Gary Primich on a studio recording versus a live performance were two completely different worlds. There are a handful of Harp Summit related recordings, with him live, that are still available, but this is the closest thing to a being-there GARY PRIMICH BAND experience. And, this package fuses, for the first time, the studio and stage worlds together.

It must be strictly noted that all of the musicians backing Gary Primich on this release were not part of his regular American touring band. They were specifically chosen to back him during several of his European tours of Finland. There are three different musical groups from Finland backing Gary in three separate sections that span the years from 1991 to 2006. The performances were all recorded live in Finland. The two studio tracks and the non-musical spoken word track were also recorded in Finland. The depth of musicianship from all the players on these tracks adds to the beauty of this disc. They are all top-line performers catching the nuances and qualities of Gary's unique characteristics. It's not uncommon for Blue's artists to travel without a band and use regional players. But being able to acquire a group of highly skilled musicians who are also well-versed in the genre is a little more difficult to achieve. All of these players are so top-notch that they allow Gary to perform with the same ease that he drew from his Stateside band!

Esa Kuloniemi's 2006 studio recordings of THE HITMAN and GARY, INDIANA leaves clues about where Gary might have been heading with the harmonica as an instrument. The first listen may come as a surprise for those familiar only with Gary's blues recordings. Indeed, he was all about deep, meaningful, soulful, playing. But these tracks seem to push his sound somewhere new. They may also leave the listener with a distracted sadness that the music world has been robbed of a rare talent since his passing in 2007.

Gary's remaining live musical performances on the CD with the two bands THE WENTUS BLUES BAND and HONEY B & THE T-BONES give the listener all the joy of a true Gary Primich live performance. All of Gary's live gig trademarks are in these songs! They are strong and right up front! With all of the musicians giving solid support, Gary delivers! It's obvious by the musical communication between Gary and each musician that these performances were not just-jump-on-the-stage-and-hope-to-get-through-the-set. The musical backing is honest and solid. It's a treat to have THINK IT OVER and SADIE included in this package as well as a number of live Primich staples that were a part of his shows for years.

Closing track #14 is Gary speaking about himself. This is the most crucial part of the package. It gets into the thinking of Gary's approach to music. It's educational to hear his commentary for anyone interested in learning more for his or her own musical growth. Gary was a teacher and was genuinely interested in helping others attain a personal best. His one-on-one teaching approach motivated students to develop their own musical identity, not stroke their egos.

One more thing. The opening harmonica intro to BEEN AROUND THE WORLDI MY BACK SCRATCHER is worth this disc alone. Just listen!

This release, an offering of deep respect from Gary's Finnish friends, will stand as a strong testament to the playing and technical aspects of what made Gary Primich such a rarity in the Blues, or any musical genre. It will serve as a study tool for the musician, student, and fan of the harmonica for years to come.

Many people have asked, "How can we preserve Gary's music and legacy?" Listen to this disc, share your thoughts, and talk about it alongside releases from his broader catalog. By doing this Gary Primich will continue to generate interest through many fans and musicians worldwide. He is not only unforgettable as a musician and a teacher but as a genuine person who cared about the future of the Blues, and the Harmonica as an instrument.

Finally, for the record, even when he was on tour in Europe, Gary Primich without fail, made sure the van had its oil changed every 3,000 miles!


 


Harmonica Rumble in Humble
Juke Logan and Gary Primich Rise Again

(2002)

By Cathi Norton

What are the odds of an L.A. “low-rider” and a Chicago harmonica hustler meeting in Humble, Texas, I ask you?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  “That’s ‘UMble, Texas’,” laughs Gary Primich. “They’ll correct you!”

Still, the “Cactus Moon” club in Humble, Texas will be hoppin’ April 19th when two harmonica giants—John “Juke” Logan and Gary Primich—make a rare appearance together.  Logan and Primich met years ago when the Austin-based Primich heard Juke’s “Let’s Buzz” and tracked him down.  Logan fondly remembers Gary’s call:  “‘Hey…book a flight!’  You know Gary…he doesn’t worry about how…!”

Logan, a Los Angeles native, initially rose to fame as harp player for the Roseanne and Home Improvement television shows.  His rich harmonica and keyboard experience includes working in bands with Leon Russell, Dave Alvin, Albert Collins, and many others.  His partnership with Ry Cooder on movie soundtracks for Streets of Fire and Crossroads opened doors to steady session work for hundreds of musicians, television, and movie projects.  Juke also produces recordings for fellow musicians and is a partner in L.A.’s Mocombo Records. 

Primich, originally from the Gary-Chicago area, moved to Texas in 1984 and   Austin proved receptive to his traditional blues.  Tempered by swing overtones and a fierce dedication to backing his music with touring, Primich has produced seven road-tested albums of original blistering blues, solidifying his reputation as a harmonica master.  Despite an occasional turn as sideman for Texas groups like  “Omar and the Howlers,” Primich is best known for his own “Gary Primich Band” (with guitarist Jon Moeller, bassist Jeff Turmes, and drummer Jim Starboard), and has developed a dedicated following across the US and Europe.

Juke’s nine years of riffing on the Roseanne television series is a good example of blues love too.  “I’m a blues stealth bomber,” he laughed.  “I made subliminal blues-drops in living rooms where Joe Public didn’t even know he was a blues fan yet.”  Juke loves regular gigs with acoustic blues partner Doug MacLeod, Latin-blues buddies, the “Delgado Brothers,” and “Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men” (when Juke plays they call him “Guilty by Association”).  His session work and Mocombo Records keep him busy too, but once a year he says, “I gotta go back to my traditional blues center--Texas.”

Gary, however, is constantly on the move touring the country and traveling to
Europe several times a year to spread his musical word.  It’s a long way from hustling quarters on Maxwell Street in Chicago—with John Henry Davis and L.V. Banks, just around the corner from Homesick James and Big Walter Horton (who often sat in, along with people like Floyd Jones, B.B. Odom, and Willie Williams).  Now the world is his Maxwell Street, though he might wryly remark that the pay is about the same (ha)!  Just back from five weeks (“in a snowbank”) in Scandinavia, Primich plans a third annual “Muddy Waters Tribute” show at the Continental Club in Austin on the 21st of April with another local harper, Ted Roddy.  Juke’s on the bill there too, as are amazing talents like Sarah Brown, Mike Buck, Derek O’Brien, Gene Taylor, Jon Moeller, Randy Glines, Earl Poole Ball, and a club full of musicians doing Muddy tunes backed by the best players in the business. 

The Juke-Gary combination is powerful.  Both prolific songwriters with a wicked sense of humor, their music only cements a fast-growing friendship.  Beyond harp skills, Gary plays Chicago-style guitar and Juke is adept at keyboards, so both men trade off on these instruments in addition to cooking up hot harp duets.  Juke likens them to a blue-note horn section.  “He plays through an amp and I go through the PA, so we have different textures.  It’s not a (head) cutting contest, but more like a section.  He’s an adventurous thinker with a touch of a jazzy center…the Cannonball Adderly of the harmonica.  It has to do with playfulness and melody.  He’s not in the ‘Little Walter’ Sweepstakes” (laughter).   “He is very simply my favorite harp player—that’s the bottom line.” 

I asked Gary if he was excited about the upcoming mini-tour with Juke.  “Well, I’m not looking forward to it,” he sighed, “I hate him.”   Strangling sounds emerged as he choked on his own laughter.  “Juke is a terrific friend.  There’s a mutual respect.  I mean it’s really great to hang out with somebody I have the utmost respect for on his instrument.  Some musicians have attitudes toward other musicians, you know?  But I really enjoy his playing…we have a blast.”

Backed by the Primich band, both Gary and Juke will break out at Austin’s Continental Club on April 18th, followed by the Humble gig on the 19th, and then they’ll close with the “Muddy Waters Tribute” at the Continental on the 21st.   Earlier that last day, they may also be found playing the “Sinners’ Brunch” at Joe’s Hot Coffee (shop) on South Congress in Austin.  There, backed by the shop’s house band—the “Magdalenes”—they’ll scandalize the clientele and eat as many “South Austin Speedball Tamale Plates” (a cup of coffee, a beer, and some tamales) as possible.  If they don’t get arrested, Juke’ll soon be back in L.A. producing his third album (a “guitar fest” with guests Rick Holmstrom, Dave Alvin, Denny Freeman, Rick Vito, Will Ray, and David Hidalgo), and Gary, no doubt, will hit the road to promote his April Antone’s release, “Dog House Music”).  Get those tamales and that hot blues while you can Texans.  You may discover Juke’s claim is correct:  “We’re low tech—high grease.  The most important piece of equipment we’ve got is soul!”

 


GARY PRIMICH (1st Interview) – 1997
by Cathi Norton

     Music’s running rampant this spring and I’m packing for the next festival. Ran across a Gary Primich souvenir custom harmonica and it started me thinking about that rascal. I remember him dogging around, trying to get into my band a million years ago—his first one!  We teased him about playing a “child’s toy” but he was just so GOOD we had to give in.

     Gary’s a harmonica ace from Austin, Texas and he’s on the move. He tells me he once had three days off in 1978! As usual, he’s back on the road this summer, bringing his unique harmonica sound to clubs and festivals all across the country. Born in Chicago 39 years ago, his family moved to Hobart, Indiana, in the Gary/Hammond area of the state when he was a sprout. But it’s only a small jump from Gary to Chicago and that’s where he headed every chance he got. He flat-out loved the music. Gary spent a lot of time in Chicago, playing the blues as he was coming up, “head-cuttin” with the best, and becoming a regular at the clubs he could sneak into. At the famous Maxwell Street Market each week he made “quarter laundry money” playing with bluesmen John Henry Davis and L.V. Banks, around the corner from Homesick James and Big Walter Horton. They often sat in together, as did people like Floyd Jones, B.B. Odom, and Willie Williams. Primich found the “overwhelming majority” of musicians on Chicago’s southside “open and excited” about having him, or anyone else, play with them. And for Gary it was an important experience, exposing himself up to two new cultures—the black culture and the culture of the blues.

     After honing his skills in Chicago and in Bloomington, Indiana (at Indiana University), he moved to Austin, Texas. Blues music in Chicago, it seemed to him, was moving away from his favorite Louisiana and traditional styles. He hoped Austin might be more receptive, and it was. Primich has been voted best harmonica player there for five straight years, according to the Music City Poll, and has just released his fifth album “Company Man” (his debut on Blacktop). Primich and his band, “Shorty Lenoir” (from Canada) on lead guitar, Steve Doughtery (Madison, WI) on drums, and Eric Pryzogcki (Austin, TX) on bass, regularly tear it up wherever they play. As for days off—they slowed down last year to do a mere 200 nights!

CATHI: Hi Gary…relax…breathe out!

GARY: (Whooshes air out—laughs.) Hi.

CATHI: Tell us what got you interested in blues.

GARY: I was an avid listener, not a player. But one day I heard Muddy Waters’ “Hard Again” album with James Cotton on it and it really got me. Right about then Johnny Winter did an album with Big Walter Horton on harmonica, and those two together really got me going. I started playing along with records and had a couple of “ah-ha’s” with the right key and soon I was hooked.

CATHI: So basically you listened to records to learn?

GARY: Yeah, exactly. And I just started buying anything with harmonica on it—didn’t matter what style. I read a lot about the blues too; spent a lot of time in the library at Indiana University. They have a lot of books on the blues.

CATHI: (Smiling.) So after you learned how to play, you just sort of weaseled your way into bands?

GARY: (Laughs.) Yeah—like yours! I’ve always been pretty good at that. But I mean—think about it. “Do you want harmonica in your band?” “Hell no!” “Well, do you want me to sit in every once in awhile?” “SURE!” (Laughs.) They don’t find out you’re an asshole ’til you’re already firmly ensconced in your position!” (Laughter.)

CATHI: Well now you’re really moving. You’ve made several albums and done many tours both here and abroad. You’re in contact with the heavy players around the country, like Juke (Logan), Jerry Portnoy, James Harman and all. That must be pretty exhilarating.

GARY: It’s great to be on friendly terms with those guys, like Harman, Portnoy, Piazza, Clarke (it tore me up when he passed), and those guys. There’s a mutual respect. I mean they are some of my favorite musicians, so it’s really an opportunity to hang out with somebody I have the utmost respect for on their instruments. Some musicians have attitudes toward other musicians, you know? But I really think it’s fun to enjoy somebody else’s playing. It’s an opportunity to gain something from somebody else with something to offer.

CATHI: Sharing tips? I know you were telling someone about using (Joe) Filisko’s harps on your album for a clear sound…

GARY: Yeah—sharing knowledge.

CATHI: Tell me about Filisko’s harps.

GARY: Well, he’s a technician that messes with ’em and makes ’em sound good. He gets them playing like you want them to play, you know? He has an idea what the perfect harp is, and he knows how to get it.

CATHI: Speaking of gear, you know you’re going to have to tell me about that (laughs).

GARY: (Laughs) Okay. My standard stage gear is an astatic JT30 microphone with a ceramic cartridge into a Fender Bassman Reissue amp with the solid state rectifier removed and a 5 U4B rectifier tube installed.

CATHI: Yee haw.

GARY: (Laughs) With a pair of matched SOVTEK 6L6’s. And the only other modifications I’ve done to my amp is take a bass guitar, plug it into the normal channel, turn everything up to 12 and beat on it relentlessly until the speakers loosen up (laughs). Otherwise, that was a really terrible-sounding amp!

CATHI: And your stage settings?

GARY: Treble=4; Midrange=3; Bass=9; Presence=4. That’s it!

CATHI: Tell me about your influences. Guess you can’t get around the classics like Big Walter, Little Water, and the two Sonnyboys.

GARY: No—you can’t. I mean you can’t call yourself a jazz musician if you aren’t influenced by Charlie Parker you know. You can’t say you’re a classical musician if you don’t like Mozart, or Chopin or whatever. And in my opinion, you can’t call yourself a blues harmonica player unless you’ve studied Little Walter and Big Walter Horton. As far a country-blues harmonica is concerned, my favorite artist is Jazz Gillum. Also Sonny Terry, Sonnyboy Williamson I, Hammie Nixon, Will Shade, and Robert McCoy. But there are so many influences—and Billy Boy Arnold is a special favorite.

CATHI: Well, your playing and songwriting have come a long way. Did you always think you had a talent for blues?

GARY: Well, I used to think I was good when I was just starting, and then I had a gig with Lewis and Dave Myers…

CATHI: Aw, the famous come-down.

GARY: (Laughs.) Yeah. They told me that I stunk—that I was the worst thing they’d ever heard (laughs). Back then I resented it and felt awful, but today I’m really glad I had that experience. It made me work hard and as I get better, my playing just gets simpler and simpler. As I get older I play less and less. Tone and phrasing are the two elements that really separate the…

CATHI: Men from the boys? (Laughter)

GARY: And the girls from the women! Those are the two main elements that I’ve tried to develop in my playing.

CATHI: Advice for beginning players?

GARY: Get a Sonnyboy Williamson recording; get Big Walter and Little Walter and learn how to play along note for note. Get with somebody that’s better than you and get lessons. Keep at it. I guess the only thing I can say about the music business is persistence pays off. If you’re meeting resistance, you either have to change yourself or change what’s resisting you. Go where the water is warm. Good luck! Oh yeah—and change the oil in the van every 3,000 miles (laughter)!


Cathi Norton -- musician, songwriter, playwright, writer, and tough sailor girl. Member of Gary's first band and co-conspirator in many of his hijinx until he took up with all those Austin ne'er-do-wells!  Good friend to the end though he broke hearts by taking a long walk on a slippery slope without Velcro shoes, and left too soon. Also born in Indiana. Travels about as much as Gary did but unlike him landed in Indiana. Allows Austin-ites to visit from time to time and generally puts working bands up who come through. In love with musicians who never hold still long enough for home to come to them. Terrible habits she probably won't break along with loving blues, music of many genres, and possessing the rare character-defect of revering harmonica.


 

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