Gary James' Interview With Canned Heat's
He was a member of Canned Heat. He played with John Mayall. He played with The Rolling Stones. In fact, he almost became a Rolling Stone. He is Harvey Mandel. These days Harvey Mandel is still performing and recording. His latest recording is called "Snake Pit" and an even newer recording is "Snake Attack". Presently he's working on a CD called "Smoke This".
Q - Harvey, with the recording business being what it is, how are your recordings selling?
A - "Snake Pit" has actually done quite well. It's been selling all over the world, UK and then "Snake Attack", I'm not sure how that's been selling. It hasn't been promoted as much as "Snake Pit". Now I'm working on "Smoke This". (laughs) It's got a really cool cover. It has a picture of an alien but with my face holding a joint in an alien hand. It's quite cool.
Q - You say, "I heard the guitar the way you hear it today. I knew where guitar was going twenty years before it got there." How did you know that?
A - I just knew in my head that guitar players were trying back then to play more like horns or like a piano or a violin that was more fluid. So, I always had that style in the back of my mind. I knew the Heavy Metal thing was just in the infancy stages back then. That wasn't my bag, but I knew there was going to be a whole style of guitar that was built on what I called gymnastic guitar which is a lot of these weird positions and scales these guys learned. Young kids today are playing a million notes a second, but to me it don't mean anything 'cause they're not licks. They're not melodies. They're not sounds. The guys that I respect are of the super class like Eric Johnson, Steve Vai, (Joe) Satriani. Those are guys that can play a million notes, but they play magic melodies. They play licks. That's where I'm coming from. I'm not worried about showing how fast I can play. I'm trying to show how melodic and how magic I can come up with the style of my own, which fortunately you can't really plan on it, but I do it. I have a complete Harvey Mandel style, thank God. That's what I do. It came naturally. I just had to work on my playing and learning guitar, theory, technique and all that stuff. It's all come to a great point in my playing right now where my stuff has really come together.
Q - You were born in Detroit, but made your way to San Francisco in what year?
A - Well, I was born in Detroit, but I was only there a few months. My dad happened to be working there at the time, so my parents were there. They were from Chicago originally. Then in the late '60s Bill Graham hired me and Charlie Musselwhite to come out and play at the Fillmore. That was around '66, '67, something like that. Not long after that I got hooked up with Abe Kesh, the famous producer out there who did Blue Cheer. He passed away years ago. He got ahold of me and I got my first record contract on Mercury. So, I lived in San Francisco for about ten years back then. Then I joined Canned Heat. I lived in L.A. for a bunch of years. Then I went back to San Francisco. Then I went down to Florida. My mother and father were down there and I knew they were getting ready to depart this world, my dad especially, so I wanted to spend some time with them. I ended up living in Florida for ten years. Then I went back to L.A. I went on tour with Canned Heat again years ago. Then about fifteen, seventeen, eighteen years ago I came back to San Francisco and I've been here ever since.
Q - You played a club called The Matrix where Jerry Garcia and Elvis Bishop would show up. How about Janis Joplin? Would she ever walk in the door?
A - I knew Janis. I don't ever remember her coming to The Matrix. I remember distinctly that I jammed there with Elvis, Charlie Musselwhite, Jerry Garcia and a whole bunch of other guys. I can't remember their names. Those were the biggest guys. I was on tour a couple of times with Canned Heat where we played the same show with Janis. So, I got to ride in the bus and hang out a little with her back when. We never really jammed or played together.
Q - Did you like Janis? What kind of a person was she?
A - I liked her a lot. She was great. She was one of the guys. She'd be on the bus with her bottle of Southern Comfort. I didn't drink. She kept trying to shove the bottle at me. (laughs) My impression of her was she was a great person. She wasn't a boaster. She didn't have a weird attitude. She definitely was one of the greatest Blues singers of all time.
Q - Did you ever cross paths with Jim Morrison or Jimi Hendrix?
A - Yup. Not Jim Morrison. I never really crossed paths with him. But Hendrix, when I did my first record, "Cristo Redentor" we went to New York at Electric Ladyland and Abe Kech, a famous producer, and we mixed and mastered the record there with Eddie Kramer who was Jimi Hendrix's main engineer back then. That was right when Hendrix's album, first album came out. It was a little bit before I did my "Cristo Redentor". We were in the studio one day and we were mixing. Who walks in? Jimi, with a couple of tapes under his arm of one of his new records back at that time. He came in. We smoked a bunch of joints. He played us the songs. We hung out and had a good time. He was really a cool guy. Unfortunately I can't say that I got to play with him. I did get to jam with his other guys, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. When I lived in L.A. there was a club where all the famous guys would come in and jam all the time. So, one night I did jam with those two guys. But, me and Jimi hung out for awhile. He knew who I was and of course I knew who he was. He was like the God for guitar players back then. (laughs) So, I was thrilled that he came in and we got to hang out for awhile.
Q - Are you aware that Jimi Hendrix used to play the small clubs in Central New York when he was part of Joey Dee's band?
A - We all started out playing small clubs. I played a million clubs around Chicago. I played The Whiskey A Go Go. But then once we got out to California and we did that first giant gig with Charlie Musselwhite at the Fillmore, we were actually the opening act followed by Mike Bloomfield and The Electric Flag followed by Eric Clapton. It was quite a show of guitars. I was the new guy. Mike was fairly well-known and Eric Clapton was of course giant back then. That was my first show at the Fillmore. Not long after that I got the job with Canned Heat and literally left the next day after I met them and we played the Fillmore East. A day later we were at Woodstock ('69) (laughs) So, I joined the band right at the right time. So, that was real good.
Q - That you did. You hit the ground running. You went on that stage at Woodstock and performed in front on half a million people. Did that enter your mind? Or did you know what you had to do and you did it?
A - Well, I was young and inexperienced compared to now and I'm sure I was slightly overwhelmed, so I did what I had to do, but I was definitely overwhelmed with the whole scene. It was quite a spectacle for sure.
Q - Today you probably would have been a little more nervous if you had to do something like that.
A - Not really. Not now. I was more nervous back then. Nowadays I'm bullet proof. I can play anywhere in front of anyone. I always had that little molecule of nervous, otherwise I wouldn't play good, but I'm not nervous where I'm like affected and can't perform and do my thing. Back in the old days there were times I got so scared my legs froze on me. I could barely move. We all go through that when we first start playing.
Q - Had you been Mick Taylor's replacement in The Stones, how do you think life would have changed for you?
A - Well, the main thing would have been financial of course. Other than that I don't think it would've changed that much 'cause my priorities were still always playing my music and doing my thing. Of course it wouldn't have hurt to be a Rolling Stone and make millions and then go out at times when they're not touring and do the Harvey Mandel Band and be able to play all over the place without struggling. Without that, half my life has been a struggle.
Q - And now with record companies being the way they are, guys like you are having to do the job they did fifty years ago.
A - Yeah, to a point. It was better back then because record stores were great. Now that everything is online it's great electronically and technologically speaking, but of course the old days when you used to be able to buy a record in the record store was still the best. Now that everyone can go online and just download this and do that, most musicians financial part of that whole record scene has completely diminished. The only ones who really make money are the ones that get lucky and have a giant hit record, or getting Gold records playing all over the world. Most of the good groups that make their money these days are making it touring. If you're a hot band and you got a good record and it's being played everywhere, even if you're not reaping the money rewards, because it's hard to collect, there's so much bootleg and so many ways for people who know the technology can steal your stuff off the internet without paying for it. Touring is really the main source of income for most musicians, especially in my category.
Q - Going back to The Stones, do you feel they wanted to fill that opening with a British guitar player more than an American guitar player? Did that enter into it?
A - Well, it didn't enter into it in the beginning. I know that at first they offered the job to Jeff Back and of course he turned them down. They had a few different guys in there and then they decided to try me and I came there not just to audition, but to play on the "Black And Blue" record, which is "Hot Stuff" and "Memory Motel", which is the hit record off that album. I'm doing all the guitar on both of those songs. In the studio there was a big fight. There was an argument pretty much between Mick Jagger, who wanted me, and Keith Richards who wanted to hire Ron Wood, who the world knows can't even play half of what I can play on guitar. He's not a super guitar player. He's no Mick Taylor so to speak. Mick Taylor was a great player back when. Ron Wood is just a good player. He's good, but he's not great. So, they had their little argument. Keith Richards wanted Ron Wood 'cause he wanted to keep it all English. Mick Jagger wanted a guy like me to replace Mick Taylor. Sit in the background, play cool guitar and stay out of the way and let them do their show. Mick Taylor didn't go out and jump around and go crazy and do the Jagger thing. Jagger and Keith Richards were the show, the stars. Mick Taylor was in the background playing the magic guitar. That's what I wanted to do and that's what I think they had the original idea to do with me as a possible candidate for that. Unfortunately, because of Keith Richards, I got aced out.
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