James Harman was born and raised in Anniston, Alabama-quickly picked up on the black blues and soul music being played on juke boxes and the radio. He sang in the church choir until age 16 when his family moved to Panama City Florida, where he found himself surrounded by like-minded blues lovers. Wearing a fake moustache, young James slipped into a still segregated black nightclub to see Little Junior Parker’s show. He was totally overtaken by the blues and soon became a regular, known as “That boy who sings like a man” by patrons.
While still in his teens, he started playing juke joints and dance clubs throughout the South. Hs performances became legendary-he was “tapped” by talent scouts, signed and taken to Atlanta, Georgia in 1964 to begin his recording career at age 18. He had a series of nine singles (45 RPM records) released during the mid to late 60’s on obscure southern labels. He tried several restarts in new home bases including Chicago in ’65, New York in ’66, Miami in ’68 and New Orleans in ‘69.
During his stay in Miami Harman was befriended by fellow record collectors Henry Vestine, Alan Wilson and Bob Hite of Canned Heat, who persuaded him to move to California, promising to help him get re-started. Harman made his move to SoCal in 1970, and true to their word, Canned Heat insisted on Harman’s Icehouse Blues Band as their opening act on many big shows. Icehouse Blues Band became established at venues such as The Golden Bear, The Ash Grove, The Troubadour and The Lighthouse, which all booked real blues artists.
James Harman was soon in demand for his own shows, as well as backing every living blues artist who was touring without a band. He also opened literally hundreds of shows for artist who did have their own band. Icehouse Blues Band was a real working blues band. In 1978 James tired of using band names and started billing his act as James Harman Band.
Some alumni include Phil Alvin, Bill Bateman, Gene Taylor, David “Kid” Ramos, Michael “Hollywood Fats” Mann, Stephen Taylor Hodges and Jeff “Big Dad” Turmes. All of these players did long stints in the Harman Band. James is often cited as a band leader who gave many now famous bluesmen their start. Harman stopped ground touring in 2000 and now only takes blues festival dates around the world. Nathan James has been James Harman’s regular band guitar player since 1997 when he was 19 years old… he turned 35 in 2013 and he’s still Harman’s favorite! Nathan is also James’ recording engineer and co-producer on his own projects, as well as projects they produce for other artists.
Photo: Andy Cotton