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"Mike Harrison Meets The Hamburg Blues Band"
More than three decades ago, Carlisle singer Mike Harrison was a Hamburg hero in his own right. He took the Beatles´ Liverpool legend a step further - several degrees deeper into Rhythm & Blues that is (including a genius version of "I´m The Walrus"). His raspy yet warm-hearted voice used to grace the Reeperbahn´s "Star Club" during unprecedented soul nights with his Northern English band The V.I.P.s. Their legacy is intact, and their now rare singles fetch astronomical prices: "I Wanna Be Free", "Smokestack Lightning", "Wintertime".
Does Mike miss the ´camaraderie´ of those golden days? "Camaraderie I could say yes to, but we never earned any money in Hamburg. It was sheer undiluted hell, though it was a good training ground."
Mike took VIP-bass Greg Ridley first to psychedelic players Art with Luther Grosvenor and Mike Kellie and then added Gary Wright (keys) for the unforgettable Spooky Tooth. Seven albums between "It´s All About" and "The Mirror" graced the Billboard charts with unfailing regularity, showcasing classic songs like "Better By You - Better Than Me", or "Waiting For The Wind", which appears on the new Hamburg Blues Band album. When the band split for 3 years, Mike recorded a couple of fine if overlooked solo LPs. After the ´73-´75 period and their album "Witness", he left the band again ("Spooky Tooth went downhill after we parted company with Chris Blackwell and Island Records") for another solo work, "Rainbow Rider". A stint with the Chris Stainton Band followed before Harrison dropped out of the scene, still in fine voice but frustrated by a "crooked manager who wasn´t behind me", before during the 90s, a re-grouped Spooky Tooth cut "Cross Purpose" for Ruf : "Kellie, Greg, Luther and myself simply said "let´s do one". The Hamburg Blues Band took note.
Those who have seen the HBB working clubs, halls and festivals know them as a close-knit, hard-hitting, inseparable bunch that operates with a single-mindedness of purpose which is balanced only by their ability to handle energy and dynamics at will. Behind this devastating force, they appear as individuals of the highest caliber - and rock-historical significance:
Hamburg´s renowned blues interpreter, Gert Lange, a pro since 1972, used to work with political combo Panther, Rainer Baumann Band, Inga Rumpf, Jack Bruce and Zoot Money, Gert founded the the HBB in 1982 from the ashes of Mainsqueeze, an R&B/jazz outfit that toured Europe behind the inimitable Bo Diddley, documented by a live LP. Gert´s initial line-up read: Stretch, drums (Roger Chapman´s Shortlist), Dick Heckstall-Smith, saxes (Mayall´s Bluesbreakers, Colosseum), Darryl van Raalte, bass (Eric Burdon), Manne Kraski, guitar (in Hamburg´s Rattles today) and Dave Moore, keyboards (No Dice, DHS, Bo Diddley). Gert is known for his TV jingles (Karlsberg beer), movie buffs remember his voice behind "Burning Life" graced by a German film award (Deutscher Filmpreis). Before HBB covered Fleetwood Mac´s "Oh Well", GL took his band Guitar Army into the disco charts with the classic Peter
Green song. Talk about versatility: Lange starred in "JFK - The Rock Opera", produced by Michael Holm and Panik Orchestra´s Steffi Stephan - as Nikita Chrushev, no less! Gert sings the Duane Eddy-type "King Of Hearts" and a rock´n´rolling "Hittin´ The Spot" here.
British saxophone legend Dick Heckstall-Smith has, for almost 50 years now, been a mainstay of British jazz and R&B. He was a key member of The Graham Bond Organization, John Mayall´s Bluesbreakers and - with his soprano and alto-saxes played simultaneously - became an icon of rock history during his days in Colosseum Mark I, before he founded Mainsqueeze and then the HBB with Gert Lange: "With Gert, I´m now the longest serving member of the Hamburg Blues Band and I am happy to be able to work with the boys so regularly." Dick´s latest solo album "Blues & Beyond" sports heavy friends like Jack Bruce, Pete Brown, John Mayall, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jon Hiseman - in short, the London Blues Band - way too expensive to pose a threat to the Hamburgs.
England may worship Eric Clapton, Germany is proud of Alex Conti, and the HBB were proud to kidnap Alex into their ranks. The guitar pyromaniac toured Europe with 70s blues-funk champions Atlantis and raced up to No. 3 in the US charts with the debut by Lake, his stylistic feat of combining punchy Melodic Metal with har-monies even the Beach Boys admitted they would have killed for. Lake´s stateside standing grew further by touring with Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and it was their pianist Detlef Peterson who wrote the beautiful ballad "Perfect Day" for Mike Harrison here. Perfect single hit. Apart from proverbial solo work, Alex continues his "search for the perfect riff" here.
Mean-looking (check out the cover of HBB´s 1996 album "Real Stuff") yet kind-hearted, hard-hitting yet sensitive, that´s how you could portrait the band´s long-standing drummer Hans Wallbaum. Hans survived adventurous stints with Rock´n´Roll´s rehearsal-free tour monster Chuck Berry. His career started with German progressive blues band Curly Curve, and he also drummed for Krautrock singer-songwriters like Westernhagen and Stoppok. Jim Gaines recorded the rock-solid yet relaxed Hans-grooves beautifully and squeezed numerous percussive stunts out of him to great effect. The engine room is complete with bass player Michael Becker , one of the most respected musicians´ musicians of the Northern German Blues & Rock scene, who gathered experience in numerous club bands and is also a well-worn and solidly booked studio session cat. HBB members live in fear of his frighteningly good looks whenever their respective ladies grace the backstage areas.
The 7th member of the HBB acts behind the ranks, like Keith Reid die
for Procol Harem and Bernie Taupin for Elton John. From 1999, the band
were able to recruit for their song lyrics the legendary Pete Brown,
whose claim to fame is the fantastic body of musical poetry he wrote for
British supergroup Cream, smashes like "White Room" or "Sunshine Of Your
Love". He also wrote "Theme From An Imaginary Western", covered by
Cream´s Jack Bruce and the HBB stage buddies, Colosseum. Put this record
on and you will realize that the man still has many an "Imaginary
Western" in him, like "Make Me Smile", the desperate cry of a haunted
man who feels The Whole world is moving in on him, dragging him down.
After the silent demise of Spooky Tooth, Mike Harrison knew it was too late to stop. He had licked blood, wanted to work stages again, had quite rightfully been told that his voice had remained unforgotten during all those years in the wilderness. The records kept the legacy alive, but Mike wanted to look forward. Spooky reunions in 1973 and 1998 had stalled, but he was still ready and willing to front a working band. And he meant sort of now.
The Hamburg Blues Band are a working band - stable line-up, regular, self-produced and self-distributed albums, full gig sheet, the lot. What they wanted on top was a new challenge. Gert Lange: "Every 2 or 3 years we create a ´special´". Touring with German Blues & Gospel Queen Inga Rumpf as well as Jack Bruce", they sensed that a rock legend in the crew not only added to their reputation, but got the creative juices flowing. Gert Lange had seen Spooky Tooth twice, and: "For me, he was the first white Blues & Soul singer who could keep the promise of his records. All the HBBs have always been fans of Mike. When we heard they recorded a new album for a German label, things started happening fast..."
Enter Thomas Ruf, blues label ambassador with an impressive roster from Luther & Bernard Allison to Rockabilly Cats The Paladins - and the reformed Spooky Tooth. Tom introduced Harrison to the Hamburgs, and the ball was rolling. Almost immediately, the six of them started to jam together, Gert almost forgetting that he is a lead singer in his own right: "I feel free from envy and competition, the business is hard enough as it is." Jams became rehearsals, and soon a V.I.P.s and Spooky block appeared in the Hamburgs´ set. A rousing concert in the city´s "Downtown Blues Club" sealed the bond. Many a Star Club veteran had a tear in his eye when Harrison entered the stage and brought home pearls like the V.I.P.s "I Wanna Be Free" or "Smokestack Lighting" from way back. Mike included them simply "because the boys wanted it so much. You know what the Germans are like!" For him, "that was only yesterday", nostalgia. Mike: "If I have favourites from those days it´s ´Waiting For the Wind´ and , well, ´That Was Only Yesterday´!". Two years of regular shows together showed that the bond held. Ruf watched and listened.
Come 2001, and the contracts were signed. The band was persuaded to hold back their double live album, and for the production of the new Hamburg Blues Band studio album, the first to feature Mike Harrison on lead vocals, none other than Jim Gaines of Santana, Steve Miller Band, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ten Years After, Johnny Winter fame, flew in to produce the boys, fresh from his sessions for Carlos´ "Supernatural" follow-up. Gert: "working with Jim was an absolute highlight. Jim´s quality is working with people - he´s cool, calm, competent. And he´s got the itch to try new things. While with others, you often hear "Doesn´t work", Jim gets really hot. We´ve agreed to record our live album with him - that says it all. Mike confirms this: "Everything has been more professionally done, from the starting of the tracks to the songs, it was more organized. Jim Gaines is fantastic, he gets the best out of people." The result: an astounding album of songs, rooves, stories, emotions and riffs which won´t leave you alone. "Security" sounds like HBB acting out Spooky Tooth, "Movin´ On" is a happy boogie with a catchy multi-harmony hook, while "Perfect Day" is a late night radio ballad that opens hearts - female hearts. Dive in...