February 2006/vol. 31/number 02
Michael "Hawkeye" Herman
"It's All Blues To Me"
Here's one of those sensational albums that proves that even the most hidebound, constrictive traditions can find fully meaningful and authentic expressions without copying the founding fathers in style and substance. Hawkeye Herman, veteran bluesman out of Ashland, Oregon, has turned a dozen jumpin' rhythm 'n' blooz classics into something new and sinister: they're quite. This is an unplugged album, sure, but Hawkeye's messin' wit' ya. He sings coolly, low, often at a whisper ... the kind of whisper Clint Eastwood uses when he has to explain something to the bad guys. The acoustic guitar is well played, not assaulted and the rest of the backing musicians keep things toned down, creating an atmosphere of subversion, collusion and bad fun. What flat out makes this record though, is the reduction of percussion to just washboard, with the odd thump on a countertop or splash of a tiny cymbal. Washboard Chaz is Herman's ace and he's a wonder. Forget the hillbilly racket normally associated with the washboard. Chaz makes it rattle like a snake, skip like a schoolgirl, tick like a clock, or vibrate like the motor on grandma's washing machine. Chaz finds the mood for every tune, even when Herman ranges out to the far edges of the blues. There's a withering "Sixteen Tons" that reopens a song that had been "closed" for 50 years. Herman's redo of "Moondance" casts it as a roadhouse pickup instead of a supper club come-on. He finds the thread between Santana's "Evil Ways" and the oldie "You're No Good" so taught, it's a wonder they haven't always been done as a medley. Herman's got two originals that are solidly in the tradition, the melancholy "I Used To Ride That Train" and the naughty "Give Me A Grandma Every Time." Great record!
Spring 2006, vol. 50, #1
Michael "Hawkeye" Herman
"Everyday Living" (Topaz 0110)
"It's All Blues To Me" (Topaz 0300)
All around blues man Michael "Hawkeye" Herman was born in jazzer Bix Biederbecke's Davenport, Iowa, hometown but relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1968. There he began refining his blues guitar skills at the feet of then still-active local luminaries like Brownie McGhee, L.C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson and K.C. Douglas. Soon he was playing back-up guitar in bands led by still other local r&b legends (Charles Brown, Little Joe Blue and Jimmy McCracklin) as well as performing solo coffeehouse and small club gigs. Brown, with another By Area veteran, "Cool Papa" Sadler, guest on two tracks each on "Everyday Living."
Now based in Ashland, Oregon, Herman is as well known for his role as a music educator (he has been conducting "Blues In The Schools" workshops and programs since 1980) festival promoter, guitar teacher and composer for theater (in 2004 he took "El Paso Blue" all the way to New York's 42nd St/Theatre Row.) as for his considerable performing talents. Those are fully displayed on his recent, aptly titled "It's All Blues To Me" project, with 15 songs collected from three live performances - two of which emanate from Davenport. Standouts include unique, extended versions of both Percy Mayfield's "Baby Please" and Tony Joe White's signifying "Poke Salad Annie," a washboard enlivened revival of Fats Domino's "My Girl Josephine" and a pair of solid originals - in particular the harmonica emblazoned "I Used To Ride That Train." He also covers material by Slim Harpo, Hank Williams, Merle Travis ("Sixteen Tons"), Bobby Troup ("Route 66"), and Bob Dylan's haunting "Blind Willie McTell." Among others. Throughout, Herman's relaxed, expressly soulful vocals and vigorous guitar work impress.
If you're fond of John Hammond or Arlo Guthrie, you'll enjoy Hawkeye's blues vision as well.
- by GvonT
"It's All Blues To Me" contains a variety of Hawkeye's acoustic blues-based music with top-notch back-up musicians. The title of the CD says it all. Hawkeye performs songs from other genres, but they all come out blues when filtered through his warm and dynamic vocal and guitar style. Of special note, the two infectious good time jump blues original songs, "I Used To Ride That Train" (track #3), and Hawkeye's tribute to older women, "Give Me A Grandma Every Time" (track #5). The classic song, "St. James Infirmary" and humorous recitation of "Signifyin' Monkey" illustrate Hawkeye's dynamic range and control, as well as his humor and dramatic flair.
"...an uncanny grasp of so many different Blues styles."
- Holler, Colorado Blues Society
"Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, and Muddy Waters were giants of the genre he grew up listening to and who live on through the evocative, haunting acoustic slide-guitar style he plays." - The Reporter, San Diego, CA
"One of America's finest acoustic guitarists and blues educators." - Cascade Blues Association
"...plays haunting music on a mournful guitar." - LA Times
"...plays a powerful variety of hard-driving acoustic blues, a crowd pleaser."
- Miss. Valley Blues News
"...a mean, clean guitar picker." - San Francisco Examiner
"Herman plays with a sensitive, reflective touch that continually draws attention to his vocals, which are effectively understated and free of affectation... Herman can rock with the best of them. A solid choice for fans of traditional acoustic blues." - Living Blues Magazine
"The only thing better than hearing this live album is seeing Hawkeye Herman in the flesh. Whether adding his own spin to blues classics or offering his own songs, Herman is a one-man history of blues, noteworthy guitar player and inimitable communicator. Miss him at your peril."
- Blues Access
"Each song is presented with a heartfelt depth rarely witnessed these days amongst all the amplifiers and studio embellishments... Throughout "Blues Alive!," Herman proves to be a seasoned storyteller above all, as well as an accomplished guitarist." - Blues Revue Magazine
"Playing both fingerpick and slide guitar, Herman's licks are clean, yet spare..., his vocals are direct and straightforward, but full of emotion... he has immersed himself in the sound and feeling and has emerged as one of the most widely respected acoustic blues musicians around... Blues Alive! ain't electric, doesn't have drums and such, wasn't produced in a high-tech studio, but it's about as real as the blues gets." - Sing Out!
ve a "good" voice, and you'll feel a whole lot better.
With over 40 years of performing experience, Michael "Hawkeye" Herman exemplifies the range of possibilities in acoustic blues, and personifies versatile musicianship, originality, and compelling artistry as a blues storyteller. His dynamic performances have won him a faithful following, and he leads a very active touring schedule of performances at festivals, concerts, school programs, and workshops. Hawkeye performs a wide variety of traditional blues, ballads, swing, and original tunes, on six-string and twelve-string guitar, and is an adept and exciting practitioner of slide guitar and slide mandolin. His music has been included in video documentaries and in three hit theatrical productions, and his solo CD, Blues Alive!, released in 1998, was greeted by rave reviews and greatly increased the demand for his live performances at major blues and folk festivals. His newest CD, It's All Blues To Me!, was released in May of 2005.
Hawkeye was born in Davenport, IA, on January 11th, 1945. As a teenager, he discovered a broad variety of blues music in late night radio broadcasts from Memphis, Shreveport, Dallas, New Orleans, Little Rock, Chicago, Detroit, and other points beyond the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities, in the upper Mississippi River Valley area where he was growing up. Hawkeye got his first guitar in 1959, at the age of fourteen, and was performing two years later. Seeking to broaden his musical horizons, he relocated in the San Francisco Bay area in 1968. He sought out, and learned at the feet of many icons of the blues, including: Son House, Brownie McGhee, Bukka White, Mance Lipscomb, Furry Lewis, Lightin' Hopkins, John Jackson, K.C. Douglas, and Sam Chatmon. He became a staple in the Bay Area blues scene as both a solo artist and a back-up guitarist and worked with Charles Brown, Haskell "Cool Papa" Sadler, Sonny Rhodes, Jimmy McCracklin, Buddy Ace, Charles Houf, Little Joe Blue, Boogie Jake, and many others.
Hawkeye began touring outside of California in 1984, and has performed at blues and folk festivals, and in concert, across the US/Canada and Europe. His dynamic performances have won him a faithful following and he leads a very active touring schedule. Hawkeye performs a wide variety of traditional blues, ballads, swing, and original tunes, on six-string and twelve-string guitar, and is an adept and exciting practitioner of slide guitar and slide mandolin. His 1989 album, Everyday Living, featuring Charles Brown and Cool Papa, received much critical acclaim. His song, The Great Flood of &lsquo93, has been used on the sound-tracks of two video documentaries on that Midwest disaster, and has been included in a compact disc anthology of singer/songwriters produced by the New York based music magazine, Fast Folk.
As a music educator, Hawkeye has taken his love of blues music to students of all ages, from pre-school to university campuses through his enthusiastically received "Blues in the Schools" programs, which he initiated in 1980. He has taught guitar for over 25 years, and has presented blues and slide guitar instructional workshops at major folk and blues festivals as a part of his frequent concert touring schedule. In May of 1998, Hawkeye received the "Keeping the Blues Alive" Award for achievement in education from the Blues Foundation in Memphis. The award was the result of many years of blues educational programs he has done for students of all ages. He began this effort long before most blues support organizations and blues festivals even existed. Hawkeye has helped to initiate in-school educational programs for many blues societies and has single-handedly introduced blues music workshops to major festivals. He is the co-founder of the Rogue Valley Blues Festival in his home area of Southern Oregon.
Hawkeye was the composer/musical director/musician for the hit play El Paso Blue, which has had successful runs in San Franciso, Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, Portland, at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Philadelphia, where he was awarded the prestigious Barrymore Theater Award for Best Original Music in a play for the '99/'00 season, and at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, the largest theater complex in the US. In 2004, Hawkeye performed off Broadway in the New York City production of El Paso Blue. He collaborated with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan on the music for the 2002 West Coast premiere of Schenkkan&rsquos play, Handler, also produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Hawkeye served for six years on the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation in Memphis, and was chairperson of the Foundation's education committee. He has contributed blues historical articles and personal memoirs to many national and regional blues magazines, as well as contributed to the recent book/CD anthology, Up the Mississippi/A Journey Of The Blues, published by the Mississippi Valley Blues Society in 2003.
Hawkeye has provided musical soundtracks for a number of video productions, most recently, Tying Bob Quigley's Signature Flies / Volume One (Pegasus Productions).
Hawkeye served for six years on the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation in Memphis, and was chairperson of the Foundation's education committee. He maintains an active touring schedule performing in concert and at blues festivals throughout the US/Canada/Europe, and his original articles about blues history appear in numerous national and regional blues magazines and newsletters.
In November of 2004, Hawkeye was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame in Des Moines, IA.
In September of 2005, Hawkeye composed "Katrina, Oh Katrina (Hurricane Blues)", detailing the hurricane disaster on the Gulf Coast, at the request of the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). The song was aired to over 7 million listeners on BBC Radio news' "Today" program.
This musician has definitely carved out a spot for himself in the contemporary acoustic blues/folk field, and has earned a reputation as one of the most accomplished artists in the genre. Michael "Hawkeye" Herman has been called "The Midwest's Blues Ambassador," and audiences throughout the US/Canada/Europe have come to know and appreciate Hawkeye's talent, dedication, and captivating performances.
Check out the artist's website:
1. My Girl (Josephine)
2. Baby, Scratch My Back
3. I Used To Ride That Train
4. Sixteen Tons
5. Give Me A Grandma Every Time
7. Evil Ways/You're No Good
8. Baby Please
9. St. James Infirmary
10. Signifyin' Monkey
11. Blind Willie McTell
12. Brain Cloudy Blues
13. Mind Your Own Business
14. Route 66
15. Poke Salad Annie