Soul Bag mag.
Michael Hawkeye Herman
This CD published in 1998 lets us hear an exclusively acoustic blues concert recorded in 1995. Hawkeye Herman, on guitar and dobro, delivers covers by Blind Willie McTell, Bessie Smith, of course, Robert Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy, as well as 4 original compositions. A convincing performer, he may not be well served by the choice of these covers: one would think that it's ok to play such driven to the ground covers in concert, but to record themâ€¦ Yet he bypasses this handicap by his story telling. He's a songster who knows how to bring in some humor when needed and give life to these classics. Long based in the San Francisco area, he spent time by the side of country blues greats recorded on Arhoolie by Chris Stratchwitz while being a part of the local scene with the likes of guitarist Cool Papa Sadler, Charles Brown (both guest on his first album from 1989) or Jimmy McCracklin. With such an experience, when he covers "Nobody Knows You," "Key To The Highway" and several Robert Johnson's songs, it's not to mimic Eric Clapton. Numbers like "Come On In My Kitchen" and "Sittin' On Top Of The World" are just as welcome here as Mose Allison's "Your Mind Is On Vacation." Finally, a pretty lovable album.
"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
"One of America's finest acoustic guitarists and blues educators." - Cascade Blues Association
"...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
"...plays haunting music on a mournful guitar." - LA Times
"...plays a powerful variety of hard-driving acoustic blues, a crowd pleaser." - Mississippi Valley Blues News
"...a mean, clean guitar picker." - San Francisco Examiner
"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!
Synopsis of Songs
The Great River Road - I composed this fingerpicked boogie instrumental while traveling on Highway 67, in my home area of the upper Mississippi Valley. Highways 61 and 67 run the length of the river from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, and bear the name "The Great River Road." The road hugs the river, and follows the contour of the great valley it has carved over the centuries, revealing lush farmlands, hardwood forests, towering bluffs, and beautiful wetlands alive with nature. The river was the main highway itself in pioneer days.
Your Mind Is On Vacation - Mose Allison is a favorite of mine, and this song expresses thoughts that many share from time to time, but few have the nerve to utter. There's always room for humor in the blues, and Mose's sharp wit can speak volumes in a short phrase.
Statesboro Blues - An original classic by Blind Willie McTell through which, as always, I've tried to acknowledge the original, while attempting to express my own sense of the words and music.
Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out - I learned this song when I was about 14 years old. The song moved me with its extended chord structure and truthful lyrics about human nature. It still speaks to me.
The Great Flood of '93 - I was on tour in the Mississippi River Valley when the flood hit, and saw the devastation first hand, as well as witnessed the selfless coming together of the people in their attempts to overcome the disaster. This song is a tribute to the people most affected by the disaster, and to the resilient spirit of the human race.
Stones In My Passway/Kindhearted Woman Blues - Robert Johnson has so many great lyrical lines of poetry in his songs that I decided to combine these two tunes into a medley of selected lyrics.
Rocket To Chicago - I grew up along the Rock Island Railroad route, in the towns of Rock Island, IL and Davenport, IA. The train was important to the economic base of the area, taking farm implements made in local factories to market, and passenger service that linked us to the rest of the world. The sight of those trains captured my imagination about faraway places, and the low moaning sounds they created lulled me to sleep at night. On this live recorded version, a train blows in the distance just before I begin to play the song, hence my comment: "That's music to my ears."
Lost Mind - One of the many wonderful songs written by the "Poet Laureate of the Blues," Percy Mayfield. The almost jazzy West Coast style is most apparent here, and smooth understatement is what I feel brings out a hint of the possibility that the song is being sung to oneself, rather than to the world.
Sitting On Top Of The World - The story that introduces this classic blue tune was told to me by L.C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson, who was a pillar of the Oakland/San Francisco blues scene when I arrived there in 1968. L.C. is long gone now, but the story still needs telling.
I've Got The World On A String - Some folks might not realize that many of the "classic" blues artists could play more than blues on their instruments, and learned to do so not only for their own enjoyment, but to make an extra buck now and then. Their bluesy approach always was evident, no matter what genre they played. Robert Johnson liked to play popular songs, like Al Jolson numbers; Lonnie Johnson played blues and ballads with big bands like Ellington's; the Chatmon family (Bo Carter, Sam Chatmon, et al., of the Mississippi Sheiks) played popular music for white social functions, as well as their blues. I'm so grateful to be a musician, and this song, even though it is not a 'blues,' expresses my gratitude and love of the choice I made so long ago.
Come On In My Kitchen - The hand-in-glove technique that links slide guitar to the human voice is what appeals to me about this haunting and evocative Robert Johnson song. My guitar is a wooden-bodied 1935 National Trojan, whose sweet, but biting, sound appeals to me a bit more than the sometimes harsher sounding metal-bodied versions of this instrument.
Man Or Mouse - Men have done a pretty good job of messing things up on this planet, so maybe the women should take the reins for the next few thousand years. Trouble is, us men are going to have to get used to it. Make room for humor.
Key To The Highway - Big Bill Broonzy was a consumate guitarist and songwriter, and still one of my major influences. His smooth and prolific artistry and kindly nature are admirable traits to which I aspire.
Hawk's Worried Blues - The first instrument of the blues is the voice. The music comes from the human spirit, and my purpose in stepping out with an a capella song to close the album is to remind folks that, for me, the blues ain't about the guitar, harmonica, sax, etc., it's about the human experience. Lift your voice and sing about it, tell your story, whether or not you have 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. The Great River Road
2. Your Mind Is On Vacation
3. Statesboro Blues
4. Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out
5. The Great Flood of '93
6. Stones In My Passway/Kindhearted Woman Blues
7. Rocket To Chicago
8. Lost Mind
9. Sitting On Top Of The World
10. I've Got The World On A String
11. Come On In My Kitchen
12. Man Or Mouse
13. Key To The Highway
14. Hawk's Worried Blues