Harmonica Shaw Band’s blues life

Nov 13, 2002 at 12:00 am

Things are chugging along pretty well these days for the Harmonica Shaw Band. They’re working on a new, as yet untitled, CD due to be released early next year by the Toronto label Electro-Fi Records. The label features such blues-dues-paid-in-full names as Snooky Pryor and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Shaw and the band’s co-leader/guitarist, Howard Glazer, are off to Japan on Nov. 10 for a weeklong tour. It’s a tour that has been in the works ever since the band’s debut, Deep Detroit (released on the now-struggling label Blue Track), was nominated as the No. 1 blues album of the year in Japan by Blues Alive magazine in 2000.

But let’s share some of those goofy stories from the lives of road musicians. To begin with, the Japanese tour almost didn’t happen. Then Blues Alive owner Ed “Ed Man” Stouffer called Glazer saying he wanted to bring the band to Japan. The guitarist was sitting on the couch drinking coffee.

“Is this Mr. Howard Glazer?” Stouffer asked.

“Nobody calls me Mr. Howard Glazer,” Glazer explains later. “I thought it was a bill collector.”

Hence, Glazer’s response was typical for a musician: “He’s not here.”

“Well, when he gets in, tell him this is Ed Stouffer from …”

“Wait a minute! This is Howard Glazer!”

So the tour is on.

Further evidence that the blues is a way of life:

It was a Sunday morning in May. The Harmonica Shaw Band was on a 25-day tour out west. The band had just finished a two-day stint in Gillette, Wyo. Both gigs had gone fine, and it was time to round up the crew and head down to the next tour stop in Salt Lake City. The drive was likely to take at least 10 hours.

There was, however, a bit of a problem. The drummer had vanished. Just like that. He’d left a message at the hotel front desk saying he was driving to his home in Boulder, Colo. He wasn’t digging the scene, so he split; this after just two days of touring.

Worse, Glazer had just received a call from his wife. Turns out his mother’s health had gotten worse, thus necessitating a respirator. (After a lengthy battle with illness, Glazer’s mother passed away last month.) Not that there is ever a good time to hear that your drummer has abandoned the band and tour without warning, but this was one of the worst times Glazer could have received the news of his mother.

The drummer — a former Detroit-area musician who had worked with the band on a number of occasions — had no prior history of tantrums, though he had recently been divorced from his wife.

With no idea of a replacement trapsman, the band packed up and hit the road for Salt Lake City. En route, the band stopped for food in a diner. There they met a friendly waitress. They explained how they were looking for a drummer.

“Oh! My boyfriend’s a drummer! He’s the best drummer in town!” she exclaimed.

She tells them he works at Pizza Hut.

Sure enough, there the little drummer boyfriend was, hard at work. Glazer approached him, told him the situation, then showed him the band’s full itinerary, which included dates throughout the West. The tour would require an immediate leave of absence from said Pizza Hut gig. The kid’s eyes bugged out of his head.

“Oh, man. My mother would never let me do this,” he said.

So much for salvation at a Pizza Hut. Onward to Salt Lake City.

Hours later, after having safely arrived at their destination, and more panicked than ever, the band notified the manager of The Dead Goat. They told him they needed a drummer for their scheduled Monday night appearance. The manager rounded up an amp repairman named John Barlow, a drummer from a local music store. He jammed with Harmonica Shaw Monday night at the Goat and then Tuesday at a club in Ogden called Beatniks. Impressed with his solid performance, the band asked if he could join them for the rest of the tour. Barlow couldn’t make it away on such short notice. The band understood. But the question was: What was going to happen for the rest of the tour?

That’s when the Beatniks club manager stepped in. He told them he’d find them a drummer. Recalls Glazer, “I thought, ‘Yeah, sure,’ but I gave him the number anyway.”

Sure enough, the following morning the phone rings and it’s the Beatniks manager. He found a drummer, a local guy, Pierre Mennefield. And he wasn’t just a good drummer; he was a great drummer.

“He just fit in like a glove,” said Glazer.

Matter of fact, Mennefield fit in so well that he flew up from San Diego in early November to join the band for a gig in Cambridge, Ontario.

San Diego??? But wasn’t he from …? Well, as it turns out, Mennefield just got divorced from his wife and …

The Harmonica Shaw Band is currently on tour in Japan.

Keith A Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]