All you've got to do to get the blues is show up at Hal & Mal's on May 13. Zac Harmon's coming home to Jackson to perform the music he grew up with on Farish Street.
What's your earliest musical memory?
Wow. My earliest musical memory would have to be playing the violin at eight years old. You know how teachers would bring instruments into the classroom to see what you had an aptitude for. That was at Christ the King Catholic School.
What are your musical roots?
We always had music around the house. My sister played and sang; my next-door neighbor was a music teacher, so instruments were in her house. I was always tinkering with instruments.
Describe your relationship with the blues.
When I was growing up, I was around it a lot. We knew it as the music we listened to and played. The blues was like air to us. It's fully ingrained in my DNA. It never made any difference what type of music I played—the blues was in me. I really always wanted to be a recording artist. When I came to L.A., I didn't even know what a producer was. I came to be a recording artist, but my first break came as a session player. I sounded fine but a little different. I feel that difference comes from being from the South, from playing the blues. I still wanted to be a recording artist. All the record company executives, when I got them to listen to me, they all said we really like you better as a writer and producer than as an artist. I had success; I wrote a couple of hits. Twelve years later, when music started to change and rap came in, what I was doing was not really in demand any more. I'd been successful so it wasn't a shock to the system. I said let's go back to what I've always wanted to do, give it a shot, make my blues recording. I didn't care if no one listened to it or bought it. I was doing it for me. I did it for me.
What was the reaction to "Live at Babe & Ricky's Inn," that first album?
People liked it. It took off. I made a live recording because everybody in mainstream music knew me as a studio player and a music producer. I decided to do a live recording; I took a machine into a club. The difference between live and studio is live is mistakes and all. In the studio, you can sweeten it up. I knew, for people to take me seriously, I had to do it live. They would be saying, oh, he's a producer and he knows how to manipulate it, so I did it live to show what I'd sound like live.
After that, things just started coming. (Harmon and his band Mid South Blues Revue won the 2004 Blues Foundation's Blues Challenge as the best unsigned blues band award.) I've played major blues festivals, toured the world. All of a sudden, something I'd done to satisfy myself turned into something that looked like it could take off. I did another record, released in 2005, "The Blues According to Zacariah." That record did really well. I was voted Best New Blues Artist by XM Radio in 2005. … Now I'm going to be in Memphis on May 11 for The Blues Foundation's awards show. I'm nominated for Best New Debut Artist; we're featured performers on the show. As a result, the band and I get the opportunity to come to Jackson and play at Hal & Mal's on May 13.
What can the audience in Jackson expect from your show?
It's gonna be high energy from the word go. When the time comes to go home, everybody's gonna get a good night's rest because they're gonna be tired. We'll be juke jointing; it's gonna be on. Others write about my live shows that artists don't want to come on behind me. It's that Jackson thing, I tell them. I was trained to do it. You know Eddie Cotton? I taught Eddie; he's a branch off the tree. We all come from the same tradition. That's a Jackson thing. I learned from Jesse Robinson and Sam Myers. I tell people all the time, I'm always talking about Jackson even though I haven't lived there in 25 years. I tell writers all over the world that I come from Jackson, that high energy is Jackson. This is what I come from. I'm a branch from the root myself. Where I come from, this is the way we do it. You draw your audience in.
What's your favorite kind of audience?
I like an interactive audience of folks. This is really your normal blues audience in America. An American blues fan is someone that works hard. They come to have a good time, and they make no bones about it. I make them a part of the show.
Zac Harmon and the Mid South Blues Revue take the stage at 9 p.m. May 13 at Hal & Mal's. Tickets are $10.