What are the odds of an L.A. “low-rider” and a Chicago harmonica hustler meeting in Humble, Texas, I ask you? Isn’t that an oxymoron? “That’s ‘UMble, Texas’,” laughs Gary Primich. “They’ll correct you!”
Still, the “Cactus Moon” club in Humble, Texas will be hoppin’ April 19th when two harmonica giants—John “Juke” Logan and Gary Primich—make a rare appearance together. Logan and Primich met years ago when the Austin-based Primich heard Juke’s “Let’s Buzz” and tracked him down. Logan fondly remembers Gary’s call: “‘Hey…book a flight!’ You know Gary…he doesn’t worry about how…!”
Logan, a Los Angeles native, initially rose to fame as harp player for the Roseanne and Home Improvement television shows. His rich harmonica and keyboard experience includes working in bands with Leon Russell, Dave Alvin, Albert Collins, and many others. His partnership with Ry Cooder on movie soundtracks for Streets of Fire and Crossroads opened doors to steady session work for hundreds of musicians, television, and movie projects. Juke also produces recordings for fellow musicians and is a partner in L.A.’s Mocombo Records.
Primich, originally from the Gary-Chicago area, moved to Texas in 1984 and Austin proved receptive to his traditional blues. Tempered by swing overtones and a fierce dedication to backing his music with touring, Primich has produced seven road-tested albums of original blistering blues, solidifying his reputation as a harmonica master. Despite an occasional turn as sideman for Texas groups like “Omar and the Howlers,” Primich is best known for his own “Gary Primich Band” (with guitarist Jon Moeller, bassist Jeff Turmes, and drummer Jim Starboard), and has developed a dedicated following across the US and Europe.
Juke’s nine years of riffing on the Roseanne television series is a good example of blues love too. “I’m a blues stealth bomber,” he laughed. “I made subliminal blues-drops in living rooms where Joe Public didn’t even know he was a blues fan yet.” Juke loves regular gigs with acoustic blues partner Doug MacLeod, Latin-blues buddies, the “Delgado Brothers,” and “Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men” (when Juke plays they call him “Guilty by Association”). His session work and Mocombo Records keep him busy too, but once a year he says, “I gotta go back to my traditional blues center–Texas.”
Gary, however, is constantly on the move touring the country and traveling to
Europe several times a year to spread his musical word. It’s a long way from hustling quarters on Maxwell Street in Chicago—with John Henry Davis and L.V. Banks, just around the corner from Homesick James and Big Walter Horton (who often sat in, along with people like Floyd Jones, B.B. Odom, and Willie Williams). Now the world is his Maxwell Street, though he might wryly remark that the pay is about the same (ha)! Just back from five weeks (“in a snowbank”) in Scandinavia, Primich plans a third annual “Muddy Waters Tribute” show at the Continental Club in Austin on the 21st of April with another local harper, Ted Roddy. Juke’s on the bill there too, as are amazing talents like Sarah Brown, Mike Buck, Derek O’Brien, Gene Taylor, Jon Moeller, Randy Glines, Earl Poole Ball, and a club full of musicians doing Muddy tunes backed by the best players in the business.
The Juke-Gary combination is powerful. Both prolific songwriters with a wicked sense of humor, their music only cements a fast-growing friendship. Beyond harp skills, Gary plays Chicago-style guitar and Juke is adept at keyboards, so both men trade off on these instruments in addition to cooking up hot harp duets. Juke likens them to a blue-note horn section. “He plays through an amp and I go through the PA, so we have different textures. It’s not a (head) cutting contest, but more like a section. He’s an adventurous thinker with a touch of a jazzy center…the Cannonball Adderly of the harmonica. It has to do with playfulness and melody. He’s not in the ‘Little Walter’ Sweepstakes” (laughter). “He is very simply my favorite harp player—that’s the bottom line.”
I asked Gary if he was excited about the upcoming mini-tour with Juke. “Well, I’m not looking forward to it,” he sighed, “I hate him.” Strangling sounds emerged as he choked on his own laughter. “Juke is a terrific friend. There’s a mutual respect. I mean it’s really great to hang out with somebody I have the utmost respect for on his instrument. Some musicians have attitudes toward other musicians, you know? But I really enjoy his playing…we have a blast.”
Backed by the Primich band, both Gary and Juke will break out at Austin’s Continental Club on April 18th, followed by the Humble gig on the 19th, and then they’ll close with the “Muddy Waters Tribute” at the Continental on the 21st. Earlier that last day, they may also be found playing the “Sinners’ Brunch” at Joe’s Hot Coffee (shop) on South Congress in Austin. There, backed by the shop’s house band—the “Magdalenes”—they’ll scandalize the clientele and eat as many “South Austin Speedball Tamale Plates” (a cup of coffee, a beer, and some tamales) as possible. If they don’t get arrested, Juke’ll soon be back in L.A. producing his third album (a “guitar fest” with guests Rick Holmstrom, Dave Alvin, Denny Freeman, Rick Vito, Will Ray, and David Hidalgo), and Gary, no doubt, will hit the road to promote his April Antone’s release, “Dog House Music”). Get those tamales and that hot blues while you can Texans. You may discover Juke’s claim is correct: “We’re low tech—high grease. The most important piece of equipment we’ve got is soul!”