Zac Harmon recalls how he had to work in “popular” music to make a living as he tried to carve out a career as a bluesman.
The guitarist made his money as a session player when he moved from his hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, to Los Angeles – but would play the blues for free once his working day was done.
Harmon tells American Blues Scene: “I just got door after door closed in my face, but one thing that they all said was, ‘You know, you’re good, though. We really like you,’ and what they liked more than anything was my feel as a musician because I was coming from the root.
“So even though they closed the door in my face, different people would always ask, ‘Hey, can you play on my record? Can you do this session for me?’ And because I didn’t know anything about the business, I didn’t know how to charge for it. So I ended up charging them very little money because I didn’t know my worth. But it worked in my favour because it just got me more work because I was good and cheap.”
He continues: “I never left the blues. I found this club in LA called Dave And Ricky’s Inn. For everybody who had gone to LA playing blues, that was the spot. I would do recording sessions, and at the end of the night I was always going down to Dave And Ricky’s Inn, and that’s where I would sit in. That was my home, my connection with the blues.”
His trips to the club caught the attention of his peers, who wondered why he would ever play for free.
Harmon adds: “That kept me grounded, but I wasn’t making money. I was only making money playing other forms of music. One of the running jokes was with my production partner. We were doing a very important session, and I was rushing.
“He said, ‘You’re making $500 an hour here, and you’re rushing to go down there for free?’ And I said to him, ‘Well, that’s what I do for free. For this stuff, you guys gotta pay me, but for the blues, that’s my heart. That’s what I’m doing for me.’ And so that’s what kept me connected to the blues.”