Interview of Harry Manx by Monica Yasher

Posted on 2/17/2010 by Monica Yasher

(PIttsburgh, PA) I know I said I would share interviews with Canadians Sue Foley and Shawn Kellerman in support of the Olympics in Canada. And, they are still coming! But I just remembered I forgot about Harry! Harry Manx! Let’s talk to Harry today, since he combines different cultures into one sound. And, that truly embraces the Olympics, joining cultures for one goal.

I had the opportunity to meet up with Harry Manx at the Pittsburgh Calliope Series. I just discovered Harry and I was excited to see him perform. I would listen to him on his myspace page and was totally intrigued.

I have heard from so many blues artists say that they were trying to be innovative and new. Harry truly delivers this. He combines the blues with Indian music. It has a unique sound that is absolutely beautiful. I can see why people talk about the “Harry Zone“. Harry has a really cool version of Springsteen’s ‘Fire‘. I started the conversation asking him about his connection of Springsteen and that song.

Monica: I saw you met Bruce Springsteen on one of your webpages. I love the version of ‘Fire’ that you do.

Harry: I played a tribute concert for Springsteen in New York.

M; That’s a beautiful version. Is that on your set list tonight?

H: Thanks a lot. Yeah. I’ll play that song. After I played he came back stage and he said to me, “I feel like a learned something new watching you play that tune“. I said, “Great“. We went out after that. There was bar and we had some drinks and we talked like we are talking now. I was never a Springsteen fan until that moment, and found out that this guy is cool! I didn’t know his music at all until then. I was out of the loop.

M: I guess that’s good because it made it your own. You weren’t influenced by the cover. That’s way cool. You are a songwriter?

H: I am. I was songwriter of the year last year in Canada.

M: Were you?

H: I only started writing songs about ten years ago. I’ve written about 100 songs and they are out there on itunes.

M: Wow! You have your own recording studio?

H: I work with other people, but I have my own label. I put out my own records. It’s very important in these times to maximize your profit in the record sector. I used to give all that profit to a record company. Now I take it home and give it to my wife. (He laughed)

M: That was a question that I had for you. With all of your travel to Europe, India, Japan, and…wow… how do you incorporate family life?

H: She is pretty understanding. I mean, you know, since I met her I was always doing this. So going away and coming back, I guess I found the right person that could deal with that. It’s not always easy. You try to make the best of it. Everybody makes sacrifices in their life and that is one that I make.

M: That’s a sacrifice.

H: It is in a way, to be apart all of the time. You never know for sure if that’s what’s keeping you together or the breaks. Everybody comes back to themselves. Feels more comfortable alone sometimes.

M: It’s important to find yourself. You have to know you in a relationship. I did want to talk with you about, give me a chance here to get this right, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt. How did I do?

H: Bott. Very good. No R there.

M: What made you want to study with him? It seems you heard his CD and thought I want to do this?

H: Yeah.

M: Was it like that?

H: I had been living in India about seven years. Every four or five months I used to go to Japan, do some shows to make money, and then come back to India. It was on one of those trips that I heard the music coming out of a shop. It sorta like sitar but it’s like slide. I was playing sitar and I was playing slide at the same time and that sounded like somebody doing both at once. So I went in and got the record from the fellow, and I realized he was in India.

When I came back to India, I looked for him and I tracked him down. Within a few weeks, I moved to his town and stayed there for five years with him. That was a good time. I went to his house every morning at 8 o clock and stayed ‘til 1 just practicing all of those years. It was quite challenging to do that, but I enjoyed it so much. I didn’t care if I was ever going to use it or if it meant anything to anyone else. It was exactly what I liked doing at that time.

M: The reason I’m speaking of this is we just talked about relationships a bit. I read that he wasn’t your teacher, but your master and how you gave your all to him, which for me, would be a difficult thing to do. My question is when you took that on how does that carry through to your life?

H: Yes, I think the idea of let’s call it surrendering to your master, is that if you hold yourself back you’re not going to be able to get everything he has to offer. If you protect yourself, you will never enjoy all of his energy, everything he wants to pour into you. If you make yourself available to him and become his disciple then he takes the responsibility for you, for your career, your music. It’s a great responsibility on his shoulders that he has to make you play well. That’s the lineage. That’s the history of that master discovery relationship. So when I meet him, of course, I touch his feet and I touch my head. He does the same thing to his mother who is his teacher. Everybody got….it’s almost like surrendering to something greater than your self. You see. I am not surrendering to his ego. L He is not a perfect man. He’s not enlightened. I am surrendering to that whole history of master disciple learning. That’s what I’m saying yes to.

Maureen: Is that like namaste?

H: It’s a little different when you touch their feet. It’s really that you say, I surrender to who you are or who you represent. Perhaps you are the gate I am walking through or hoping to walk through. So Nemaste is beautiful.. It came naturally to me. One day I said Yeah. Here I am And, he understood.

M: He was receptive to teaching? It wasn’t anything he had to think about? He just said yes?

H: No, he saw my intention was clear and strong and he just said yes be here. From that moment there was nothing more to say.

M: One of the traditions of the blues is that you pass along to newer; younger artists and it’s like a family. I find it interesting that we would like to think this is an American thing, the culture of keeping the blues alive. And, here you just discussed this whole other culture that obviously been going on forever in their culture. They didn’t take it from America. We don’t lay claim to that.

H: It’s historically been going on in India for a long long time. There’s never any exchange…when I think of a teacher they get paid or are gaining something. He doesn’t have to be an inspiration to you necessarily. He may just show you how to hold your fingers properly. He may be someone you don’t want to emulate at all. But the master is different in India. You can have your spiritual master as well. The same thing to surrender to if you want to experience something fully. You can think of it as a love situation between a man and woman. If you hold back, it won’t be as great as if you jump in head first totally. Deep into it. You get more out of it.

M: Now what about you as the teacher? Do you think you would do that?

H: No I’ve been a student of sorts my whole life. I’m not sure I’m the teacher at any point. I’ve never really been a teacher. My thing is just to deliver the music. That’s what I’m most comfortable at. I could teach somebody. I have a son and I teach him. Otherwise, I wouldn’t deprive someone of finding their own way. That’s how I look at it. People write to me all the time to teach them. I just tell them to find their own way. I found mine. You’ll be good. And, there is the other idea that those that can, play. Those that can’t, teach. (lol) That’s a bit harsh. But there’s something about that. If my career wasn’t going good like a lot of musicians, their teaching career may be brilliant.

M: It is hard to teach. It is.

H: Maybe they are more naturally suited to it. I’m not sure I am.

M: You sound like a patient man. I think you would be good at it.

H: If I did it I’d make sure I was good at it. I don’t know. It’s not my calling yet.

M: You love to perform and I have to tell you that your music is beautiful. What are you thinking when you are performing?

H: In fact, I try not to think too much. It’s kind of a no mind process for me when I play that has to do with if I can get into it. Really get into it at that moment. If I can really be present, then the only thing that exists for me is that music. I forget all about the ground and where I am and everything else. I go deep into it. That’s what some people call the Harry Zone. I’m not really thinking about much or coming from any place. At that moment the music is happening. I try to be there and totally present. I find if I am, the people will also drop down to some very present space. They are a bit stunned sometimes if I really go into it. After I finish there will be a little gap and they will come back.

M: You sense it.

H: I can see they go somewhere else to a space. That’s sort of my intention. Just to bring them deeper into the music. The Indians have something to say about that. They have their own music philosophy. They say here in the west we go in a linear fashion. We play A,B,C,D. Indians play A, a deeper A, a deeper A, deep deep, until they exhausted that and then they will contemplate B. This is their way of saying they play and give it everything. There is no gibberish. There is no rock and roll. Look at me look at me look at me look at me look at ME. There’s none of that. There’s just this note and then that note.

M: Savor take a breath and savor.

H: There’s a message. Go deep into it. That’s how I play my blues. I’m not a fast player. I just won the award and I have won it six times. I am really surprised at that. There are guys who have dedicated their entire life for that. I know some of them and hey are wonderful players.

M: But you are too! So why not?

H: I didn’t refuse it! I said Thank you.

M: Johnny Winter launched your blues. How did he do that?

H: When I was thirteen I used to go to the record store looking for records. I have never actually bought one. My older brother bought all the pop records. I saw that album cover with that shiny guitar on the front and I said, “Wow, that looks amazing. Let’s get this album.” That was my introduction to the blues. I took it home, and I thought what kind of music is this? This is beautiful.

M: You thought is was beautiful playing?

H: Yeah . It really clicked for me and later I learned to find that this was blues. Blues is very interesting.

M: Acoustically you have gotten an award and obviously acoustically helped guide your way. Who inspires you today?

H: I recognize other players but I’m not sure I’m inspired. I don’t move in their direction at all. I recognize great players. Kelly Joe Phelps, Derek Trucks, phenomenal slide player. of course I’m a big fan of Ry Cooder and David Lindley. Songwriting..I’m still a huge fan of Jackson Brown and James Taylor. Muddy Waters.

M: What about Gordon Lightfoot?

H: I got invited to a party at his place. I went there and he shook my hand and said to me, “ I love your version of my song, Bend In the Water”, which I put on a record. He said it was the nicest thing on the whole damn album. Bands covered his songs and he wasn’t fond of everything that was covered. He liked what I did. It was surprising because I made it into a Raaga. When I gave it to the record company they refused it at first. They said no. We don’t like it and we don’t think Gordon will like it. And, when I shook his hand he told me it was his favorite track…He’s a wonderful guy. He is definitely an inspiration to me and he’s a great player.

M: That had to be one of your great moments of the great moments of your life.

H: Meeting him was wonderful.

M: You left very young to go to Europe.

H: I left to go there when I was nineteen.

M: You weren’t scared?

H: No I left my home the first time at age thirteen and I stayed away three months or so. I ran away. And finally I felt like I wasn’t going to make it in the world so I came back and left again at fourteen and by fifteen I was gone for good. So I had already been working with bands professionally and I was going to Europe.

M: So you didn’t have family support in your musical journey?

H: My mother was a waitress and my father was a bar tender and they had five kids. If one went missing they weren’t really worried about it.

M: That can’t be true/

H: It’s true. One less mouth to feed.

M: I can’t imagine that.

H: When I look back now it makes sense because I wanted to go. So it made sense they didn’t say that they wanted me to go to a university; we want you to fulfill our dreams for us. They didn’t go there. It was good they didn’t. Now my mother comes to my shows.

M: That’s great! I’m so happy to hear that! That’s great! I’m sure that helped make you who you are musically.

H: Yes that’s right. When you are put in the position of having to take care of yourself, you rise to the occasion or you suffer. I prefer the rise to the occasion part. The street scene… I started in Paris on the street and I was in Europe a long time…Germany, England. It was a great scene actually. It’s not like desolate. The street music scene is fantastic. I made as much money as a bank manager. I made a great living and you get to practice. You direct sales to your audience. I did that in Japan for many years. A drum on my back in those days. It was a money machine I tell you.

M: Wow. Here I am feeling sorry for you. This guy led such a tough life. And here it was great! You are inspirational.

H: No not at all. It was a great life. I never felt I was a victim of anything. It was all good.

M: Do you think it was a quest?

H: If I had any one goal. My quest would be enlightenment. If I could get a little closer to that, that’s a good quest. That’s a good reason to move forward. Getting well known in the music business, at this point in my life, is not an ambition that I had. This is all icing on the cake. It’s all good. It’s all good. I never thought I would own a house or drive a BMW. I have been showered. My program was to go for the adventure and not the comfort. That’s pretty much been my mandate.

M: When did you have your aha moment that you got it? After all of that teaching, when did you know that you nailed it?

H: I came to Canada in 2000. I went to something called a Folk Alliance, which happened in Vancouver that year. I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me. But a girl I met told me there was one place I could play at 2:30 in the morning, in a hotel room at the far end of the hall, ‘cause somebody’s mother passed on and the space was free. I said I’d take it. The room started empty, and then it started filling up and filling up. And, then, by the time it was finished it was crowded. And I got a great response. Then this guy walked up to me and said I have a record company and I want to talk to you. It was that moment that I thought I might have a chance here. I might be a contender. In was in that moment that I got a glimpse that something might work. I really thought my lot was playing on the street. I made that first record, “Dog my Cat” and it sold 50,000 copies. It got us a roof over our heads, from that first record.

M: Anything you want to tell me that I didn’t ask you?

H: I do a CD every year. This one will be on the Indian side. I like to put a sense of humor in my music. All my titles are three words.

M: You’re a lyricist.

H: I’m not lazy about my words. I work a lot on my words. I try to put something in there that’s of value to the listener.

M: Do the words come first?

H: They come separately. I write words. I write songs. Then I find the right words to the right song. I can’t write words with a guitar in my hand.

M: Do you write every day?

H: Pretty much. Some days are stronger than others and I’ll write a lot. I don’t write Dylanesc types of songs. I try to be concise with something that is going to inspire people. That’s where I try to go.

M: Thank you and may your travels allow you to go far.

H: You’re welcome.

If you enjoyed reading this interview, you may enjoy reading this acoustic artist, Chris Smither.

Copyright © 2010 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2010 Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved.

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

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