Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Doug Deming backs up harmonica greats in 'Blues Heritage Series'

For being a guitar player, Doug Deming is a heck of a fan of blues harmonica.
“I just like the harmonica style in general,” said Deming, 41, a Detroit native who was raised in Warren and now lives in Florida. “I studied the masters and being as into harmonica as much as I am, without being a harmonica player, is somewhat of a rarity. I like the rhythmic textures the band plays behind the harmonica. There’s a stylistic difference between being a band that backs up a harmonica as opposed to a band backing up other instruments.”
Deming has worked with many top harp players, including Kim Wilson, the late Gary Primich, Lazy Lester and Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones.
“It’s understanding the dynamics of support, rather than needing to be on top of the mix all the time,” Deming said. “Sometimes, it’s the subtlety that’s attractive.”
Deming and his band, the Jewel Tones, will back up three outstanding harp players as the Detroit Blues Society, in conjunction with the Scarab Club, presents “The Harmonica Blues” from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday (April 9) at the Scarab Club, 217 Farnsworth in Detroit ( The afternoon of harp blues will feature Dave Morris from the Jewel Tones, Garfield Angove and Harmonica Shah. Other members of the Detroit-version of the Jewel Tones are bassist Bob Conner and drummer Julian Van Slyke.
Morris is perhaps best known for his work with the Ann Arbor-based group Big Dave and the Ultrasonics, which broke up in the late ‘90s. He’s performed with Deming and the Jewel Tones for years.
“I’ve played with guys from one end of the country to the other, the so-called latest and greatest, and Dave’s talent matches just about anybody,” Deming said. “His talent, if he chose to do so, could take him around the world.”
Deming describes Angove as a “Detroit treasure.” The veteran performer toured with the Sam Lay Blues Band in the ‘60s and has performed with Lucille Spann, Koko Taylor, Johnny Young, Mighty Joe Young, Lucky Peterson and Luther Allison.
He helped start the Detroit Blues Band, has kept the Garfield Blues Band going for decades (as well as fronting Kenny Parker’s blues band), and currently fronts the Millionaires, one of Detroit premier jump/swing bands. He won the Detroit Blues Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.
“He’s a harmonica player, a wonderful singer, and a historian that’s well respected in the Detroit community for his knowledge and experience,” Deming said.
A California native, Harmonica Shah was raised in Texas and moved to the Motor City in 1967. Over the years, Shah has played alongside Bobo Jenkins, Eddie Kirkland, The Butler Twins and Willie D. Warren. He has toured across the United States, as well as in Europe, Russia, Japan and Australia. He won the DBS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.
“It’s going to be great (at the Scarab Club),” Deming said. “They’re all very good and all very different. That’s why I picked them, specifically. They come from completely different backgrounds and styles. People will really see a lot of variety. They’ll all do their thing, it will be completely different, yet will be a quality performance by all three guys.”
The Scarab Club has hosted the Blues Heritage Series for years.
“There’s always a theme,” Deming said, “a guitar player theme, a Delta blues theme, or a piano and boogie-woogie theme.  We’ve done harmonica-themed events there over the years, too, and I generally get the call to do that because of my association with so many harmonica players.”
Deming moved to Florida with his wife Claudia about a year ago.
“I always did well, music wise, in Florida and the economy was definitely a factor,” he said. “I was looking for greener pastures and better weather. I’m an outside kind of guy, and here I can be outside a lot more.”
Deming, who has his captain’s license, is a self-described “crazed fisherman” and he often fishes for pompano, cobia and other species.
There was another factor involved in the Demings’ decision to move south.
“Our place in Michigan was right off Lake St. Clair, but Burger King bought the property next to us and that was a catalyst for the move, the noise and the smell,” he said. “The drive-through window was 75 feet from our bedroom window.”
It took the better part of a year for him to find Florida musicians who meshed with his musical style. “It was a chore,” he said. “But, I’m done now and it’s going very well.”
SCARY MOMENT: Deming walked away from a rollover accident in Florida Tuesday with only a few scratches.
“I was driving from the West Coast, where I live, to the East Coast in a horrendous rainstorm,” Deming said. “There was new blacktop that had been laid the day before and when it got wet it was like ice. My van started hydroplaning, I went into the ditch and it rolled a couple of times.”
The accident smashed the vehicle’s windows and Deming, who was wearing his seat belt, crawled out the rear window after the accident.
“It was awful. I’m very lucky I wasn’t really hurt. I’ve never had that happen before. It makes you stop and think how quickly things can change for you.”
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