Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Interview with a Living Legend by Mark Thomspon

Many of you may not recognize Herert Hardesty by name but I guarantee you that all of you have been listening to his work for years. As a mainstay of the Fats Domino Band for over five decades, Mr. Hardesty's sax solos have graced Domino hit records like "I'm Walkin'", "Let the Four Winds Blow", "Ain't That A Shame", "Blue Monday" and many other hits. At 82 years young, Herb still can captivate an audience with his instrumental prowess.
This interview took place on January 19, 2007, on the high seas during the week-long Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. Mr. Hardesty was appearing as a member of Mitch Wood's Big Easy Boogie Revue, which revisits many many of the classic New Orleans tunes.
Mark Thompson: "Thank you for agreeing to talk with me."
Herb Hardesty: "It's a pleasure being here with you."
MT: "Congratulations on your new grandchild. You're anxious to get back to Las Vegas and see her."
HH: "Yes, it will be an honor tomorrow - be a very wonderful pleasure to see the new baby."
MT: "How did you get started in music ? What inspired you and drove you to learn the saxophone ?"
HH: "What drove me to music is that when I was a small kid living in New Orleans on a street called Claiborne Avenue. They had a park - we called it nuetral ground. During the seasons, bands used to come and play - Louis Armstrong - and they would march through the streets and play. I heard them playing. What happened, my mother had a piano and I used to bang on the piano. And all the time, the neighbors were yelling for her to stop that boy from making all that noise !!
I had a step-father and he was working at one of the hotels. Louis Armstrong gave him a trumpet. He brought the trumpet to me and I started playing it. I would get out there for the parades - I couldn't play but I could hear the notes. The marching band would be playing and saying "Come on, join us - come on and join us." I'd go out there and walk with them for a little while. I could only go a certain distance because then my mother would start hollering for me to come back.
This was the beginning of my career in musc. I started taking private lessons and also in the schools, music school and grammar school. This is what started my career. And I kept up with it until the time I went into the service. When I went into the service, they had trumpet players but they had no saxophone players. So my commanding officier said, Herbert, can you play the saxophone. I said no, but if you get me one, I can learn how to play it. So we went into town and he bought me an alto saxophone. In one week I played it, learned the scales on it and I started playing in the band. I I kept up with both instruments."
MT: " How long were you in the service ?"
HH: " For 4 1/2 years - I was with the Tuskegee Airmen."
MT: "Certainly that group has gotten a lot of recognition lately."
HH: " Oh yes, it was an excellent, excellent group -
the 99th Fighter Squad. They were excellent flyers, excellent technicians. Everybody played a major part in that group."
MT: "What was your role in the group ?"
HH: " I was a technician and also worked in the radar tower, so I had quite a few things that I was doing. All but flying - I didn't fly."
MT: "So you got out of the service and went back to New Orleans ?"
HH: " Yes, I went back to New Orleans and started a career back in music."
MT: "And you started in with Dave Bartholomew ?"
HH: "No, no, no - it was quite some time before I met Dave Bartholomew. I had my own group plus I was in big bands. New Orleans was famous for their big bands like Don Robichaux and Don Redman. That was the style then and working with the big bands was good for me. Then I got my own group, use to call it The Four Dukes. Dave and I got out of the service around the same time. He had his own performing group. We used to come and see each other play. But it was quite awhile before we actually made contact as far as playing with each other. He asked me to come down to the club. He had a big band and I worked with his band. Later in his life and career, he came to be an A&R man for the Imperial Record Company. So he started recording and I was recording with him."
MT: "Around what time was that ?"
HH: " It was in the fifties."
MT: "For those who might not be familiar withthe 50's Dave Bartholomew, are there any tracks that feature your sax playing ?"
HH: " Oh yes - Fats Domino and Lloyd Price - there were a lot of different artists because we were down there recording everybody in New Orleans. And other people were coming into New Orleans - Little Richard would come in and record with us."
MT: "Are there any tracks that feature a Herb Hardesty solo - any that stick out in your mind ?"
HH: " There's a lot of tracks. We did a lot of recording, not just with Bartholomew but other bands, too."
MT: " You've had 55 years with Fats Domino. How did that relationship start ?" HH: " I'll put it to you this way. The time should speak for itself."
MT: " Did you meet in the studio - on a the bandstand somewhere ?"
HH: " I first met Fats in the studio. They told me we were going to record "The Fat Man". During that time, they had a program on radio called "The Fat Man". I said wow - we're going to record the Fat Man, that's super. When we got into the studio, I said Dave, where's the Fat Man ? Dave said he's over there by the piano. I said no, man. The other guys in the studio and I were thinking it was the Fat Man from broadcasting. So that's how I came to meet Fats Domino."
MT: " What was the music scene in New Orleans like during the 1950's ?"
HH: " Wonderful. Very nice."
MT: " Any remembrances of places like the Dew Drop Inn ?"
HH: " We had Dew Drop, the French Quarter, not just one particular place but the Dew Drop Inn was one of the amazing places where all the artists would come in from out-of- town and they would come to the Dew Drop. It was a good place to play. It had nice crowds, good musicians coming in and good vocalists."
MT: "People know you for your work with Fats Domino. What other things have you been doing over the years ?"
HH: " Well, I did things with Tom Waits for awhile. I worked with Count Basie for awhile. I worked with Duke (Ellington) temporarily. I've gone to work with different artists, not just Fats.But Fats was the longest person I ever worked with. And it all has been rewarding. I learned something from each individual artist that I worked with."
MT: "Count Basie is certainly one of my favorites of all time."
HH: " Oh yeah, I enjoyed with Basie' band. Plus I got a chance to work with Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald - all of the top vocalists. We were basically the support band for them...
When we sit down and talk about the history of life - and music - there's no other joyful thing in this world that we could be discussing than music. Music is a wonderful thing of life. And the people who produce it, play it."
MT: " It's been a big part of my life. I like to share it with other people as best I can. And I like to try to get people to get to know artists that are worthy of recognition but people may not have had the opportunity to know who they are."
HH: " That's very nice of you."
MT: "So your commanding officier bought you a sax and you learned how to play it in a week. I've been trying to learn how to play guitar for the last nine months and I can hardly play anything worth listening to."
HH: " It's the individual, it's how much you apply yourself to accomplish something."
MT: " Now you are really making me feel bad !!"
HH: " I'm sorry but when you have the determination within yourself to do something, you can climb the highest mountain in the world. Just like in a profession, you apply yourself to get what you want. So study a little harder !!!"
MT: " Any sax players that inspired you ?"
HH: "Many, many, many sax players. I love the way they play, I love the expression that they have in their music. It's always good to be self-sufficient, to have your own ideas. I love what other sax players do but I never try to play like them. I always want to be myself. And I think that everyone should try to accomplish that - establish your own identity. But I'd like to go back - Coleman Hawkins, James Moody, Sonny Stitt, John Coltrane. I liked all of them - excellent musicians and they had their own true identity, each one of them. And that's very important. It's just like if you were a writer, you'd want to write what was inside of you. Just like you are talking to me now - you are asking me questions based on what's coming
into your mind - and I'm trying to answer them the best I can."
MT: "When you are at home, what kind of music do you listen to ?"
HH: " I love all types of music - classics to jazz, modern jazz, blues. I put myself into all of this. I listen to all music because I love music. I love music from different countries. I can't always understand the lyrics but I love the voices, the music. I love it all !!"
MT: " We talked the other night and the name Charles Brown came up. I know that you have played with thousands of musicians over the years but are there any indivividuals that really stand out in your mind, that were either great human beings or musicans that were a cut above the rest ? "
HH: " It's hard for me to say that I like musician better than this other one. They all had their own true identity, all did what they wanted to do and how they felt about producing their music. So I will not pinpoint one musician or one vocalist. I respect them all, so I will not say I like one better. They all are great."
MT: " You have a new cd out. It's your first cd on your own. Why don't you tell us a bit about it."
HH: " Well, it's a circle. Some it goes back several years ago and up to this time in my life. I did some live things when I was in Europe last year and some of it is old recordings that I had made."
MT: " The things you did last year look like you were in a jazz vein."
HH: " I don't like to be classified as one type of blues player or jazz player. I love it all. And I like to present myself to the public as what I like. If I'm playing the blues, I play blues. And it's all related to a very good streak of creativity."
MT: " There has been a lot of talk about Hurricane Katrina and the situation in Louisiana. Did the hurricane have any impact on you ?"
HH: " Oh yes - very, very bad. The problem is I had for pieces of property down there and I insurance declined on three pieces because I didn't have flood insurance. On the other piece of property, it took insurance so long to pay up - over a year before they'd even settle. And when they settled it, they settled for they thought I should get. There's a lot of people going through that. That's the problem. It's still a disaster down there. I still haven't had things fixed. It's awful."
MT: " Do you think New Orleans will ever get back to anything like it was ?"
HH: "It all depends on what our government does. We can spend money - billions of dollars - over in another country, why can't we spend some of the money to help people back in this country ?"
MT: "I think a lot of people are asking that question."
HH: "And they should be !! All we can do is wait and see, see what our President is going to do."
MT: " Any experiences from your career that really stand out ?"
HH: "Well, about a month ago, I had a chance to talk with ex-President Clinton. It was wonderful - one of the highlights of my life, being able to talk to him. He played the saxophone, you know. We had a picture taken together."
MT: " Where did that happen ?"
HH: "That happened in Las Vegas. And that was a highlight, to shake hands with a President. And he is a wonderful person."
MT: " Did you give him any lessons on playing sax ?"
HH: " No .. we didn't get a chance to play together. But maybe one day we will. If Hillary comes to be President, then I shall play for them."
MT: " So when everything is all said and done, how would you like the world to remember Herb Hardesty ?"
HH: "I'd like the world to remember Herb Hardesty as peace, joyful and happiness. And everybody being able to live together. Countries being able to solve their problems by sitting down at the round table, talking it over. That I would like to see. I'd like to see that I had something to do with bringing this peace around the country. When I first when in the service, we landed in Casablanca. We had nothing - no equipment, no nothing. The Arabians came to our rescue and helped us out. I'll never forget those days.
And I hope that that every nation can live together in peace and enjoy life. This is my desire."
MT: " I know you brought a lot of happiness to a lot people over the years."
HH: " And they brought a lot of happiness to me, too. When you see and hear the happiness and joy in people, then you get a good feeling inside about that
- that's my joy. "
MT: "The other thing I wanted to hear about, this is your first Blues Cruise. What do you think about the cruise ?"
HH: "Well, let me tell you this - when I went to war, I went on a Liberty ship. Twenty-seven days from New York City to Casablanca. Man, I said never again. After the war, came back on another Liberty ship, seventeen days because we weren't ducking mines. That weather was so rough !! And I said never on a ship !! So Mitch Woods called me up to go on this ship. But it's been wonderful. A lot people get seasick but we've been good.
But, man, it must look like I'm pregnant, my stomach. becuase I've been eating so much !! I think I've jumped from a 36" to about a 44 inch."
MT: " I've cut down to two meals a day but that hasn't helped because I just eat bigger meals."
HH: (laughter) "Then, after dinner, it's 9 p.m. and we're eating again. My wife loves ice cream."
MT: "The band with Mitch sounds great."
HH: " Yeah, everybody's a good entertainer, good musicians. And we're happy with what we're doing. Everybody has their own style of playing."
MT: " Any plans for the future - any other projects on the horizon ?"
HH: " I will be doing a thing in New Orleans at the House of Blues on January 27. They are giving Fats Domino an award and I'm going down for that. In February, I'm go to Paris for a week. After that, we'll see what happens after that. Maybe you'll call me up for a gig !!!" (much laughter)
MT: " Over the years, I've heard about all of the great music programs in the New Orleans schools and the nurturing
of the young musicians and I wonder if that is going to be able to continue..."
HH: " I have a very good friend, Dr. John. He is a wonderful entertainer and he has such a good band. No matter where we meet, I can always walk on his stage and work with him. He is a very nice person."
MT: " I don' think I have any other questions left."
HH: " Well, it has been a pleasure talking to you and I hope that we shall meet again in the near future."
MT: " Thank you very much for your time and for giving the opportunity to get to know you better."
For more information about Mr. Hardesty, please check-out his website at:
His new cd -"Just a Little Bit of Everything" - has five tracks of New Orleans R&B with a crack band of musicians. The other six performances were cut live with the Olaf Polziehn Trio. Mr. Hardesty gets the opportunity to display his improvisational skills on songs like "Misty" and "Body & Soul". Please contact Mr. Hardesty through his website to order a copy of this delightful recording.

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