Legendary guitar virtuoso Harvey Mandel, aka “The Snake,” truly one of the most distinctive and innovative musicians, continues to perform throughout the world, captivating audiences with his inventive style of electric guitar playing.
A pioneer of modern electric blues from Chicago, Harvey Mandel developed and mastered sustained and controlled feedback, displaying both extroversion and musical virtuosity. He has performed with many blues legends including Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Albert King, and Buddy Guy.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1945 and raised in Chicago, Harvey had a brief stint playing bongos before switching to guitar. He used little Fender amps at first, using different tricks, and eventually used an all-tube, low quality Bogan PA amplifier. It had the greatest natural sustain, according to Mandel. Mandel became the original guitarist with Charlie Musselwhite, releasing the debut album Stand Back! in 1966. Effortless sustain, multi–string bends, a slightly distorted tone always bordering on feedback and herky-jerky stuttering phrases balanced with long, melodic line—radical ideas the blues world had never seen tied into such a neat, well-executed package. And what made Harvey’s unique vision all the more remarkable was that he not only progressed at a faster rate than his peers but accelerated past the guitar technology available at the time. “I never tried to copy,” Harvey explains. “I learned from the blues players I was jamming with, as far as the technique and the notes, but I always had my own sound in my head. I mean, I heard the guitar the way you hear it today, and even the sound when Hendrix first came out, long before I could ever even dream of playing that stuff. I knew where guitar was going 20 years before it got there. I knew that eventually guitar technique would equal horn players and keyboard players: it was just a matter of training.” As a result of heavy airplay in San Francisco, they were invited to play the Fillmore by the late great Bill Graham.
Harvey Mandel relocated to the Bay Area, performing often at a club called The Matrix, where local favorites like Jerry Garcia and Elvin Bishop would sit in and jam. He then met up with renowned producer Abe ‘Voco’ Kesh, releasing his first solo album for Phillips/Mercury Records titled, Cristo Redentor in 1968, which included his extra-terrestrial version of “Wade in the Water,” still a classic to this day. Then the news arrived that Harvey Mandel had replaced Henry Vestine as lead guitarist of the legendary Californian R & B band Canned Heat, and it was clear that his talents had been noticed by more than just a few musicians. Harvey was in their dressing room at the Fillmore on the night that Henry Vestine quit the band. They asked guitarist Mike Bloomfield to join them for the first set, and Harvey to join them for the second set. Harvey’s third gig with the band was the Woodstock Festival in 1969! Harvey remained with Canned Heat for over a year in their heyday with slide guitarist/vocalist Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, and singer Bob “The Bear” Hite. Harvey’s nickname, “The Snake,” given to him years before by keyboardist Barry Goldberg in Chicago (attributed to his cracked leather jacket and snake-like guitar licks), fit perfectly in the Canned Heat line-up. After several tours and 3 albums, including Future Blues, he was recruited by British blues man John Mayall to be a member of the Bluesbreakers, recording the adventurous album, titled USA Union. The band featured Mandel with Canned Heat bass player Larry “The Mole” Taylor, and legendary violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris. Mandel also appeared on another significant Mayall album, Back To The Roots, on which Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor also guested. He left thereafter in 1972 and teamed up with Sugarcane Harris, forming the band Pure Food and Drug Act. Other PFDA members included Randy Resnick on guitar, Victor Conte on bass, and Paul Lagos on drums. They released 1 album on Epic Records titled, Choice Cuts. He resumed his solo career, releasing several more albums for Janus Records in the 1970’s including the classics, Baby Batter, The Snake, and Shangrenade, the ground-breaking record where Harvey employed 2-handed fretboard tapping. Mandel was one of the first rock guitarists to utilize this technique, years before Eddie Van Halen and Stanley Jordan came along.
One of Mandel’s most significant session credits was his participation on Black and Blue, the 1976 LP from The Rolling Stones. His unique style is evident on the song “Hot Stuff.” When Mick Taylor left the Stones at the end of 1974, Jagger & Co. auditioned for a replacement by cutting tracks with various guitarists, among them Mandel and the man who eventually got the job, Ronnie Wood. Harvey Mandel became an immortal legend because of his role as a “heavy friend” in rock’s stratosphere!
Following his success with the Stones, he became a busy session player, with groups such as Love and The Ventures, and opened for Jeff Beck on his Canadian tour as a power trio with Jimmy Haslip, bassist for the Yellowjackets. He relocated to Chicago in the late 70’s and continued to tour extensively as well as supporting groups such as Roxy Music. In 1980, Harvey Mandel relocated to Florida as a member of the house band at Ron Wood’s Miami night club, “Woody’s,” with Rolling Stones saxman Bobby Keys.
1996 performances included BB King’s Blues Club in Universal City, California, with Howard Wales on keyboards, Greg Errico on drums, Squid on bass, and the crowd-pleasing Lori Davidson on vocals. Keyboardist Barry Goldberg joined them for a few songs in the second set. Harvey Mandel returned to the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco on January 26, 1996 on a bill with Rock & Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Jorma Kaukonen of The Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. On May 16, 1996, The Harvey Mandel Band with special guest Howard Wales rocked The Fillmore with ‘Best of the British Blues’ featuring Eric Burdon, Alvin Lee, and Aynsley Dunbar on drums. On July 4th in San Francisco, The Electric Snake Band along with new vocalist Sonny Reece, fired up the Wharf at Pier 45 as part of the San Francisco Chronicle’s annual Independence Day concert. The line-up featured vocalist-songwriter Sonny Reece from Las Vegas, Artis Joyce AKA “AJ” on bass guitar from Stockton, California, and Bennie Murray on drums. AJ has played with Charlie Musselwhite, Johnny Heartsman, Mick Fleetwood, and Ron Thompson. New to the Bay Area is session drummer Bennie Murray who had been managing a top soundstage in LA for the past ten years before moving up north. Recording credits include the Black Rock Coalition album with guitarist Vernon Reid. Bennie is originally from the East Coast. Sonny Reece co-wrote songs with Harvey for the album, Planetary Warrior which have both vocals and instrumentals. The album features ‘The Electric Snake Band’ with special guests, keyboard heavies Howard Wales and Barry Goldberg, slide guitarist Steve Kimock, Squid Vicious on additional bass guitar, and Annie Stocking on background vocals. Coast Recorders in San Francisco played host for all of the basic tracking and overdubs during the summer and fall of ’96 with Grammy award winning engineer Steve Savage, of Robert Cray fame. Savage also mixed the record at Different Fur Recording in San Francisco during late fall. In January 1997, the ‘Snake Crew’ went to Hollywood for mastering with the legendary Bernie Grundman of Bernie Grundman Mastering. Planetary Warrior is distributed by WEA (Warner Elektra Atlantic) in the United States. The release date for Planetary Warrior was September 16, 1997. The newest member of the live band features Diz Dismore on bass guitar from the Bay Area, a funk-groove-jazz talent with performing credits including Leo Nocentelli from the original Meters.
Also in 1997, Harvey’s song “Wall Banger” from Planetary Warrior was featured on Don Johnson’s Nash Bridges TV show.
Harvey Mandel and Rene Defourneaux, share in the ownership of the production company and record label called Electric Snake Productions (ESP) based in Colorado, along with some long time friends and associates. The jazz-oriented all-instrumental project titled Emerald Triangle was the first project completed at the ESP digital studio. Ultimate Smooth Guitar! Cover art was created by visionary David Lundquist of Eagle Eye Studios in Oregon who created the cover art for Snakes & Stripes. Recently, David has been making bronze fire-breathing dragon sculptures as well as album cover art and designs for The Grateful Dead, and countless others. A new partnership with Parker Guitars has Harvey sporting two of their light weight specials, jet black and mahogany red. These unique guitars have become part of the Snake’s staple diet, while keeping him on the cutting edge. Other Parker endorsements come from jazz legend Pat Martino, as well as Red Hot Chili Pepper, Dave Navarro.
Since 1996 Harvey has recorded at his digital “Electric Snake Studio” in SF a variety of released solo CD’s 8 to be exact. Using a variety of different softwares and high speed computers. Exploring everything digital, these cds were also mastered by Harvey Mandel.
Harvey has also tracked and put the final touches on dozens of projects for other artists as well a Harvey Mandel digital loops library for SONY/Sonic Foundry.
Parker Guitars have been an integral ingredient in these projects and currently Parker and Harvey Mandel have released ”The Snake” signature guitar.
Harvey Mandel, “The King Of Sustain”, has been cited as a major influence by many of today’s music superstars. The critics call him “an unsung hero,” “a hugely influential but almost forgotten giant of instrumental rock” and “the best known unknown in pop guitar.” As roots music has gained prominence through the 90’s, purists such as Mandel have had the opportunity to forge a path of musical integrity and expose new audiences to the original Harvey Mandel sound!
Harvey Mandel is powered by Parker Guitars, Dean Markley Strings, Di Marzio Pick-Ups, and Levy’s Leathers.