Harvey Mandel

Snake Box

Cleopatra Records Inc

So around 1968 I am in a groovy clothes and records boutique up in London, about to buy an orange shirt. I hear a string-laden instrumental coming to a close on the store’s vinyl player, slow and haunting. I later find out it’s a Duke Pearson theme given a swirling orchestral arrangement. The next cut is a bustling organ-driven instrumental with crisp horns and a driving beat, jazzy and fiery and THEN!! This amazing legato guitar appears, sniping and snarling its way through the tune. Before the guitar player even hits the singing sustained note I am crossing the shop to get this record at any price and take it home. The hippy chap behind the counter shows me the sleeve – it’s ‘Cristo Redentor’ by one Harvey Mandel and ‘at any price’ is right as it’s an import and the shirt has to go back on the rack.

But the door is now open for a musical education via this record. Before he puts the disc into its sleeve, the vendor smiles ‘Check the next track..’ and a train starts up before Charlie Musselwhite harp steams in over the scratching damped chords. When I get the album home and hear it in full, plenty more revelations…an orchestral take on the old gospel theme ‘Wade In The Water’ finds the guitar going from rippling arpeggios to an angry wasp fuzztone that careens across the steady rhythm. Then there’s a moody melodic piece called ‘Lights Out’ which captivates me ; some country pieces with sly steel guitar in the weave. This guy is a genius!!

And that’s the first item in this six-disc set by Mandel. The second album ‘Righteous’ has more intriguing strings-and-guitar pieces like the torrid and nimble ‘Jive Samba’ and ‘Summer Sequence’. The third disc ‘Games Guitar Play’ broadens the scope yet again, with side one featuring Russell Dashiel a rather good singer and Mandel bringing the blues quotient up with ‘Leavin’ Trunk’ and ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’, then on the reverse side more instrumentals including the pop-country title tune, a hit for Joe South and here played straight with a few dashes of slide guitar. A stealthy tread through ‘Capurange’ works well, as does a gorgeous reading of Horace Silver’s theme ‘Senor Blues’, at once biting but spring-heeled. This cat really IS a genius!

On to record 4 and this is a popular release ‘Baby Batter’ which takes in ‘Midnight Sun’ – sometimes played during Canned Heat shows – and the funky ‘One Way Street’. It’s the mix of grit and sophistication that makes Harvey Mandel special. He obviously knows about Wes Montgomery and Charlie Byrd but doesn’t just turn up the fuzz and rock those styles, he finds a way of electrifying tunes and making them float. As for technique, I have been more than happy to steal his way of bending a note first, then picking it and bring it back to the tonic. As you may know already or certainly should, the young Eddie Van Halen watched Mandel in his own early years tapping notes on the guitar neck…..speed that up and you have early Van Halen! For the real thing get Harvey’s ‘Feel The Sound’ or ‘Shangrenade’ albums…

Disc 5 is ‘The Snake’ album, by which time Mandel is developed, fluid, masterful and intriguing as he runs through ‘Pegasus’ and the touching ‘Ode To The Owl – his Canned Heat buddy.

NOW….Disc 6 is unreleased stuff – ‘Live At The Matrix’ being four tunes live and including ‘You’ve Got To Feel It’ and ‘She’s A Mojo Worker’……what a feast of a master at work and making it sound easy…

A quick moment I treasure, having lived with this album for a while I find myself at the Royal Albert Hall in London for an album launch – Deep Purple and ‘In Rock’, no less. The other acts are Jim McCarty and Keith Relf’s reflective post-Yardbirds ensemble Renaissance AND Canned Heat…for his solo, Mandel steps forward cool as a cucumber and drops the volume to play a few bars of his gentle theme ‘Lights Out’…I wonder whether he remembers that ? I certainly do.

These records remain varied, colourful and a true education….Mandel can play steady and interesting chordal patterns and fantastic dynamic leads, sometimes using a snarling fuzztone that hovers over the sound of the number. In just one word,folks: exhilarating

Pete Sargeant