HARVEY JAMES: An Industry remembers
March 2011. By Greg Phillips
Everyone remembers Harvey James as lead guitarist with iconic Australian band Sherbet. The girls loved Harvey for his looks and charm. The guys respected his Stratocaster skills. Sadly, Harvey passed away at the age of 58 in January this year succumbing to a battle with lung cancer. James first came to our attention as a member of Mississippi with Beeb Birtles and Graham Goble (of LRB fame). He then went on to play with Ariel before joining local supergroup Sherbet, replacing founding member Clive Shakespeare. His first recording was their biggest hit ‘Howzat’. After Sherbet disbanded, Harvey found regular work in the musical instrument industry as a representative of many companies including Fender, Maton, Australis, Lamberti Bros and CMC Music. It’s from the musical instrument industry perspective that Australian Musician would like to pay tribute to Harvey James.
Harvey’s connection with the instrument industry began as a teenager. AMI’s Con Gallin, who played in a band with a seventeen year old James, claims to have assisted him in obtaining his first industry job. “His first band was the James B Lee group,” said Con. “That was the band I joined. The band was just starting up. I was working at a music store and I sold them all their gear, which is how I met them. We played a bit and wrote some original material. Harvey was more ambitious than the rest of the band. The thing about Harvey was that he had a good ear. We used to do songs by King Crimson, Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck etc. The band was very progressive, in fact a bit too ambitious for our ability. His first guitar was a Melody Maker with two single coil pickups, a double cutaway through a Marshall amp … two quad boxes through a hundred watt head. But the sound was very thin. I then sold him an SG and actually helped get him his first job at Brashs in Elizabeth street.”
David Hines, owner of Shire Music in Miranda spent quite a bit of time traveling with Harvey as employees of Australis Music and fondly remembers one occasion staying with James at his house in Ferntree Gully. “We were sitting out on the back deck having a beer and playing guitar and he told me that it was in a very similar situation, and on that very same balcony, that he and Dragon’s Robert Taylor came up with the opening riff to “April Sun in Cuba”. I always thought that was a pretty cool thing to be able to lay claim to. I also remember being with Harvey on a trip to the Peavey factory in Mississippi and him taking the stage at a local bar and grill to jam with the house band. I recall they were very impressed!”
Of course where Harvey really made his mark on the MI industry was when he joined Fender in 1985. He made his name as a Fender player, so it seemed right that if he was going to work anywhere in the industry, then Fender would be the natural choice. James spent eight years with the company. The only reason he left was to raise a family in Melbourne. Managing Director of Fender Margaret O’Loughlin spoke lovingly of Harvey at his funeral. “He gained respect among his peers for having an uncanny streetwise vision of sales, how products should look and sound and the ability to tell a good joke,” Margaret told the gathering at the service. About his playing she added,”He possessed another enviable gift of being able to obtain a great tone and sound of anything put in his hands. His free guitar style gave him individuality hard to achieve for any guitar player. He was respected by his peers.”
The Resource Corporation’s Tony Burn recalls the times playing keyboards in Harvey’s band Little Riff a few years ago.
“The unusual thing about that band was that the song list was the sort that only musicians would appreciate. People really loved the way he played and he was great with the numerous people that would come up in the interval. My overriding memory is that he would often save the hardest songs till the end of the night when he was most “relaxed”. Many a time we would launch into Jeff Beck’s “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” and I would worry that the song that required the most sensitivity, was being attempted with the most amount of dutch courage,” said Burn. ” But every time he produced a performance that made your chin hit the floor. It was a privilege on both a musical and a personal level.”
Another company where Harvey made an indelible impression was at Maton guitars, where he also worked for eight years. “Harvey would love to sit around and talk about the Sherbet days, but he never traded off the reputation,” said Maton owner Linda Kitchen. “He was proud that after Sherbet, he had a regular job.” Anthony Knowles from Maton was also touched by James’ humour, humility and professionalism. ” His routine would be … he’d arrive, go outside for a smoke, come back in for a coffee, tell a joke and then on with the business. He’d take all day to the joke mind you! But at meetings he was really measured. He’d be the last one to speak, but it would be something worthwhile … always.”
Industry stalwart Dave Bray, now with Zenith Music recalls meeting up with Harvey many times on the road “Harvey worked with Dave at Lamberti Bros for two years. Bray remembers Harvey as having an amazing ability to read the market. He’d take a bunch of Cort guitars around the country and had total success getting them into stores. People would do anything for Harvey because he was such a nice guy.”
Harvey’s last foray into the instrument industry was with CMC Music. Carole Johnstone, Managing Director of the company (and Sherbet fan from school days) remembers Harvey as, “a person who had a passion for the industry. He came to CMC at the invitation of long time friend George Heathcote,” she recalls. Harvey and George’s friendship was forged back in the 70s when Sherbet was supported by Heathcote’s band Chalice, who had immigrated from the UK. Chalice was also a Countdown era band. Sadly George also passed away in 2010, an event which effected James deeply.
It was while Harvey was repping for CMC Music that I last spoke with him. In issue 5 of Australian Musician, we ran a special issue for International Guitar Month. The cover feature was a profile of our top 30 guitarists, as written and selected by another great Aussie guitarist, Geoff Wright. In the feature Geoff included Harvey James. I remember Harvey coming out to my house to pick up some gear we’d finished road testing. He told me how proud he was to be included in that list back in 1996 and was extremely thankful that Geoff had included him. I got the impression that being in a pop band like Sherbet, he never really got the kudos for his playing that he deserved, and finally someone had recognised that in print.
The measure of anyone’s life is how they are remembered once they’re gone. For Harvey James, the above recollections say so much.
Sherbet -era photo by Bob King