Rocky’s harmonica playing delights the 60s-era audience
■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor
The Diamond Valley Arts Center on Harvard Street was a magnet for blues aficionados Saturday night as Rocky Zharp and the Blues Crackers entertained a room full of music lovers from the 60s who got hooked on Canned Heat, Joe Cocker, and Muddy Waters.
Those of us who have heard Rocky play acoustic solo gigs around town at The Soboba Country Club, Destination Coffee shop and other restaurants in the valley have no idea of the depth and breadth of this blues artist with the fuzzy gray beard and self-deprecating sense of humor.
Rocky is good – really good. If you haven’t heard his crackerjack harmonica playing when he gets warmed up, you have missed a real treat. The years have taken a toll on all of us, and heaven forbid I should try to get up and sing in front of a captive audience projecting my once sonorous bass voice out onto an unsuspecting crowd. But I haven’t been practicing the way Rocky does.
You have to hand it to the man; he works hard at maintaining the skills he developed as a young man and professional musician. It’s amusing to compare Rocky today with his almost ZZ Top-like gray beard to the picture of himself on his business card – short dark hair, sunglasses, and a harmonica to his lips. This was one handsome dude who loved to play music and was confident in his abilities.
The Blues Crackers is an interesting group comprised of Rocky on guitar and harmonica who sings most of the vocals, Mike Romaine on drums, Jerry Cox on five-string bass guitar, and Dan Kennedy on lead guitar. The name Crackers was a bit puzzling to me until I looked it up and learned the deep roots of the word “cracker” in English and American history. Apparently the word dates back to Middle English when the word “crack” meant “entertaining conversation.”
We have all used the expression “to crack a joke.” In Elizabethan times, “crackers” was a term for braggarts. In the U.S. it has another root, and that is Georgia crackers, the early pioneers in the province – then state – of Georgia who would drive their cattle south into Florida in the winter time using bullwhips that would make a “cracking” sound. Their descendants became known as crackers, and their raw southern style of music became known as cracker blues. Undoubtedly one of the most notable Georgia crackers was Doyle Lawson, a traditional bluegrass and southern gospel musician who was known for his mandolin piece, Georgia Cracker. Other groups have used the term, including the Cracker Band, which has published a number of albums.
So Rocky Zharp and the Blues Crackers are the real deal for anyone with a taste for electric blues and blues harmonica the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson and 60s-era blues bands that later influenced rock groups like The Rolling Stones. Catch them live on a regular basis at the Diamond Valley Arts Center, 123 N. Harvard St. in Hemet, 951-652-3822, email@example.com. Check listings in the Calendar section of The Valley Chronicle for upcoming dates, and listen to cuts of Rocky’s music on cdbaby.com at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/zharp99.