Born in Detroit but raised in Chicago, Mandel fell under the spell of the blues at an early age, and the first time we heard of the young guitarist was as part of Charlie Musselwhite’s South Side Band. Mandel appeared on Musselwhite’s Stand Back! LP, widely considered to be one of the best Chicago blues albums of all time, with Mandel adding his imaginative fretwork behind the frontman’s soulful, frenetic harp playing. Moving to the San Francisco Bay area, Mandel fell in with like-minded artists and was convinced by Blue Cheer producer Abe “Voco” Kesh to record a solo album, resulting in his acclaimed 1968 instrumental debut, Cristo Redentor.
After releasing his second solo effort, 1969’s Righteous, Mandel replaced Henry Vestine as lead guitarist of the legendary blues-rock outfit Canned Heat. The Woodstock Festival was Mandel’s third show with the band, and he’d go on to tour extensively and record three albums with Canned Heat, including the band’s landmark Future Blues LP. Recruited by British blues-rock legend John Mayall, Mandel joined the Bluesbreakers in 1970, appearing on three albums with Mayall, including 1971’s classic Back To The Roots. In between Canned Heat and the Bluesbreakers, Mandel released his third solo album, 1970’s Games Guitars Play, his first recorded with a vocalist.
Leaving Mayall’s band, Mandel returned to his solo career, releasing what his considered his best work, 1971’s Baby Batter, the album a masterful and influential hybrid of blues, jazz, and rock instrumentals that included former Canned Heat/Bluesbreakers bandmate Larry Taylor on bass. Mandel veered towards jazz-rock fusion with 1972’s The Snake album, his fifth, which also featured former Mayall/Zappa violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris, with whom he would form the short-lived band Pure Food and Drug Act, which released a single 1972 album, Choice Cuts. Mandel has continued to record solo through the present day, as well as performing with a reformed Canned Heat through much of the 2000s.
Mandel somehow found time to audition for Mick Taylor’s spot in the Rolling Stones in the mid-1970s; he didn’t get the gig, but he appears on two songs – “Hot Stuff” and “Memory Motel” – from the band’s 1976 album Black and Blue. Through the years, Mandel has also lent his six-string skills to recordings by the Ventures, Graham Bond, Love, and bluesman Jimmy Witherspoon, among others, as well as playing on several albums from his old Chicago running buddy Barry Goldberg and his former Bluesbreakers bandmate “Sugarcane” Harris. Mandel’s innovative two-handed fretboard tapping technique – first used by The Snake in 1973 – would influence a generation of rock guitarists to follow, including Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai.
Each CD in the Snake Box is packaged in its own sleeve with the original album artwork, and the set includes a full-color booklet with new liner notes. Amazon.com has a pre-order page up with the set priced at around $36, which works out to $6 per disc…not a lot of money for a heck of a lot of fine music. Whether you’re a long-time Harvey Mandel fan or a newcomer, this is one set you’re going to want to get behind!
Buy the CD from Amazon.com: Harvey Mandel's Snake Box