Hart Mcnee was a very interesting local musical figure. He died a couple of years ago but while alive he left quite a mark on all of us, friends, family or musical comrades. He was from Chicago originally but he had moved at a fairly young age to San Francisco. Initially he was staying with his friend, the iconic guitarist Mike Bloomfield (an early hero of this site's author.) Hart played all over the San Francisco blues scene primarily on baritone sax but especially known was his stint with Boz Scaggs. He was also with Albert Collins, Otis Rush who he recorded with and others. He had come from Chicago and knew many key bluesmen. He was even driving Magic Sam home for a while. His prime instrument for his own expression was flute and he will be remembered by all of us New Orleans friends as hugging that singularly marked bass flute.
Hart was a close friend and I wish that I had gotten to interview him but this may be even better. Here another really close friend, the film-maker, actor, and screenwriter Henry Griffin got a really vibrant interview with Hart not long before he died. This interview was conducted May 8, 2006.
I'll never forget hearing his flute sound coming out of Cafe Istanbul on Frenchmen St early in the 90's. A lot filtering through the doorways that particular summer was unremarkable but here was this very vocal, very driven, bluesy but un-cliched, large flute sound drifting onto the streets. I could feel instantly that his phrases were bold and exploratory but immediately honest at the most human level and, peeking in the door, I just hoped that I would get a chance to play with this guy. I was lucky and we fell in big from interest in blues and the same sorts of jazz musicians. I was real amazed to find that he knew Bloomfield and others and I think he thought it was cool that anyone knew about that stuff. over the years I got to play with him in many of my own projects and many others. What fun! And I was proud of the fact that he liked my guitar playing because he openly detested most guitarists work.
Hart was a good deal older than a lot of us playing with him at that time and there was a lot about our wilder drives and things that we weren't aware of that he helped us to understand. His honesty about where he was at and where he had been at helped clarify a lot of things. At the same time, he wasn't what would be called mellow. His drives and personality were loaded with obsession, vibrancy, unquestioning compulsive pushes towards everything that he may have found that he had an urge for. But mainly, he had a drive for beauty and I think it made his death a lot simpler than it could have been.
All of this and much more comes out in this honest but humor filled interview. I'll leave it in one part. If you are interested in life, hang in until the end...
- almost buying a gun twice; adventures in the army after attempting to dodge the draft, his sharpshooting abilities compared to Lee Harvey Oswald and the resulting suspicions; working with missiles and phobias entering into the picture; beginnings in music; getting a radio and being appalled by what the music of the day seemed to be; suddenly becoming aware of blues on the left hand side of the dial and wanting to be those artists; starting on tenor sax; how he got to be a professional musician; advice on how to get better in music; drugs and coming away from heroin addiction and drinking; cancer diagnosis and what's involved; whether phobias pass after being diagnosed with terminal disease; how he chose songs for his recordings; interest in Orixa songs, voodoo and involvements in ceremonies; the impact on his playing; the question of the healing power of music; his views of what happens after death; belief in the soul and the soul as a verb; what he would have done if he could've done it all over again; what would be the heaven of Hart's dreams.
Special thanks to Kate Mcnee and Henry Griffin for permission to post this one.