Harvey Snake Mandel
Happy birthday to you.
March 11, 1945
Harvey Mandel’s participation at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was accidental. Playing at the Fillmore West, Canned Heat’s guitarist Henry Vestine suddenly left the group. Canned Heat asked Mandel to sit in for one half and Mike Bloomfield the other half (not bad replacements!).
Afterwards, the Heat offered Mandel the guitar spot. He accepted and before he knew it he was on his was on his way to Bethel, NY.
Can’t see him a whole lot, but here’s a piece of the Snake from Woodstock.
Harvey Snake Mandel
Harvey Mandel was born in Detroit, raised in Chicago, and in 1966 played on his first album, Charlie Musselwhite‘s Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band.
He moved to San Francisco and began sitting in at the Matrix. His abilities were immediately noticed and in 1968 he released his first album, Christo Redentor, which contained his classic “Wade In the Water” (written by James W. Alexander & Sam Cooke).
Harvey Snake Mandel
Don “Sugarcane” Harris was in the group as well.
As the bio at his site concludes, “Harvey Mandel, “The King Of Sustain”, has been cited as a major influence by many of today’s music superstars. The critics call him “an unsung hero,” “a hugely influential but almost forgotten giant of instrumental rock” and “the best known unknown in pop guitar.” As roots music has gained prominence through the 90’s, purists such as Mandel have had the opportunity to forge a path of musical integrity and expose new audiences to the original Harvey Mandel sound!”
Here’s another, the full, version of “Wade in the Water” that you heard at the top of this entry. It is from Lucille’s Restaurant’ on April 17, 2013.
In December 2015, Rolling Stone magazine released its list of the top 100 guitarists. Mandel’s name was notably absent.
“It’s such B.S.,” he said, adding that “it’s kind of irritating” to see names on the list of players “that really suck.”
“I don’t claim to be No. 1 in the world, but I’m definitely in the top 30 of all time,” Mandel said. “I was doing this stuff before these guys knew what was going on.”
In March 2017, Mandel was a guest on the NPR show World Cafe with David Dye. Give the show a listen.
In 2019 he played in a show of with with the Unauthorized Rolling Stones. The reason for that band? When Mick Taylor quit the Stones, Mandel figured he’d be a good enough replacement. After all, he’d participated on their 1976 Black and Blue LP. Listen to him on “Hot Stuff.”
However, Ronnie Wood, an old friend of the Stones’ Keith Richards, snagged the job and has it still.
Looking back Mandel say, “I got aced by a C-minus guitar player.”
In 2011 he was diagnosed with nose cancer. He needed around 35 surgeries to pull him out of it.
At the time he said: “I could go a year and not play and get up and play good,” he said. “It’s just like being an athlete. But I wouldn’t be in shape. My fingers wouldn’t be as limber. I have to play a little bit every day.”
He added about drug use: “I’m still here. I don’t drink or sniff coke. I have been a weed smoker for 55 years. That’s why I’m still here and in good shape.”
In a 2019 interview, Mandel said “My health is pretty good at the moment,” Mandel said. “I’ve had an eye problem, but nothing major. The cancer is totally in remission” but it did return by 2021.
A July 2022 Facebook post read: Harvey’s MRI …showed improvements, that the cancer is under control, and the infection that nearly killed him, is gone. So today his PICC will be removed from his chest and he can now start nasal reconstruction. Nasal reconstruction is a very complex surgery performed by an otolaryngologist in conjunction with a plastic surgeon. Recovery from nasal reconstruction, involving complex procedures and multiple surgeries, may take several months.
Mandel had to go nearly three years without performing because of his health, but he said it wouldn’t take long to dust off the rust.
From his FB page: In our last Harvey update 8/2102023 I mentioned that Harvey is working on a new song chronicling his nearly fatal health issues and fighting back from the jaws of death on multiple occasions. Harvey’s long-time producer and former bass player Timm Martin, is tracking bass and drums this weekend in a studio in Chicago. The Snake, well known for his virtuoso instrumental tracks is going to have vocals on this song where the lyrics will be reflective of his struggles fighting a disease that has touched almost everyone’s lives in one way or another. Harvey will be finishing the tracks in his home studio and will be the first recording he has done in two years.