Of all the great musical acts "Shakey" Joe Harless has booked for his Year 2000 June Bug Blues Festival, there's one he's especially proud to have landed.
Henry 'Mojo' Thompson.
"A couple of years ago I was at a club in the Valley when a very tall, thin and distinguished gentleman sat down beside me and said, 'So, you're the Shaker man!' said Harless, a Payson music store owner and festival promoter. "Then he offered to buy me a beer, one of my favorite gestures."
During their conversation, Thompson told Harless that he'd someday like to perform at the June Bug Blues Festival.
"When we parted I had a real admiration for this guy," Harless said.
The two men did not meet again until five months ago.
"I was backstage at the Phoenix Blues Festival when I saw Henry again," Harless said. "This time, he was in a wheelchair. Both of his legs had been amputated due to diabetes. As he rolled up to me, he had a giant smile on his face. He shook my hand and said, 'Either you're getting a lot taller, or I'm getting shorter, Shakey!'"
And then Thompson excused himself. Three months after losing both of his legs, he was going on stage to perform.
"I stood there in total awe of this man's spirit," Harless said. "I didn't see the wheelchair. I saw the hands of a master bass player pull rare beauty from this instrument. I heard a voice pure and full of life, but I did not see a handicapped person. I saw one of the finest Blues and R&B artist I've ever met."
Harless said he was reminded of his own father, Junior Joseph Harless, who lost his leg in World War II due to so much imbedded shrapnel that his "X-rays looked like the night sky.
But he never quit, either," Harless said. "Never missed a day's work. I never heard him say the words, 'I can't.'
"One time, when I was young, I asked him if he was a cripple. He said, 'Hell no!'
"'Then, what are you?' I asked. His answer was, 'I'm a guy who got hurt real bad once.'
"As I stood there watching Henry perform, all those memories came flooding back.
"Music is supposed to move you," Harless said. "A song should tell a story, and people you look up to should get your respect.
"For me, Henry 'Mojo' Thompson fills all those criteria."
June Bug Blues stage schedule
The June Bug Blues Festival will be held from noon to 10 p.m. June 10 at the new Payson Multi-Event Center. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children under 12. The performance lineup is as follows:
Noon to 1 p.m. White Mountain Boogie Band
1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Blue Z
2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Kat Crosby Band
3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Steve White and the Barstool Pigeons
4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Conrads
5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Henry Mojo Thompson
6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Peter Madcat Ruth
7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Hans Olson
8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Mississippi Heat
When the sun goes down, headliner Mississippi Heat will set the stage on fire. Vocalist Katherine Davis mixes gospel, jazz and blues into a sound that's like honey for the soul. Truly a blues tour de force, the band features Kenny Smith the son of Muddy Waters' drummer Willie "Big Eye" Smith on drums, Barrelhouse Chuck on keyboards, Chris Winters on lead guitar, Michael Thomas on rhythm guitar and Greg McDaniel on bass. And bandleader Pierre Lacocque one of the world's top harp players puts more feeling into 12 bars than anybody else on earth. Guaranteed to be a great way to fill up the big empty.
For more information, call 472-7393.