Sugarcane Harris

and the Pure Food & Drug Act

Origins of the Pure Food & Drug Act

I met Don at Paul Lagos' house, in the basement where we started jamming. Paul put together the "Sugarcane Harris Band", I believe after touring with Don and Larry in John Mayall's band and recording "USA Union". Don was impossible to work with and John dropped him. Larry quit the band after a couple of gigs, one of which was at the Troubadour Ash Grove on Santa Monica Blvd.

(photo; Sugarcane at the Fresh Air Tavern in 1972)

I met Paul Lagos during the time my brother Art and I were starting a band. Paul was by far the best drummer we tried and from the first bar of whatever we played, we could hear that. Paul died in 2009. He left behind a lot of people who miss him. 

Paul played with Kaleidoscope and recorded with Leo Kotke, did a lot of recording in L.A., played in the Johnny Otis Revue and then went on tour with John Mayall, John Klemmer, did a bunch of gigs in Los Angeles with jazz and blues players. We toured together in the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1972.

(photo: Harvey Mandel, Lagos, Victor Conte, Sugarcane and Randy Resnick)

One of the first gigs we played with Victor was at El Monte Legion Hall, opening for Johnny Otis, with whom Don and Paul played before. In fact, Paul is the drummer on the Monterrey Jazz Festival recordings of Johnny Otis. On that gig, the audience went nuts over Don's playing, singing and his stage antics, such as jumping into the crowd with his violin, creating at the same time a hugely amplified 60 hz hum when the cord snapped out of the violin.

From the first gig on, I saw the magic Don inspired in audiences and I thought he'd be another Jimi Hendrix, albeit not as creative in song writing. I think we could have gone there eventually if not for Don's total self-destructive habits. All I can say is that I never got chills in any other band like the ones I got when Don took off alone in a cadenza or when he and Paul did violin-drums duets. It was tribal, it was primitive and it was real music with all the faults that make us human. Don had a swing to his playing, a groove, a soulfulness that you don't hear anywhere else. No one plays with such gut-wrenching rawness, because musicians are trained to play "better". Little by little, I want to try to comment on the recordings I will post. I hope someone reads this and shares their own memories.

The last time I saw Paul was on a tour for my own CD in about 1995 in France and Switzerland. Ironically, Paul and I played in Geneva in 1974 with a band called the Curtis Brothers. That gig was the inspiration for my song "Woman In White" which was linked to by a nurses' site but in fact the woman in white wasn't a nurse but a powder. Oh, the irony of the Internetz...

Paul taught me about Miles and Coltrane and Joseph Schillinger, about Joe Henderson and Thelonius Monk. We were kids, Victor Conte and I, and we lived in his basement with his flea-infested Great Dane, "Gretta", and we were privileged to meet the likes of the brilliant saxophonist Richard Aplanaugh and Don 'Sugarcane' Harris - who, with Dewey Terry, wrote "I'm Leaving it All Up to You", one of the most played songs on the radio for years. Paul was a GIANT, I'll miss him.

Paul, I didn't get to tell you that I loved you man, and now I can't even find out how to contact the woman you lived with to tell her how much your life and advice meant to me. Maybe someone will read it here.

We shared a short period of music nearly 40 years ago, I feel "we hardly knew ye". Thanks for Trane, Miles, Bird, Monk and yes, the blues I feel tonight in learning of your passing.