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Harpo Hangs with Spinal Tap

When he realized I was at Eleven to cover that evening’s show, Mark “Harpo” Delguidice’s face lit up. Although the Myspace for Harpco, his “folk/rock/blues/Americana” band, waxes wise-ass (“We vowed to forge ahead to become one of the least-known dive bands around”), some chagrin colors his admission, “Harpco’s played around Adams Avenue for six or seven years without a single line of press. I’ve always said, ‘Who do you have to sleep with in this town to get a write-up?’”

Originally from Chicago, Harpo moved from San Francisco to San Diego with his wife, Sue (a founder of the Dinettes who’s played in bands such as Slackjaw, Private Sector, and Shelf Life), in 1999. He’s excited that Sue joined Harpco in January.

“She’s jammed at some of our gigs. We asked her to reconsider [joining] when we played for her birthday in January. The crowd loved the new sound so much, she had to join.”

Harpco performs at Eleven on Friday, April 1.

How did you get the name “Harpo”?

“As a kid, I lived behind the Kingston Mines blues club in Chicago. I’d sneak in and bug the old players — in those days, bars weren’t so tight. I was fascinated with the blues. I got to learn from Big Walter Horton. He didn’t like me calling myself ‘Lil Johnny Winter’ (I had long blond hair) because I played harp, not guitar, then. So he started callin’ me ‘Lil Harpo.’ I dropped the ‘lil’ when I got older.”

You’re about to celebrate “the big 5-0.”

“I’m easing into my wiser years, it seems. It is harder to stay out till two a.m. I enjoy telling stories to the youngsters: ‘Yep, saw Zeppelin in ’76…hanging with Spinal Tap…seeing Black Flag’s first tour.’ I worked backstage a long time.”

Hanging with Spinal Tap?

“I worked at the Cabaret Metro Chicago: stage technician, monitor mix, house sound, and backstage security. Hung with everyone from Grandmaster Flash to the Replacements, Concrete Blonde, and Ministry.

“I guarded the dressing room for Spinal Tap. Michael McKean got a big kick out of the fact that I’d never heard of them. He asked me, ‘What are all those people doing, trying to get in the green room?’ I said, ‘I dunno. This band is supposed to be some kind of joke or something.’ Michael said, ‘Well, close the door and come meet everybody.’ It was fun watching Harry put on the mustache and horn helmet. I had no idea what was with that.”

What’s the local scene been like for you?

“San Diego has amazed me; I’ve never had this much fun. It’s the only place I was ever encouraged to do a band by other musicians. Joey Harris really inspired me in the first place, dragging me onstage two weeks after I moved here…I couldn’t have done it without them. I’d given up on playing live or finding a band. We kinda look out for each other here. The only thing missing is a real blues bar, Chicago style.”

Favorite local music memories?

“Watching the Crawdaddys at a wedding, sitting with Country Dick Montana. He had me steal a bottle of vintage champagne off the bride’s table. We drank it and had a blast as he regaled me with Crawdaddys history, and they kicked ass. Marc Cohn at Humphrey’s, three or four years ago. I had tears on my face the whole show; it was so moving. The Heartbreakers as the Dirty Knobs at the Belly Up, without Tom Petty. It was great to see musicians on that level just having a great time. And the last Beat Farmers/Powerthud show at Tio Leo’s.”

The birthday shows seem to be an excuse for drinking lots of beer and creating your ideal scene.

“And it has worked for ten years! So hard to get folks to a show, but everyone comes out for your birthday! The idea came from a jam session Sue and I did when we first moved here from San Francisco — ‘the living room sessions’ at Sylvester Bowen’s house. We’d all do our songs, with everyone jamming on them. I thought, Let’s bring this to the people. And my birthday was coming up.”

Anything special planned for this year’s gathering?

“The Yeastie Boyz, a group of San Diego Brewers Guild players. They do wacky covers about drinking, such as, ‘Are You Drinkin’ with Me, Jesus?’ by the Beat Farmers. And Little Black Birds, a retro cover band with a Southern tinge that Scott Blair’s putting together for this.” ■

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When he realized I was at Eleven to cover that evening’s show, Mark “Harpo” Delguidice’s face lit up. Although the Myspace for Harpco, his “folk/rock/blues/Americana” band, waxes wise-ass (“We vowed to forge ahead to become one of the least-known dive bands around”), some chagrin colors his admission, “Harpco’s played around Adams Avenue for six or seven years without a single line of press. I’ve always said, ‘Who do you have to sleep with in this town to get a write-up?’”

Originally from Chicago, Harpo moved from San Francisco to San Diego with his wife, Sue (a founder of the Dinettes who’s played in bands such as Slackjaw, Private Sector, and Shelf Life), in 1999. He’s excited that Sue joined Harpco in January.

“She’s jammed at some of our gigs. We asked her to reconsider [joining] when we played for her birthday in January. The crowd loved the new sound so much, she had to join.”

Harpco performs at Eleven on Friday, April 1.

How did you get the name “Harpo”?

“As a kid, I lived behind the Kingston Mines blues club in Chicago. I’d sneak in and bug the old players — in those days, bars weren’t so tight. I was fascinated with the blues. I got to learn from Big Walter Horton. He didn’t like me calling myself ‘Lil Johnny Winter’ (I had long blond hair) because I played harp, not guitar, then. So he started callin’ me ‘Lil Harpo.’ I dropped the ‘lil’ when I got older.”

You’re about to celebrate “the big 5-0.”

“I’m easing into my wiser years, it seems. It is harder to stay out till two a.m. I enjoy telling stories to the youngsters: ‘Yep, saw Zeppelin in ’76…hanging with Spinal Tap…seeing Black Flag’s first tour.’ I worked backstage a long time.”

Hanging with Spinal Tap?

“I worked at the Cabaret Metro Chicago: stage technician, monitor mix, house sound, and backstage security. Hung with everyone from Grandmaster Flash to the Replacements, Concrete Blonde, and Ministry.

“I guarded the dressing room for Spinal Tap. Michael McKean got a big kick out of the fact that I’d never heard of them. He asked me, ‘What are all those people doing, trying to get in the green room?’ I said, ‘I dunno. This band is supposed to be some kind of joke or something.’ Michael said, ‘Well, close the door and come meet everybody.’ It was fun watching Harry put on the mustache and horn helmet. I had no idea what was with that.”

What’s the local scene been like for you?

“San Diego has amazed me; I’ve never had this much fun. It’s the only place I was ever encouraged to do a band by other musicians. Joey Harris really inspired me in the first place, dragging me onstage two weeks after I moved here…I couldn’t have done it without them. I’d given up on playing live or finding a band. We kinda look out for each other here. The only thing missing is a real blues bar, Chicago style.”

Favorite local music memories?

“Watching the Crawdaddys at a wedding, sitting with Country Dick Montana. He had me steal a bottle of vintage champagne off the bride’s table. We drank it and had a blast as he regaled me with Crawdaddys history, and they kicked ass. Marc Cohn at Humphrey’s, three or four years ago. I had tears on my face the whole show; it was so moving. The Heartbreakers as the Dirty Knobs at the Belly Up, without Tom Petty. It was great to see musicians on that level just having a great time. And the last Beat Farmers/Powerthud show at Tio Leo’s.”

The birthday shows seem to be an excuse for drinking lots of beer and creating your ideal scene.

“And it has worked for ten years! So hard to get folks to a show, but everyone comes out for your birthday! The idea came from a jam session Sue and I did when we first moved here from San Francisco — ‘the living room sessions’ at Sylvester Bowen’s house. We’d all do our songs, with everyone jamming on them. I thought, Let’s bring this to the people. And my birthday was coming up.”

Anything special planned for this year’s gathering?

“The Yeastie Boyz, a group of San Diego Brewers Guild players. They do wacky covers about drinking, such as, ‘Are You Drinkin’ with Me, Jesus?’ by the Beat Farmers. And Little Black Birds, a retro cover band with a Southern tinge that Scott Blair’s putting together for this.” ■

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