Gary Sloan gets unexpected boost from reissued 'Harmonitalk'

Julie Stricker

In 1980, musician Gary Sloan and two friends made an album of electronica music in a basement studio in Anchorage. They pressed about 1,000 copies in vinyl, sold a few and then moved on to other projects.

Sloan, a harmonica player, has spent much of the past 35 years touring Alaska and his adopted home of Arkansas, building his reputation as a leading blues musician. So when the past came calling last winter, it took him by surprise.

A British label called Finders Keepers Records contacted Sloan in November and asked if they could re-release his 1980 album "Harmonitalk." Finders Keepers specializes in "obscure and esoteric" recordings, Sloan said. "Harmonitalk" certainly qualifies, he added.

"No one has ever put out an album like that album I put out," he said. "It's a one-of-a-kind thing."

The album is heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream, an electronic music group formed in 1967 by German guitarist Edgar Froese.

"I had a couple of friends, one who was in college and the other who was just starting a little studio in his basement," Sloan said. "We were all electronic music lovers, loved Tangerine Dream, and we would get together and jam."

The three musicians -- Sloan, Kurt Riemann and Paul Alexander, billed as Gary Sloan and Clone -- would get together two or three times a month, recording "the good stuff."

"I would come up with an idea for a song and these guys would make it work," Sloan said.

They experimented with a vocoder and ran Sloan's harmonica through a synthesizer, which created a sound unlike anything he had heard in music before. After a couple of years they had compiled "Harmonitalk."

"It's as if Edgar Froese was playing harmonica instead of guitar," Sloan said, describing the feel of the album. "It's electronic-based music with a harmonica as a lead instrument."

The album didn't make a big splash at the time. Riemann has continued to record and release Alaska-themed electronic music and Sloan has released several blues albums. He tours Alaska every summer and heads for Arkansas in the winter. His sons are also accomplished musicians and frequently join Sloan on stage. He played "Harmonitalk" for them and they are planning to perform some of the pieces on stage this summer.

The album was released in the UK last month, and Sloan hopes to have some CDs available at his Alaska appearances this summer.

The re-release of his album after three decades thrills him.

"I guess that's why you stay in this business so long, because eventually something happens that validates that you had a good idea to begin with," he said.

By Julie Stricker
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner