Zac Harmon didn't so much discover the blues as it was always with him, like a family member known so long you can't recall the first time you met. The Delta blues was simply a part of life.
"Blues is like air in Mississippi," he said. "If you're breathing, you got it."
Harmon plays Aug. 25 at Street Music on Paris Avenue.
The guitarist was born and raised in Jackson, Miss., home to the historic Farish Street District, a vibrant black community where blues legends frequented to perform and record. While in high school, he started gigging for well-known blues acts. But he didn't think he could make much of a name for himself in his hometown.
"I wanted to make it in the music business," he said. "I wanted to be a star. You can't do that in Mississippi, not in 1979."
He moved to Los Angeles to make it as a blues artist. But success was difficult to come by at first. Gigs were too few. He was starving, living in "flea-bag motels." It was quite the change from home.
"I'm accustomed to night being night," he said. "You cut off the lights, and you don't hear nothing but the crickets. When I got to L.A., you hear gun shots and sirens and cars all night. I wasn't used to that."
Eventually, he found consistent work writing and producing for other artists. Soon, he discovered that he could survive in L.A. Over the next two decades, he worked with the O'Jays, R&B stars K-Ci & Jo Jo and reggae act Black Uhuru.
He started producing his own blues recordings about a decade ago. "Live at Babe & Ricky's," released in 2002, was part of his original dream to record the Mississippi blues on the West Coast. Two years later, Harmon and his Mid South Blues Revue band won the International Blues Challenge Best Unsigned Band title. He finally was becoming a big-time blues musician in his own right.
"I've played pop. I've played rock. But I'm a blues guy," he said. "That's the core of my soul."
He left L.A. in 2006 and returned to Mississippi. It hasn't hurt his career much. He records and tours consistently, playing about 200 gigs a year. His latest album, "Music Is Medicine," is partially about that challenge of leaving his home and heading West with titles such as "Drowning in Hollywood" and "Country Boy."
"I never considered myself a resident of L.A.," he said. "That big city thing, it wasn't conducive for my lifestyle. I'm a country boy. That's who I am."