Matt Prozialeck has been the harmonica player for Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers for about three years now. His experience in that band has changed his life, having moved to Boston from Chicago to join this Beantown band that plays 150 shows a year.
Prozialeck (pro-zhel-ick) had met Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers in Pennsylvania while he was visiting his Uncle Chuck, a blues fan who has been a fan of the band for some time. “When I’d go visit them, they’d take me to blues and jazz shows,” Prozialeck said. “He told me ‘Hey, this singer Erin Harpe’s in town, and you’d like her music.’ We went to the show. He was apparently talking to her between sets or something, talking up my harmonica playing, without my knowledge. They asked me to sit in on a few songs.” Harpe and her Delta Swingers must have been impressed. They kept in touch with Prozialeck.
A year later, Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers were on the first week of a seven week tour when their guitarist left the band. Harpe assumed responsibility for all of the band’s guitar parts. The band’s previous harmonica player, Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt, had to step down as he owns and operates VizzTone Records and cannot tour.
“They were going to have me sit in when they played Navy Pier in Chicago,” Prozialeck began. “I happen to e-mail asking about set lists and they go ‘You wanna join?’ And I was like, ‘eh-OK.’” The young harmonica player flew out to Denver to play with them. From there, Prozialeck and the band traveled to Midland City, Texas to play at the Pulse City Blues Festival with no rehearsal. No pressure.” He chuckled at the memory.
“The whole band almost got killed in a tornado the night before, driving,” he said. “We got caught in a tornado in the desert in west Texas, got pummeled by baseball size hail. If you see the van, it’s still covered in hail damage on the roof. It broke the windshield. I remember thinking ‘this is starting out interesting.’”
Being a full time band member took some getting used. Music used to be a side job while he worked other jobs. He had learned from audio clips how to play the band’s previous album and the material for the Big Road he participated in which was released two weeks ago. “I’m pretty good at improvising,” Prozialeck said. “I played with certain bands that did not like to practice very much.”
After the tour, Prozialeck ended up in Boston, here the band is based. At first, he suffered culture shock in the more compact city. Chicago was more spread out with straight roads on a north-south grid. “Out here, I remember getting so confused whenever I tried to go anywhere. But people here behave a little bit differently. It’s grown on me. I love all the history in Boston. I’m glad I came out here. There wasn’t as much opportunity in Chicago.” The mid-western economy hasn’t as fully recovered, resulting in 50,000 people leaving the windy city for the east coast.
Prozialeck also had to get used to EH&TDS’s pace, playing 150 shows a year. A morning person, he was working an eight to four job. He had to get used to not getting to bed until five or six in the morning. “It took some building of stamina at first to get used to playing that much. When you’re playing harmonica, your facial muscles (are all being utilized) for three or four hours. It takes a while to build up that muscle. I can play four hours now, no problem.”
Prozialeck was on board with the Delta Swingers when they had won the spring 2016 Granite State Blues Challenge. “It was pretty exciting,” the harmonica man said. “Our previous drummer, Bob Nisi, had left just a couple of months before that. Our new drummer, excellent drummer, Kendall Divoll joined. We had prepared pretty well for that show. There was some good competition. We were pretty confident.”
Prozialeck and the band had made it into the semi-finals at the International Blue Competition the following winter of 2017. That was quite an accomplishment, as there were many professional bands competing with each other, all being at the mercy of some very demanding judges. “It was great networking. I ended up meeting and connecting with a lot of people down there,” Prozialeck said.
Because Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers had won the Granite State Blue Challenge, the hosts, Granite State Blues Society, had added the band to their annual Barnful Of Blues line up last August. Bass player Jim Countryman couldn’t play the Barnful event due to health issues at the time. The band truncated for the event. Prozialeck played harp. Harpe played guitar and sang. The event’s headliner Roomful Of Blues lent their drummer Chris Anzalone to the Swingers. “I just turned the bass up on Erin’s amp and broke up the sound a lot more,” He said. “With her finger picking and bass thumb, we played pretty well. It was more of her acoustic style than we normally do.”
Prozialeck, along with the Delta Swingers, next had to go into Verdant Studios in Vermont with engineer Peter Weiss to record the currently released Big Road CD. The harmonica player said that the entire CD was recorded in pretty much one day with only one of his harmonica parts being overdubbed. “That’s mostly my live harmonica on the album,” he said. “Everything was done in less than three takes too. Erin, who produced it and arranged everything, had demos of everything that we wanted to do at her house. We went right into that studio. Everything fell right into place.”
Prozialeck started listening to blues at around age eight. Blues music gets played on Chicago’s classic rock radio stations like 93 XRT or 97.9 FM, the latter once owned by Chess Records owner Leonard Chess. “In high school, I heard Bo Diddley on the radio, that classic ‘I’m A Man’ with Billy Boy Arnold on the harmonica. I said ‘That’s interesting.” Then, I started exploring more. I started exploring Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, The Yardbirds, some of the British Blues.’
“I think I was maybe 18 years old. I saw this video of The Yardbirds with Jimmy Page playing,” Prozialeck said. “I was like ‘What (Keith Relf’s)doing with that harmonica’s really cool. I just went out and bought a cheap harmonica which I got the hang of pretty quickly. I broke that pretty fast. I went out and bought a better one, just gradually acquired enough harps to play on every key. I had a friend in college who was great at playing old Delta style slide with open tunings. I recorded a demo with him in my dorm room.” From there, Prozialeck moved onto open mics and jams, eventually landing in a Chicago band Ed Burns Rhythm & Blues Revue in which he was invited to join the first night he had jammed with them.
“I showed up at a blues jam they were running,” he said. “I played with them for about a year. It was something on the side. We played two to three gigs a week. We played for four hours. We ran a blues jam (at Rockwood Place) down near Wrigley Field. The year I did that, I really developed my sound.”
Playing blues in Chicago was a learning experience for the young harmonica man. The most important thing Prozialeck learned in Chicago was what not to play. “What you play is almost as important as what you don’t play,” he said. “I made early mistakes over playing, playing too many notes. It’s about the feel of the song. The way I worked stuff out with Erin on the new album, that allows some of her guitar to shine through.”
Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers have an alternate identity as the Afro Ju Ju pop dance rock band called Lovewhip. It’s the same band but a whole different ballgame. Prozialeck wears a psychedelic hat and shirt, plays weird things on his effect pedals, and handles what would be keyboard parts. “I do some pretty weird stuff in Lovewhip,” he said.
Fans of Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers might see Prozialeck name printed on the CDs and on promo materials as Matt Charles. Prozialeck is a Slavic name that only people from that part of Europe can pronounce. “I think we were Polish or Ukrainian. They were all part of Austria-Hungary back then before World War I,” he said.
Prozialeck can be seen with Erin Harpe & The Delta Swingers CD Release Party at the City Winery in Boston on November 11.