Mo’ Betta Blues

Mark Prados & His Enablers (from left): John Kahle, guitar; Mark Prados, vocals/harmonica; Babatunji Heath, drums; and Jason Forester, bass Charley Myers photo

Mark Prados picked up his first harmonica at age 16. He’s been blowing blues fans’ minds ever since

For the thousands of times Mark Prados has gigged and owned stages around town, thanks to the way he cups his Hohner harmonicas close to a microphone and easily punches out ballsy, distorted saxophone-like sounds reminiscent of the blues harp greats, there remains one instrument this local legend has never fully embraced.

It’s his own voice.

“I try as a vocalist, I really do. But singing is out of the comfort zone for me,” says Prados, a self-admitted “perfectionist” who models his vocal stylings after Buddy Guy and “Little” Milton Campbell.

Surprisingly, 35 years on the live circuit, opening for bands such as The Moody Blues, Jimmy Buffett and Greg Allman, have yet to calm Prados’ nerves regarding his vocal howl. It’s been this way ever since he was an up-and-coming American roots player in his 20s and a bandmate told him to sing or find another place to blow his diatonic harmonica.

“Luckily, the bands I’ve been with since have been very patient with me as a singer,” he tells me.

In truth, these bands had little choice given Prados happens to play a pretty mean blues harp. He paid $3.65 for his first harmonica at age 16, a year or two after first hearing the amplified blues harmonica sound on a Paul Butterfield Blues Band album. The liner notes introduced him to a who’s who list of greats – Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs and Muddy Waters among them – and set him on a career path that would allow Prados to thrill audiences with his sense of Americana music.

“I saw the harmonica as a serious solo instrument, not some toy,” says Prados, 56. “With the blues, I saw the purity of the emotional delivery – whether done vocally or instrumentally – and immediately fell in love with it.”

These days, the former leader of popular outfits Mojo Hand and Honolulu Slim leads another group of blues specialists called Mark Prados & His Enablers. If you haven’t seen Prados and his band live, you

should. Check them out on the following times, dates and locations: 9 p.m., June 3, Hard Rock Café; 8 p.m., June 5, Down Beat Lounge; 9 p.m., June 14, Surfer, The Bar at Turtle Bay Resort.

Here’s what else Prados told Musical Notes:

MN: I heard you once opened for Queen Latifah.

MP: Yes. That was back in the early ’90s. I’ve never seen so many backward baseball hats in one place than the night we opened for her!

MN: Do you gig often these days?

MP: Not as much as I did in the ’80s and ’90s. Nowadays, we average maybe four gigs a month.