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Mike Hartman:
Don't Even Try To Stop Him

By R. Scott Bolton


As you listen to Mike Hartman's "Black Glue," you can't help but notice the vitality, the charisma, the determination of each tune. These aren't just rock'n'roll instrumentals featuring a genuine guitar shredder, these are musical pieces that celebrate life.

Mike has good reason to celebrate life: Diagnosed at an early age with cystic fibrosis - which doctors said would kill him before he reached the age of 10 - Mike has developed a sense of determination and drive that has propelled him to where he is today: A hell of a guitarist with his own solo CD.

Mike is quoted in the "Black Glue" press release: "My goal is to prove wrong and piss off every doctor and doubter I've ever had. Who are you to tell me I can't do this?"

Mike's doing pretty good at proving those doctors wrong. At the age of 15, in his hometown of Marion, Indiana, he produced and self-financed his own debut, "No Lyrics Required." At 18, he moved to California and attended the Musicians Institute in Hollywood. There, he sent out tapes and ended up working with Rudy Sarzo of WHITESNAKE, John Christ of DANZIG and many others.

In 1997, Mike scored the guitar position for David Lee Roth's new band and, in fact, recorded two of his own pieces, "Stomp" and "Southern Romp" with Roth (as "King of the Hill" and "Indeed I Do"). Unfortunately, before the tour, Mike and his wife Jeanie were hit by a drunk driver, both of them sustaining injuries. Jeanie broke her pelvis and leg and Mike suffered a concussion and bruised ribs. A bout with pneumonia and exhaustion put him back in the hospital shortly thereafter.

Roth's camp apparently were concerned with Mike's ability to continue and, in May, Mike was fired. "They didn't bother to pull me aside and say, 'What's going on? You said you were fine?' I would have said, 'Look, man, I can give you my two best hours of every day. Just give me the rest of the day to take care of myself and I can walk on any stage and play.' But they didn't give me that chance."

With time on his hands, Mike went into the studio and picked up where he'd left of with "Black Glue."  He originally began the record prior to the Roth stint and now he had the time to finish it.

With a possible double lung transplant ahead of him, Mike still has no plans on slowing down. "I'm not going to let them stop me," he says, "I've got to make sure I keep going forward."

We caught up with Mike recently and asked him about his past, his present and his future.

(Click here to read our review or click on the image to buy the CD)

Rough Edge: You've been playing guitar virtually all your life. Can you remember what it was that made you first pick up a guitar and how does that feeling compare to today?

Mike Hartman: I saw KISS on TV when I was seven, but I saw Vai on T.V when I was 10. But due to my poor health, I couldn't play sports. So mom thought I should have hobby. I dug it, it was fun. I guess it has turned into a obsession! But hey, it pays the bills, unlike a gambling obsession that ruins a person.

Rough Edge: How does "No Lyrics Required" compare with "Black Glue?"

Mike Hartman: I did "No Lyrics" when I was 15. I was obsessed with speed!!!! I was playing Vai/Roth tunes like "Shyboy" note for note. I have matured a lot. Not to say I don't have an arsenal of chops anymore, but I know when to use them, and when not. "No Lyric" is out of print. I was 15 and sold it via consignment in stores. I may have a few tracks from it on my future album as bonus tracks, we'll see!

Rough Edge: How does writing and/or performing a song with just music differ from writing/performing a song with lyrics? Which do you prefer?

Mike Hartman: It is really hard to keep someone's attention with instrumentals. Live, you have to be visually exciting, and keep the crowd involved. A frontman. I wanted to tour with DLR, he was pretty exciting in his day, he can still pull it off. Vai is great live too, even in his solo shows. Writing my solo stuff is easy, film folks love the stuff. Warner Chappell signed me to a publishing deal for 3 records, they know they can place my tunes in films and T.V. Dream Works is using my tune"A song 4 Jeanie." It is in the up-coming film "Forces of Nature."

Rough Edge: You met Steve Vai through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Tell us a little about that.

Mike Hartman: I was 15, and really, really sick. I was on steroids to help gain weight. The doctor's thought I was dying soon. Steve Vai was my hero and role model. Word was passed on to him that I was dying and wanted to spend time with him. He had no idea I could play like I did. Steve, having the huge heart that he does, invited my family to L.A. We hung out, jammed in his studio, I have a tape of it! He said if I ever needed help, he would be there. And, boy, he has!

Rough Edge: Apparently, you and Vai are still very much in touch. What is his role in "Black Glue" if any?

Mike Hartman: Steve simply offered the use of his home studio,"the Mothership." All of Steve's albums since "Passion" and "Warfare" were done there, Whitesnake was done there too. Steve and I talk at least once a month. He is always the first to call me when I am hospitalized. He gave us a quote to use for my album in ads as well. He doesn't just lend his name to anything ya know (lol). His engineer Marcelo Gomes is a killer engineer too! He can work miracles.

Rough Edge: What impresses me about Black Glue is the sheer variety of emotions and styles produced without straying too far away from straight-forward rock'n'roll. How did you manage such a tremendously satisfying cross-section?

Mike Hartman: My heart is rock'n'roll. But I listen to so much music. I listen to George Michael on a daily basis. Rage Against the Machine. KISS, Ozzy, Alanis, Steve Vai, Zeppelin, and yes, classic Van Halen.

Rough Edge: Any special favorites on Black Glue?

Mike Hartman: "A song 4 Jeanie," "Black Glue," and "Stomp"!!!!!!! "Feel My Pain" is good, too. "Pooh's Day Off."

Rough Edge: What was John Christ's involvement and/or input for "Black Glue"?

Mike Hartman: John co-produced the album. He helped get some killer tones,
and coached me. Many times I thought I had a good take, then he would say,"Do over!!!" I wanted to punch him, but seeing how his biceps weigh more than me, it wasn't a good idea! He is a great guitarist. His is finishing his solo disc called "Flesh Caffeine."

Rough Edge: According to your bio, you wrote the lead riff for "Insanity" while you were hospitalized. Did that environment inspire you, either positively or negatively?

Mike Hartman: I was working for Dave and trying to beat the deadline for song submissions. I had tubes coming out of me, my wife was in a wheelchair from a car accident. We were hit by a drunk driver. Broke my wife's pelvis and leg.
She is O.K. now , thank God! So my state of mind was really bad, I was pissed, scared and sick.

Rough Edge: What was recording with David Lee Roth like? How did "Stomp" and "Southern Stomp" differ from "King of the Hill" and "Indeed I Do"?)

Mike Hartman: We cut the disc in 10 days, so, it as brisk, quick and a learning
experience. The versions on Dave's disc were mixed rather quickly, and feature Dave, as it should, it was his disc (lol). I recorded my versions way before Dave's, but I spent days tracking and mixing. My versions have a great mix. That has been the opinion of many folks, even Dave fans.

Rough Edge: Have you run into any classmates that told you back in school you'd never be a rock'n'roller? If so, tell us about it. If not, what would you say to them now?

Mike Hartman: I was a loner in school. I spent all day hangin' at the guitar store. I started teaching at age 16. So, I am sure that some folks thought I would be a bum, on welfare livin' in a trailer park. I bump into folks when I am Indiana from time to time. They don't even recognize me, so I don't really talk to them. I am sure that folks hear my name and think, "I ignored that cat, now he is in California. Why am I busting my butt in college?" I have had struggles, too. It took a lot of work to get here. I respect a cat who goes to college, but I hated school (lol). I am not special, just a hard working musician, that's all.

Rough Edge: Other than Vai, which guitarists do you most admire?

Mike Hartman: Ed Van Halen birthed shred in 77-78, gotta show respect to him. Page wrote the riff Bible, Satriani is a commercial guitarist success, he is so melodic! Nuno Bettencourt has some great tunes and chops under his belt. Zakk Wylde too!

Rough Edge: Any guitarists you think are over-rated?

Mike Hartman: No way. I don't rate musicians, how can you regulate and score art? If someone can make a career out of playing guitar, and earn a name for their band and themselves, hats off to them!! This is a hard industry!

Rough Edge: What are your plans for the future?

Mike Hartman: I am doing a clinic tour for Washburn guitars this summer. Doing more film work and a lot of writing. I am also donating proceeds to the Cystic Fibrosis foundation from every record sold. I am working with the foundation to promote awareness. (Visit http://www.cysticfibrosis.com for more information)

Rough Edge: Your determination is nothing short of inspirational. What advice would you give others?

Mike Hartman: Don't give up, no one can tell you what to do with your life. You wanna play music, do it till your fingers bleed. You wanna be a lawyer, sue the pants off people (oh yeah, move to Los Angeles, plenty of clients). In short, never give up. Doctors still tell me I am dying. Sorry, don't have time to die, music to make, places to go and see. There is no good reason to give up, plain and simple!


Editor's update: Sadly, Mike Hartman - after a long and valiant battle with his illness - succumbed on July 6, 2000. Our hearts go out to his friends and family. His incredible presence and unmatched determination will be felt forever.


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Copyright 1999 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12 Mar 2014 20:08:56 -0600
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