Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 21 Feb. '69) Blues singer, guitarist, songwriter. Had a toy guitar at age three in Denver; his mother introduced him to Lighnin' Hopkins at age twelve and he got a real one, teaching himself to play. Sang in church, played trumpet in a marching band in junior high, in a rock band in high school; attended Bates College in Maine, went to Cameroon West Africa to study pidgin English on a Warson scholarship, and also studied the indigenous juju music. Returned to USA to teach French and English in rural Louisiana, moonlighting as a street singer in New Orleans, soon moving on to clubs and colleges. First album Between Midnight And Day '94 recorded solo in six hours, prod. by Larry Hoffman; Bruce Iglauer at Alligator Records in Chicago snapped it up: playing and singing three originals and blues classics, Harris effortlessly revived the tradition but innovated the same way the masters did, his music full of humour, surprise and beautiful time; he plays superb slide guitar, but his solo picking can sound (like Mississippi John Hurt) like more than one guitarist. Vocally there was both smoothness and roughness, and also the feeling of the all-rounder Big Bill Broonzy: it is more than the blues, entertainment with a dash of ragtime. Natalie Merchant took him on tour; he also appeared on stage with Junior Wells, B. B. King; was nominated for W. C. Handy awards '95 and won '96 as acoustic blues artist of the year. Still only 28, he made his second album Fish Ain't Bitin' late '96, with eight originals, others by Son House, Memphis Minnie, Blind Lemon Jefferson etc, the title track suggested by life in rural Louisiana. Co-prod. by Harris and Hoffman, the album had New Orleans horn players on it, but they sound like neighbours joining in: there were still no keyboards, drums or electricity. Toured Japan '97.