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Harper brings his special blend of roots rock to Columbia Street
Local musicians tour with the award-winning harmonica player
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Mix up some blues, rock, and folk, and back it up with a strong Stax-style rhythm section, and youíve got the perfect description of Harper. When the Australian musician stops by Columbia Street West on Wednesday, July 27th, Fort Wayne will have a chance to check out this award-winning harmonica player doing what he does best ó performing in front of a crowd. He even plays the didgeridoo, the native Australian wind instrument. Harper has toured extensively in the U.S., Europe, and Australia, and released several acclaimed albums as a solo act and with his former band Blue Devil. The Columbia Street gig comes in the middle of a U.S. tour that lasts through November, with a touring band made up of Fort Wayne musicians ó bassist Lee Lewis, guitarist Tyler Mac, and drummer Ken Garr ó that Harper originally hooked up with when he played a gig at the late, great Hot Spot on Fairfield several years ago. We had a chance to talk to Harper about his latest album, Down to the Rhythm.
FWR: Youíre on Blind Pig Records, which is known as a blues label, and youíre described as a blues guy, but I hear a lot of different styles going on in your music.
HARPER: Yeah, I never profess to be blues. I always said I was influenced by it, but you know, the music to me is a combination of blues, soul, rock, and folk music, all the stuff I like. Thatís why weíve always called ourselves a roots band. Blind Pig signed me up for a three-album deal. They really wanted to push the album, and itís actually doing really well with radio. Itís proved itself with the gigs, too. Itís going to be good to do the Columbia Street gig, because the boys are from Fort Wayne, so itís going to be fun for them to get back home and show off.
FWR: Letís ask the obvious: who are your influences?
Harper: Bill Withers was a big influence for me. But thereís so many. I used to like Sonny Boy Williamson the second, and Muddy Waters, I loved his vibe on things. But I never wanted to copy it, I just love it. Those guys just knew how to do it, and thereís no pretentiousness about Ďem. They just get up there and do their thing. The old Blues performers to me were the ultimate in music. They just gave their heart and soul. The old bands of the 70s seem to be coming back in a big way, but it seems the new bands just havenít got it.
FWR: On record, youíve got keyboards, some hornsÖ but live, I guess itís a more stripped down affair
Harper: The band is such a tight band. Iíve always done it as a four-piece. But it doesnít seem to effect anything, because people have never said ďitís not as good as on the album.Ē I never do one show the same, and that keeps all of us on their toes, because I could just go anywhere with some of this stuff. And thatís what makes it fun. Weíre on a long tour, and you want to keep everyone interested in what theyíre doing, instead of these scripted shows that are exactly the same every time you see them. Iíve been on that road, and itís very boring.
FWR: Especially when youíre doing it for months at a timeÖ
Harper: You can imagine those musicals. Theyíre doing the same thing every single night. It must get to you after a while, though I wouldnít mind the big paycheck at the end of the week.
FWR: Is there a track or two you really look forward to playing every night?
Harper: Thereíre two favorites. One is ďGimme the Money,Ē The crowd seems to absolutely love that one, because itís basically about somebody having a friend who owes them a lot of money, and it seems like everybody knows one of those guys. I also like ďThe Big Brown Land,Ē because itís about my home, and I just love playing the didgeridoo. It looks like the crowd loves it as well, thank goodness.
FWR: How did you learn to play the didgeridoo? How did you get into it?
Harper: On the previous album I had done a couple songs about Aboriginal people and their plight in life, which isnít very happy. I actually had a didgeridoo player on that album. But when we toured, it was getting expensive to bring a guy on the road just to play a bit of didgeridoo. So, I learned it myself. I had a lot of Aboriginal people showing me how to play it. Getting a noise out of it was the hardest thing. Iíve got two didgeridoos on tour with me. They actually come in different keys. It would be nice to have a full set and play a whole song on the didgeridoo, but it would be quite tiring running up and down blowing different notes (laughs).
FWR: Are you one of those guys who can learn the basics of an instrument easily?
Harper: They only thing I canít do is guitar. I think thatís one of the reasons I ended up being a harmonica player, because I just suck at guitar. Iím terrible. Donít let me near a guitar. Itís shocking.
FWR: You tour all over the world. Is there a huge difference between audiences?
Harper: America and Australia audiences are pretty similar. Itís pretty much a similar kind of history, we pretty much have the same upbringing. GermanyÖ they just go nuts. Theyíre just mad on anything that has a rhythm to it. I guess they sort of saved Blues and R&B when no one was really listening to it. But then again, when you talk to the German people, they have this negative attitude towards everything. Everythingís ďoh, itís all bad.Ē (laughs) Then you give them the music and they just go nuts. But on the whole, not really. There are differences, but if you give a good performance, it doesnít matter.
Columbia Street West
135 West Columbia Street
Wednesday, July 27, 8:30 PM