JP Harris Old School Country
JP Harris and his country road show perpetuate the traditions of a great musical genre.
Three things strike me about JP Harris – his beard, which is tall, the rich timbre of his voice, and his commitment to the traditions of the golden age of country music. Not even thirty years old, JP Harris and his band, The Tough Choices, ply the freeways and back roads of this country – they’ve played coast to coast for the past two months – playing music from more than three decades. . JP’s music is pedal steel and cigarette smoke, chicken wire and scuffed bar floors, not the processed pablum that dominates modern country radio. JP has just released his first record, I will keep calling, and Trail Mix presents the title song this month. I recently met JP to discuss the new record and some great country music.
BRO – Basically, what makes a good country song?
JP – Funny you asked that, because I was just thinking about it while driving around Nashville the other day. I thought what attracts everyone to country music is the emotion that goes into it. Excitement, madness, love, anger, despair – there is this whole spectrum of emotions that draws people to country music. And the key to making a great country song is to keep it simple. It’s like being a preacher; you have to take a complex emotional concept and simplify it so that everyone can access and understand it. This is really what is at the heart of a good country songwriter and a good country song. I like to think of a good country song as a really good simple sermon for people.
BRO – Who are your country heroes?
JP – The singers and songwriters I have listened to the most and who have really influenced me are George Jones, Del Reeves and Merle Haggard. These three have always had a really great mix of irony, sarcasm, and a good understanding of their singing and how they can pierce a heart with an arrow – how they can really bring something home from home. a simple way. George represents to me the untouchable enigma; this guy had one of the worst reputations in country music. He was throwing groups back on stage, showing up late, showing up drunk, just a whole bunch of bad judgments. But he was George Jones. That’s what he did. He had the golden voice and the perfect approach. Put him behind a microphone and all of his bad decisions were suddenly forgotten. Merle Haggard was the real deal. He grew up in poverty – maybe even in a boxcar – and spent time in jail, living just in California after the Depression. He was fearless in his songwriting. He always wrote avant-garde material. I admire he was a rebel. He’s never been one of those flagship Nashville pop country wankers. He was making records with Willie Nelson, worked with David Allan Coe, and was always kind of a marginal element. And Del Reeves was just a fun loving guy who wrote hysterical songs about watching girls and driving trucks. Usually he was just a super nice guy who cared more about being just a country singer. He cared about keeping old traditions alive when he had a TV show – he was bringing out Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe at a time when everything in country music was getting really cheesy. If I could put pieces of these three guys together, I would die a happy man.
BRO – You just used the term “Nashville pop country jerk offs”. Should I bother asking you for your take on the world of modern country music?
JP – I’m known to be pretty straightforward about my opinion of modern country pop radio music. I can make some pretty ironic comments about whether it’s dirt or trash, but the truth is there are some really good players out there. I lived in Nashville for a while and met people who play with these CMT level characters, and these guys and girls are good people. There are some of these things that I love. Brad Paisley is a Telecaster killer. But that doesn’t mean that I think he has good taste in what he plays all the time, and that doesn’t mean that my opinion of people like him is going to change a lot, because I think that they degrade the name of country music. They play rock and roll. They play pop. Just because you’re singing about alcohol or on a truck and putting on a cowboy hat doesn’t mean it’s country music. The idea that you can disparage country music for the masses by mixing it with other styles of music to make it popular on the radio is just offensive to me. Take Trace Adkins – he’s a great singer and he’s funny. But I don’t think I would ever want to go see him play and I would never go so far as to say that he is a genuine country singer. He sings country pop music. Nowadays there must be a real distinction. Old school country characters who have been playing the music that I have played for many years, guys like Dale Watson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe Shaver and Wayne Hancock, never took the poisoned golden apple. I think these pop country guys could have stayed on the road to real old school country music, real simple stuff, but they’re all tempted by the big recording deals and fancy mansions. Now God knows I want to get paid real money for what I do, but I don’t want to sacrifice the authenticity and authenticity of my music to do it.
BRO – Is it more about creating a product and less about creating great music?
JP – That’s exactly it. That’s what really bothers me about all of this. They work to create an image and an ideal. What these people are doing is attacking everyone’s poor wishes. Many people who listen to country music are Americans who work hard, earn a living in an auto repair shop, or answer the phone. And these pop country people are doing the same thing that glam rock was doing in the 80s. They want these people to believe that if they listen to this music, they will have almost topless girls and fat F-250s. ass with lift kits and fireplaces, and every now and then they’ll cast a line on daddy’s farm. Even though the music is good, the image and the lifestyle that these country people convey there is just not right. It is not accessible. It’s not something that people are going to achieve. But that’s how music has sold over the past 35 years. Country music was never meant to be that.
BRO – Does anyone do country music the right way?
JP – There are a ton of people doing it the right way. What’s unfortunate is that not many of us on the road do it, so a lot of people don’t hear and find out. Dale Watson and Wayne Hancock have been there for years. I just turned to Whitey Morgan, and I’m really digging into what he’s doing. Even the more indie and alt-country country stuff is pretty cool, guys like Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses. And I love Billy Joe Shaver and Ray Wylie Hubbard. They are always there to pound the pavement. There is a good undercurrent of strong country singers and bands on tour. And they do it for the same reason I do. They believe in the country gospel and have turned their life into a road show. You have to take him from town to town. One of the coolest things I hear at a show is, “You know I didn’t even know I liked country music because I never heard real country music. These other guys I mentioned hear the same thing. That’s what these young guys are really looking for – to bring people back to country music.
BRO – Tell me about the new record.
JP – Dude, I’m pretty proud of it. I wasn’t sure if it was good by the time I was done because I had listened to it about 700,000 times and had no objective perspective. But it is working very well and we are getting very good feedback on it. After three years of touring with just a little EP I’m happy to have a solid release to show the world what I’m doing. But I’m glad it took that long to get into the studio to do this. I still have so much to learn about being a country singer and writing country songs. I’m glad I was unwittingly forced to wait this long before I could release an album. I know it’s better now than it would have been if I had released it a few years ago.
BRO – We’re featuring the title track on this month’s Trail Mix. Hope I’m not projecting here – or maybe I hope I am projecting – but it sounds like a tune most guys can relate to.
JP – Oh yeah. Guys and girls. I wrote this song about a woman who is still a good friend of mine. We had a short relationship. I was working in New England in a barn and I was staying in this little attic on the old farmhouse and trying to visit this girl on the weekends. I tried calling her a night after a pretty bad day and never contacted her. So I just kept calling this girl and kept getting her answering machine. We all know what drunk dialing is. I’ve done this once or twice in my life, until 2am calling that ex-girlfriend from a year ago and sobbing to get me back. If you haven’t, at least you’ve thought about it. I started to think about this idea that you call someone on the phone over and over again and you think they’ll finally answer. You contact someone, but they don’t have to answer the phone. They don’t have to take you back or tell you that they still love you. Hearing that recorded voice on the other end of the phone asking you to leave a message can be one of the worst things to hear when your heart breaks.
JP Harris and The Tough Choices are heading west for the month of June, with dates in Louisiana, Texas, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. They will be back in the Southeast in July. Catch them when you can and, in the meantime, order a copy of the new disc at www.ilovehonkytonk.com.