When singer/songwriter/guitarist Stevie Harris was a teenager, his family staged an intervention for him. But it wasn’t to get him off drugs or to make him quit drinking. It was to get the young black musician to stop listening to rock ‘n’ roll.
“My family actually had an intervention saying that I had to stop listening to ‘white music,’” Harris laughs, “because it would lead to problems. My mother had three records in the house when I was growing up: Gladys Knight & the Pips’ Greatest Hits, Stevie Wonder’s Greatest Hits, and she had Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits. That was what was being played at home. But when I started buying my own music, it was alternative rock, like Mary’s Danish and other early-’90s alt-rock bands, then I got into The Smiths, then Led Zeppelin and the whole rock ‘n’ roll pantheon.”
Up until that moment, Harris had never even considered that there might be something odd about his musical tastes.
“I didn’t get why it was such a big deal for a black kid to listen to that music,” he says.
Luckily, the intervention didn’t take, and Harris continued to listen to, well, whatever he wanted as he got older, not out of teenage rebellion, but out of genuine curiosity.
“It wasn’t about spite or malice,” he explains, “it was about a love for all music. I was still listening to Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson and Prince and Rick James, but I also listened to Ratt and Twisted Sister and Iron Maiden.”
The result, as one might imagine, is a well-rounded musician who combines a variety of styles. A quick perusal of Harris’ catalog reveals funk jams (“Build A Wall”), bluesy ballads (“Island”), Bill Withers-style wiry soul (“Wounded”) and joyful guitar-fueled rock (“Faraway”) all sharing space on various albums and single releases.
For Harris, it was never really a question of whether or not he was going to make music for a living. Just about everybody in his immediate family is a musician, and as a child, he thought that’s what adults were supposed to do.
“I’ve never really thought about it like a job, which I probably should have,” he laughs. “I didn’t think about doing anything else, because that’s just what you did. You sang and you played music, you know what I mean? I thought that that’s what being a grownup was.”
Harris has been a musical nomad for most of his life, living in San Diego, Oakland, Sarasota, Cleveland and Los Angeles and slowly building his career. But it wasn’t until he moved to Columbia that he formed a backing band that could match his genre-blending talents.
The Crooked Lyons, bassist Morgan Johnson and drummer Deshawn Younger, can hang with Harris through funk, jazz, hard rock and hushed ballads, and he has nothing but praise for their abilities.
“Morgan Johnson is a real funky bass player,” Harris says, “but he’s also really lyrical. So he can handle all of the funk and soul stuff perfectly. And that was exactly what I wanted in a bass player.”
And he has an especially high compliment for his drummer.
“Deshawn Younger is a super-intense drummer,” he says. “He reminds me of Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He’s a wild drummer. I’ve played with other drummers and it seems like they’re all playing slower than him! With Deshaun and Morgan, they’re up to the brim of where I am, and we’re moving forward, always.”
Harris goes a step further when discussing his rhythm section, adding that they’re just as interested in different genres of music as he was before that fateful intervention back in his teens.
“I didn’t let the intervention get me down,” he laughs. “I’m not playing black music, and I’m not playing white music — I’m playing the music that’s natural to me. And I needed guys that could go with that. I wanted guys that are also into different kinds of music and open to just being people. I’m lucky to have them.”