Born: Feb 21, 1969 in Denver, CO
Styles: Modern Delta Blues, Modern Acoustic Blues, Modern Electric Blues
Instruments: Slide Guitar, Vocals, Guitar
Corey Harris has earned substantial critical acclaim as one of the few contemporary bluesmen able to channel the raw, direct emotion of acoustic Delta blues without coming off as an authenticity-obsessed historian. Although he is well versed in the early history of blues guitar, he's no well-mannered preservationist, mixing a considerable variety of influences - from New Orleans to the Caribbean to Africa - into his richly expressive music. In doing so, he's managed to appeal to a wide spectrum of blues fans, from staunch traditionalists to more contemporary sensibilities.
Corey Harris was born in Denver, CO, on February 21, 1969, and began playing guitar at age 12, when he fell in love with his mother's Lightnin' Hopkins records. He played in a rock & roll band in high school, as well as the marching band, and developed his singing abilities in church. Through Bates College in Maine (where he majored in anthropology), Harris traveled to Cameroon to study African linguistics, and returned there on a post-graduate fellowship; during his time there, he soaked up as much African music as possible, entranced by its complex polyrhythms. After returning to the U.S., Harris taught English and French in Napoleonville, LA, and during his spare time he played the clubs, coffeehouses, and street corners of nearby New Orleans. His local reputation eventually earned him a deal with Alligator, one of the pre-eminent blues labels in the South. In 1995, Alligator released Harris' debut album Between Midnight and Day, a one-man, one-guitar affair that illustrated his mastery of numerous variations on the Delta blues style. The record won rave reviews and even some mainstream media attention, marking Harris as an exciting new presence on the blues scene; it also earned him an opening slot on tour with ex-10,000 Maniacs singer Natalie Merchant.
Harris followed it up with Fish Ain't Bitin' in 1997, a record that began to expand his style by adding a New Orleans-style brass section on several tracks, while emphasizing his own original compositions to a much greater degree. The next year, Harris was invited to participate in the Billy Bragg/Wilco collaboration Mermaid Avenue, which set a selection of unfinished Woody Guthrie songs to music; Harris played guitar and contributed bluesy backup vocals to several tunes. In 1999, Harris released what most critics called his strongest work to date, Greens From the Garden; hailed as a landmark in some quarters, the record delved deeper into New Orleans funk and R&B, while recasting its covers in surprising but effective new contexts (even reggae and hip-hop). The result was a kaleidoscope of black musical styles that earned Harris even more widespread attention than his debut. Veteran pianist Henry Butler appeared on the record, and for the follow-up, Harris recorded an entire album in tandem with Butler; issued in 2000, Vu-Du Menz updated several different strains of early jazz and blues. Harris subsequently left Alligator for Rounder, and debuted for his new label in 2002 with Downhome Sophisticate, a typically eclectic outing that explored his African influences and added Latin music to his seemingly endless sonic palette.
-Steve Huey (All Music Guide)
From the time singer/songwriter/guitarist Corey Harris released his Alligator Records debut, Between Midnight And Day, in 1995, he was hailed as one of the saviors of the acoustic blues tradition. His visionary 1997 follow-up, Fish Ain't Bitin', solidified his reputation as a ground breaking acoustic bluesman. "The class of the new acoustic blues singers,"shouted the Village Voice. "A throwback to a lost era,"raved Blues Revue. But that's not the way Harris sees it. "There's blues in me,"says Harris, "but I'm not a bluesman. I just live to be a songwriter, I don't limit myself to playing just one type of thing. I try to put variety into what I do. "
Indeed, Harris, who in just five short years has gone from busking on the streets of New Orleans to sharing stages with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Natalie Merchant, The Dave Matthews Band and Billy Bragg, has only one constant in his music, and that is evolution. With his genre-busting new album, Greens From The Garden, Harris makes it clear that his music, while rooted in blues-gone-by, constantly looks forward and rarely looks back.
Besides blues, Harris loves all styles of music, especially jazz, rap and hip-hop. He rejects the notion that he is the living incarnation of the old blues masters. "I like to live in the here and now and look forward,"he maintains. With Greens From The Garden, he makes his point abundantly clear. Harris uses his acoustic blues as a blasting-off point, making up-to-date, foot-stompingly original music that seemingly crosses all boundaries. "My public image as a solo performer is only part of the story,"says Harris. "I want to show people I'm much deeper than just one guy with a guitar. I love doing that, but I love doing other things too. "
Greens From The Garden, produced by Harris and Jamal Millner, is an expanded impression of the blues. Harris starts with a vintage music form the blues and puts his signature on it. From percolating romps of low-key boogie to raw, electric workouts to lilting reggae-inflections, Greens From The Garden is Harris' concept from start to finish. "It's really not an electric blues album,"says Harris. "It's just an album of my music, some of it's blues. But it's nothing like people might be expecting. It's called Greens From The Garden because when you make greens, you take a little kale and some turnips and some mustard greens, some spinach, and you boil them all together. I'm trying to make a complete album rather than a collection of songs. "
Harris wrote seven of the album's twelve songs and arranged them all. From the burning first single, Wild West, to the deeply personal Lynch Blues, to the traditional New Orleans mambo Eh La Bas, to the walking tour of NOLA, to the vocal blues gymnastics of Honeysuckle, Harris and his crew cook up a mouth-watering feast of blues-flavored victuals. "I write about real stuff that happens to me and my folks,"he says. "Inspiration for my songs comes from Jah the Most High. I couldn't play anything unless I could think there's a spirit in me that's divine that demands to be manifest in the world. In my songs I talk about things I have experienced, things I feel somehow are related to me as experience."
A native of Denver, Colorado, Harris fell in love with music at an early age, and made his own music with a toy guitar he received at age three. Like many of the kids his age, Corey grew up watching his favorite television shows including Hee Haw and Soul Train and listening to all the popular music of the day. But when his mother turned him on to a real guitar and Lightnin' Hopkins at age 12, Corey found his true musical calling. He learned to sing and play by ear, listening to his favorite albums over and over again until he knew all the parts. He sang in church groups, played trumpet and then baritone in his junior high school marching band, and played in a rock band in high school.
After attending Bates College in Maine, Harris, along with his newly acquired National steel guitar, left for Cameroon in West Africa in 1991. While there, Harris' love for acoustic blues grew, as did his understanding of the importance of the indigenous juju music. The polyrhythmic drumming associated with juju is clearly reflected in Harris' propulsively rhythmic, drum-like guitar playing. After returning to the United States, Harris moved to rural Louisiana and began teaching French and English in Belle Rose, all the while continuing to play his music and refine his craft by moonlighting as a street musician in nearby New Orleans. He quickly devoted his life to music full time and before long was not only playing coffeehouses, but colleges and clubs as well.
Harris went into the studio in 1994 with producer Larry Hoffman, cutting tracks reflecting the material he honed as a street musician. Alligator Records' president Bruce Iglauer was floored by what he heard, and inked a deal to release the finished master. "He's a wonderfully tasteful guitar player with terrific slide technique,"commented Iglauer, "but above all he's simply a great singer. "The 1995 release of Between Midnight And Day catapulted Harris to international recognition. Critics, fans and fellow musicians could barely contain their enthusiasm. After reading about Harris in the national edition of the New York Times, singer Natalie Merchant bought a copy of Between Midnight And Day and immediately invited Harris to open every date on her West Coast tour, and even had him join her on stage for her finales. Harris then toured with Buddy Guy, B.B. King, even the Dave Matthews Band, who brought Harris out nightly to sing with them during their set. He's toured Europe many times including a tour as part of Alligator Records 25th Anniversary celebration and toured Japan in 1997.
With his 1997 follow-up, Fish Ain't Bitin', Harris added socially conscious songwriting and a few musical twists as he reached even greater heights. Taking the solo acoustic sounds of Between Midnight And Day and adding a full New Orleans brass section on four songs, Harris mixed nine originals so entrenched in the tradition they blended seamlessly with blues covers to create his own brand of music. Robert Christgau in the Village Voice said, "After a debut that established his mastery of the Delta idiom, [Harris] does something really hard proves he's big enough to fool around with it....His virtuosity springs to life. "Praise rolled in from National Public Radio, CNN's Showbiz Today, and countless magazine and newspaper stories, including cover stories in Living Blues, Acoustic Musician, and Sing Out!. Among the album's many accolades, Fish Ain't Bitin' won the 1997 W.C. Handy Award for Acoustic Blues Album Of The Year.
Successful solo performances at festivals and clubs earned Corey more critical praise, which brought him more famous fans. When Billy Bragg told Natalie Merchant he wanted a blues singer for the Woody Guthrie project he was working on, she immediately brought him Harris. Bragg, Harris, Merchant and the band Wilco all hit it off. The resulting album, Mermaid Avenue (on which Harris plays guitar and sings on a few songs), received unanimous praise and was nominated for a Grammy Award. During those sessions, Harris sang and wrote music for a number of Guthrie lyrics, including the song Teabag Blues, which, along with vocal help from Bragg, is included as a bonus track on Greens From The Garden.
With Greens From The Garden, Harris doesn't fool around with the Delta idiom, he turns it on its head. Slowly cooked all together, the Caribbean rhythms, mambos, blues, reggae, and ragtime that make up the album become one large musical feast, flavors blending, creating a wholly original blues concept album unlike anything previously attempted. "An authentic voice and an eclectic vision,"raved the San Francisco Bay Guardian. "Remarkable,"agreed the Chicago Tribune, "electrifying passion. "Indeed, with Greens From The Garden, Harris reconceives and expands the blues tradition with his deeply rooted and starkly contemporary music which he serves up to ravenous fans all over the world.