Country Music Superstar Hillbilly to London Rock and Roller
Country Music Hillbilly to
London Rock and Roller
I wish I had learned two languages growing up….
I am not talking spoken word. I am talking music.…
It would be difficult for me to have come from a cooler life and cooler place in the world. I am super proud to be from Big Beaver, Saskatchewan, Canada, population 55. It made me. It is so unconventional in comparison to anyone else I have met in my travels that it makes my situation very unique. To describe my life growing up, stretching it just a little, I often tell people that I did not hear rock and roll until I was 21. That is not quite accurate, but it is kind of the truth (sure I had heard of AC/DC and sure I had heard the Proclaimers at high-school dances). I guess a better way to say is it that I did not find rock and roll until I was 21. That is for sure accurate.
Where I grew up in this world on a farm/cattle ranch 10 km from a small town called Big Beaver, we had AM radios in our tractors. Starting in my early youth, I spent many many long hours and days in our farm machinery, working the land. There were two radio stations that I could listen to in fields. One was country music (“This is Nine-Eighty, CKRM!”) and the other one was country music (“Coun-try Eight-Hun-dreeeeed!”). That was it. Those were my options.
Since long before my own existence, my father was the most famous music man of the countryside. I was given a real musical gift coming into this world as I was actually born into a country music band called ‘The Roadrunners’ that involved my whole family. My dad sang and played guitar. My mom sang and played played bass. My brother Danny was the drummer. Sometimes my brother Matt would come to play bass for shows when he was not playing with another band. Myself, well, I sang in the band from the time that I was 5-years-old until I was 12. We were like the Jackson’s with less weirdness. Well, maybe we had our own weird ways. I guess we were probably more akin to the Partridge Family.
Two other men from towns close by filled out the rest of our family band and I spent at least two weekends a month, from birth until I was a teenager, in the back of our family van full of band equipment, usually laying on top of it, while travelling to gigs. For every wedding, rodeo dance, hockey wind-up, curling-bonspiel, community weekend festival, etcetera, within 100 miles of our farm/ranch through the 1980’s, our family band was probably the musical entertainment of the function. We were famous in our part of the world. Even today, if my car broke down within that 100 miles of the farm where I grew up and I had to walk to someone’s house for help, when I got to the front door I could say, “Hi. I am having vehicle troubles. I am Stephen Harris…Milson Harris’ son,” and the people answering the door would more than likely say, “Oh, the musician man?” Yes, come in!
They know my family far and wide through the rolling hills of our geographical jurisdiction.
My life was country music. I was singing in country music in talent competitions as a kid and people thought I was going to become the next young country music star. Our band was on local television playing country covers. Country music was everything to our family. The music played on the radio in the house throughout the day. It would have been the betrayal of having an affair to even like any other genre of music. I was totally country music. I owned nearly every country music CD by every artist that came out between the years 1991 and 1995. Tracy Byrd. Yep. Tracy Lawrence. Uh huh. Garth Brooks. Of course. Sammy Kershaw. A must. The Tractors. Had to have it…
And then further down the line, life changed. I went to university (there were girls there!). And then, of all places, in a town next to our village of Big Beaver, someone introduced me to rock and roll.
I can remember the very moment well when the doors of my musical life blasted open. It was one night when I was playing bass with my brother Matt’s band, the ‘Badland Country Band.’ We had finished for the night after playing for the Ladies Curling Bonspiel. A friend of my brother’s began DJing after our band’s final set. The DJ played a song, loud and late, in the Bengough Community Center. The music was pure power! The energy of it was not coming at me through my ears..it was blasting into my body through my chest! It was incredible. I was trying to wrap my mind around what I was hearing. I remember looking at my best friend who was always about 6 months more musically advanced than I was, and asking him, “Travis, what is this!!??” He told me, “This is ‘Rock and Roll’ by Led Zeppelin.” I shouted, “This must be the greatest fucking song they ever made!” He replied, “Oh no… There is more…” And then to be clear, he nodded with another, “There is more…”
That very moment changed my life. That moment opened a world for this cowboy from the hills of Saskatchewan (which I still absolutely love being by the way). That very moment, that first exposure to Led Zeppelin is the reason that my life is based out of London today, a city I which consider to be the musical center of the world.
I would like to meet Robert Plant one day to tell him that story. His son Logan is the singer in a UK band, and I met the drummer of that band one night in a bar. I hoped to get to meet Logan just to tell him about how the band his father was in completely changed the direction of my life and suddenly I did not want to just settle down and marry the girl I had fanaticized over through my school days. I have been unable to share this story with anyone connected to Led Zeppelin thus far, but perhaps someday.
I called home last night and my dad told me that we had our cattle round-up last weekend. Had that night with the DJ and Led Zeppelin not happened many years ago, I might have been there and wrestling calves at the ranch, rather than heading out of London towards Nottingham tomorrow to watch Download Festival where Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Rammstein will be playing. Life is a wild threat and there is no telling which eye of the needle it will go through until you look back after it has all happened and you have a good think about the situation…
I was sort of ‘in’ a little with the London rock and roll crowd while living in Camden Town for a couple of years. One night at a house party I got smashed with Carl Barât who was part of a very successful band with Pete Doherty called ‘The Libertines.’ I was telling Karl about my life and how I grew up in the country music band I just described. He was fascinated by what I was telling him. This successful, rich, rockstar was looking at me in amazement and he told me that he was jealous of my life. My life? My life! It was weird for me and it really verified how lucky I am to be where I am from, because it is truly a very special place in the world.
But, rock and roll got a hold of me, and I have had to do a lot of catch-up in that genre of music to get to where I am today. I ended up reading a lot of rock and roll history and biographies, becoming nearly obsessed with it. In just a decade, I learned more about music than all but a few people I know who have come through my life to this point. I ended up becoming a music journalist for the Hard Rock Café. If you go into the Hard Rock in London, the original Hard Rock of the world, you will hear my voice on the audio-tour. For two months Hard Rock Café in London paid me to study music and write about the things on their walls. This voice, this hillbilly country-music cowboy from Big Beaver, Saskatchewan, will tell you about the rock and roll memorabilia on their walls. This twang has given 1000’s of people information on pieces from their favorite bands which are mounted to the walls in the most important Hard Rock Café in the world. Sometimes I cannot believe it is me who got that job. This guy. Me. ‘These are Mick Jagger’s pants from when the Rolling Stones played Wembley in 1978. The Rolling Stones were…..’
At home on the ranch, to this day, I have stacks of CD’s by artists like Shennendoah, Jon Anderson, Brooks & Dunn, Mark Chestnut, Marty Stuart… That is where I spent my time. As soon as something came out that I wanted, I had my parents pick it up from HMV if they were up in the city. I spent hours listening to that music, and I still love it. Besides what was being created in the 1970’s, the early to mid-1990’s of country music is the best that the genre ever was. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but it is how I feel because that era is what I grew up on. I exclusively rock on the road, but in the brief moments when I am home, all I listen to is country music. Country music is the feel of the land at home. I love the nostalgia of it when I am wearing cowboy boots and Wranglers on the ranch, hanging out with my dad, driving across the prairie to fix fences.
I did not stand a chance at rock and roll chance where I grew up. I had a special thing, but I wish I could have had more. I wish I could have found rock and roll earlier. If I could, I would trade those school nights at home listening to Blackhawk, Collin Raye, Diamond Rio, Clay Walker and Aaron Tippin for Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rage Against the Machine, and Megadeth. I have no regrets, but if time were not linear, I would make that change in a heartbeat… Popularity amongst my peers would have taken a hit because everyone else would have been too closed to want to understand that ‘crazy music’ I would have been blasting. But today I would happily swap some of my peer-status of then for less brain-space used on track listings of George Strait and Lonestar albums for that same mental data storage that would have saved Alice in Chains, The Black Crowes and the Stooges for me to now easily recall instead.
I am glad I am who I am, but I really wish I could have found it earlier and had country and rock and roll at the same time. I am extremely glad for what my father gave us kids with country music and the life I came from with the musical-family gift. I would never want to not have had that because it was beautiful, it really formulated who I am today, and is extremely important to me. But I wish there had been an option to have learned a second language of rock and roll in my youthier youth to have more knowledge of it now. I could have easily been a bilingual kid!
Life takes one on a fascinating path. You never know what to expect and there is nothing to keep it directly on the track that seemed to have been set out for you. All I know for sure is that I am damn lucky for the music that I was given and for the music I have found! Music is a beautiful time machine of memories and emotions.
It lays a foundation inside of you…