Shenandoah Music

Rick Harris Jr. - The Shenandoah Valley Musician

Celebrating Life in The Shenandoah Valley
by Mary Byrd Blackwell - The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

His fingers dancing over the guitar strings, his head thrown back then bending deeply forward, eyes often shut, now one foot poised in midair, ­he feels the music. He is the music.

Rick Harris, Jr. has lived in The Shenandoah Valley for many years, and has played all the venues and open mics, such at The Art Group’s monthly First Friday in Mount Jackson. He blends country, bluegrass, jazz, classical, blues, honky-tonk, rock and roll, and just about any other flavor of music you can think of in his original songs.

How does he categorize his style?

“I don’t know. I just like music,” he says. “If you don’t have one style of music, no one can put you in a box.”

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Listen to this mp3 - The Shenandoah River Song by Rick Harris

An exceptional guitarist and a gifted poet, Harris is a rare talent with the potential to be a national celebrity. He has no need of stardom.

“I’m the richest man you’ll ever meet,” he says. “Why would anyone want to go on the road? You can lose your kids on the road. You can lose your wife on the road.”

“I’ve played for 50,000 people, and I’ve played for no one, and it’s all the same,” he says. “I’m glad people enjoy what I do. Performing is a strange thing. I just want to play with my friends.”

“When they turn the big eye on you, it ruins your life. I’ve watched all the people self-destruct or be self-destructed,” Harris maintains. “I don’t want to be popular, I really don’t.”

For Harris, the magic happens when musicians come together and just make music.

“Music is a community thing, not an individual thing,” he says. “The word ‘ensemble’ is what excites me.”

“No part is more important that any other, it’s the combination that makes it exciting.”

The anti-star
Harris Jr.,­ as he refers to himself, lives a simple life.

His father -- minister, teacher and illustrator -- ­brought the family to the Valley when Harris was a teen. Now this corner of the world is all the home he wants.

He’s been a rancher, a poultry grower, a house painter, a photographer and a rug salesman. He was a partner and recording engineer in a Tacoma Park, Md., studio, where he placed people with major labels and played with hot D.C. performers.

“Most of the music I was being forced to listen to a hundred times, I wouldn’t want to listen to once,” he says.

Currently he is a woodworker at Merillat in Mount Jackson.

“I don’t think you can write music unless you do manual labor,” he says. “Most musicians are out here living the day-to-day life.”

“I’m working paycheck to paycheck. I’ve got two kids, I’ve been faithful to my wife for 20 years,” he says. “I don’t have a computer, I don’t have a good stereo. That’s not important. The things that are important are the family.”

"My dad is a historian, and he got me interested,” he explains. “My favorite things are looking for artifacts and playing with folks.”

Harris says he has no need to travel. He goes to Harrisonburg, the nearest city, a few times a year and to Woodstock once a week for the jam on Route 11 in Shenandoah County VA. He doesn’t drive on the interstate. His inspirations and his joys are within arm’s reach:­ river, mountains, history, family.

“Somehow if you don’t immerse yourself in the natural world, you’re not going to write beautiful music,” he says. “If you don’t surround yourself with things that are beautiful, you’re not going to be a beautiful person. It’s pretty simple, nothing complex.”

His wife Donna is a professional singer and until recently has been a stay-at-home mom. Son Logan, plays guitar and clarinet; Jacob, the sax.

Harris says he doesn’t force music on his boys.

“If music is a hobby, you should be able to do it whenever you want,” he maintains. “If they want to make it a part of their life, if they need it, they’ll make it a part of their lives. I need it.”

Reluctant performer
Harris hates to go on stage.

“Two hours before, I don’t want to do it,” he says. “I don’t feel like playing music. Then all the sudden you realize, if I don’t do this, I’m not going to be happy.”

“Then I get there, and they can’t shut me down,” he says with a chuckle. “The next thing you know, it’s one o’clock, and they’re saying, ‘Can you pack your stuff up?’ because they want to vacuum the floor. And it happens every time.”

“I sweat more than anybody else on stage, because I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again,” he says. “Every day is a gift.”

Harris plays it all, what he calls the soundtrack of his life: a rollicking drinking song, an ode to his beloved Valley, a quest for the meaning of existence, a cowboy song, a father’s lullaby, a sensuous love song. He finishes with a rich chord or a single plucked sting, then his rolling laugh, like children in an old wagon making their voices shake with the ruts.

He hosts the weekly jam session to make music the way he likes.

“I don’t have a band. I have lots of bands,” he says. “I put together a group, and I sit in with them.”

“There have been incredible people who keep me here,” Harris says. “Our musical exchange is more meaningful than I can explain to anyone. It’s beyond sex or religion or any other wonderful things that can come along.”

“I have had the rare privilege of experiencing a community of music in a number of exotic places,” he relates. “Sitting on the rocky beach outside Halifax, Nova Scotia, and singing with the fishermen going out lobster fishing; riding with the natives of the Amazon on a riverboat late at night, clapping rhythms and chanting for the rowers; joining the bluegrass pickers at Raymond’s up on Rude’s Hill outside Mount Jackson. Each of these experiences has had a profound effect on my opinions about music.”

Music stars miss the reasons Harris loves music ­ celebration, family and community ­ by trying to impress strangers, he says.

“Impress the people you know by your ability to celebrate life with all its ups and downs, its blues and its greens. Impress your family by your love and consistency. Celebrate shared experiences with your friends.”

“I don’t want to impress people I don’t know,” he says. “I want to impress people I do know. I want to impress my wife.”

He has turned down lucrative offers. His CD “Harris Jr. and Friends,” which was available locally, has sold out, and Harris doesn’t feel pressed to have more printed or to release another album.

“I don’t want to be remembered for anything other than I stimulated other people into doing their music,” he says.

Song craft
“Some people hunt, some people work on cars to relieve stress,” Harris says. “I write music.”

“It doesn’t cost money and you don’t need a prescription,” he notes. “It keeps me from seeking professional help.”

He says he has written more than 300 songs.

“I’ve written music for 30 years, recorded all but 30, heard my voice from age 18 to 48,” he notes. “There are songs I’ve recorded that I’ve never done live, never done again. Some songs you don’t sing because they are too real.”

“I can write a song anywhere or any time, at the drop of a hat,” he says, not boasting, just stating fact. “I can write another song tomorrow, and it would probably be better, because I’m older.”

“Sometimes [the music and the words] come together, and that’s just great,” he says. “That’s the best way.” But sometimes the two happen years apart.”

“I am trying to write songs -- melodies, I should say,” Harris says. “To me if you create a good melody, like Stephen Foster who sticks around for a hundred years, then you’ve achieved a kind of immortality. ... Then the melody is bigger than you are.”

“Music is continuous. It will go on.” Come see Rick Harris Play in Harrisonbrug at:

Call 540-335-8190 to book Rick Harris JR
or email

Listen to this mp3 - The Shenandoah River Song by Rick Harris

From the CD Rick Harris and Friends

Hobo Looking for Paradise - The Bluegrass Blues
full song - Turquoise Lady - Too Many Roosters And Not Enough Hens - Bear Hound

Two full songs from the CD with Buddy Wolfe
Randy Poehler the playing Ghost Town Blues
and Shenandoah Boogie
Mp3 Here

Buddy Wolfe - Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin - Randy Poehler - Harmonica
Mike Ketchum- Slide Guitar - Scott Linton - Drums
Rick Harris - Bass, Guitar, Mandolin featured in West Virginia
Executive Magazine.
Read Here

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