Rick Harris Jr.
- The Shenandoah Valley Musician
Life in The Shenandoah Valley
by Mary Byrd
Blackwell - The Shenandoah Valley-Herald
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
Groups 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 dont know. I just like music,
he says. If you dont have one style
of music, no one can put you in a box.
Listen to this mp3 - The
Shenandoah River Song by Rick Harris
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.
the richest man youll 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
Ive played for 50,000 people, and Ive
played for no one, and its all the same, he
says. Im glad people enjoy what I do.
Performing is a strange thing. I just want to play with
When they turn the big eye on you, it ruins your
life. Ive watched all the people self-destruct or
be self-destructed, Harris maintains. I
dont want to be popular, I really dont.
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
No part is more important that any other, its
the combination that makes it exciting.
Harris Jr., as he refers to himself, lives a simple
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.
Hes 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 wouldnt want to listen to once,
Currently he is a woodworker at Merillat in Mount Jackson.
I dont think you can write music unless you
do manual labor, he says. Most musicians are
out here living the day-to-day life.
Im working paycheck to paycheck. Ive
got two kids, Ive been faithful to my wife for 20
years, he says. I dont have a computer,
I dont have a good stereo. Thats not
important. The things that are important are the family.
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 doesnt drive on the
interstate. His inspirations and his joys are within
arms reach: river, mountains, history, family.
Somehow if you dont immerse yourself in the
natural world, youre not going to write beautiful
music, he says. If you dont surround
yourself with things that are beautiful, youre not
going to be a beautiful person. Its pretty simple,
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 doesnt 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,
theyll make it a part of their lives. I need it.
Harris hates to go on stage.
Two hours before, I dont want to do it,
he says. I dont feel like playing music. Then
all the sudden you realize, if I dont do this,
Im not going to be happy.
Then I get there, and they cant shut me down,
he says with a chuckle. The next thing you know,
its one oclock, and theyre 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
dont know if Ill 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 fathers 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
I dont have a band. I have lots of bands,
he says. I put together a group, and I sit in with
There have been incredible people who keep me here,
Harris says. Our musical exchange is more
meaningful than I can explain to anyone. Its beyond
sex or religion or any other wonderful things that can
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
Raymonds up on Rudes 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
I dont want to impress people I dont
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 doesnt feel pressed to have
more printed or to release another album.
I dont want to be remembered for anything
other than I stimulated other people into doing their
music, he says.
Some people hunt, some people work on cars to
relieve stress, Harris says. I write music.
It doesnt cost money and you dont need
a prescription, he notes. It keeps me from
seeking professional help.
He says he has written more than 300 songs.
Ive written music for 30 years, recorded all
but 30, heard my voice from age 18 to 48, he notes.
There are songs Ive recorded that Ive
never done live, never done again. Some songs you
dont 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 Im older.
Sometimes [the music and the words] come together,
and thats just great, he says.
Thats 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 youve 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:
540-335-8190 to book Rick Harris JR
or email ShenandoahMusic@hotmail.com
to this mp3 - The
Shenandoah River Song by Rick Harris
CD Rick Harris and Friends
Hobo Looking for
Paradise - The Bluegrass
- Turquoise Lady - Too Many Roosters And Not Enough Hens - Bear Hound
Two full songs from the CD with Buddy Wolfe
and Randy Poehler the playing Ghost
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
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