Born on February 21, 1969, in Denver, CO. Addresses: Record company--Rounder Records, One Camp St., Cambridge, MA 02140; Website--Corey Harris Official Website: http://www.coreyharrismusic.com.
In the 1990s Corey Harris became one of the leading lights of the acoustic blues revival. Along with Keb' Mo' and Guy Davis, he discovered his muse in pre-war, acoustic blues, listening to artists like Son House and Reverend Gary Davis. "I see tradition as something that isn't back there," he told Steven Rosen in the Denver Post, "but is with us. It's something you have to nurture--it's something you wear on your heart." Despite his identification as a blues artist, Harris has refused to be confined to a single category. With each new album, he adds fresh ingredients, drawing from New Orleans jazz and African drum circles. "Corey Harris has earned substantial critical acclaim," noted Steve Huey in All Music Guide, "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."
From an early age, Harris seemed predestined for a life in music. "I had my first toy guitar when I was three years old," he told James Sullivan in the San Francisco Chronicle. "I remember banging on things. I had a little wood flute. Music is my companion." At age 12 Harris began playing guitar and listening to his mother's Lightnin' Hopkins records. He played trumpet in marching bands while attending elementary and junior high school, and as a teenager, he played his guitar on the street corners of downtown Denver. "I needed to play and I needed an audience," Harris told Rosen.
After high school, Harris received a scholarship to study anthropology at Bates College, a liberal arts school in Maine. He traveled to France for post-graduate studies and received a $13,000 fellowship to study African culture in Cameroon in 1991. On his return to the United States, he moved to Napoleonville, Louisiana, and joined the Teach for America program, teaching French and English to middle school students. After completing the program, Harris moved to New Orleans where he spent time playing on street corners. "I spent a long time on the streets in New Orleans," Harris told Gregory Isola in Guitar Player, "playing eight hours a day, seven days a week." He also, he told Isola, traveled throughout the area, absorbing traditional music. "I spent considerable time in Clarksdale, Mississippi, soaking things up. Then, I just traveled in my car, playing wherever I could. I didn't have a record deal or an agent or anything. It was just me and my guitar, making enough money for gas and motels."
At the age of 26, Harris released his debut, Between Midnight and Day, joining a growing cadre of musicians drawing heavily from the acoustic blues tradition. The album included songs by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Blind Boy Fuller, Muddy Waters, and Sleepy John Estes, and Living Blues magazine named it the Best Blues Album of 1995. "Whether he is moaning and growling through Robert Johnson's 'Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning' or shuffling through 'I'm a Rattlesnakin' Daddy'...," wrote Norm Shaw in Memphis Mojo online, "you can close your eyes and easily be transported back in time." Positive reviews and media attention led to an opening slot on a tour with former 10,000 Maniacs lead singer, Natalie Merchant.
Harris released his sophomore effort, Fish Ain't Bitin', to additional critical fanfare, in 1997. While he continued to draw from traditional blues, he also wrote half of the material. "Corey Harris has turned in one great little album," wrote Cub Koda in All Music Guide, "that examines the music's past while looking forward to the future for more input." Fish Ain't Bitin' won the W.C. Handy Award in 1997 for Best Acoustic Blues Album of the Year, an award one writer called the Grammy of the blues world. Harris was also invited to join Billy Bragg and Wilco in the studio to collaborate on Mermaid Avenue, an album comprising songs Woody Guthrie had left unfinished at his death.
In 1999 he released Greens from the Garden. "Music is nourishment--it's soul food," Harris told Isola. "So, for this album, I wanted to prepare a meal with different ingredients." Isola concurs: "The resulting musical gumbo is half French cuisine, half backyard barbecue--with dialog snippets of elders reciting greens recipes linking tracks like wine between courses." Greens from the Garden only contains two covers and ventures far outside of traditional blues to include a Cajun waltz and a spiritual re-conceptualized as reggae. Harris also wrote music for "Teabag Blues," a Woody Guthrie lyric, and then invited Bragg to join him in the studio.
In 2000 Harris collaborated with pianist Henry Butler, an artist he had played live dates with and who had made a guest appearance on Greens from the Garden. "I always learn something new from him," Harris told Blanche Clark in the Herald Sun, "because he's very advanced musically and he's also very helpful." Vu-Du Menz drew from 1920s/1930s guitar and piano music, covering a broader musical spectrum than traditional blues. "With its old-timey ambience, Butler's frilly piano, Harris' smart lyrics, and a nice mix of good-time tunes and serious numbers," noted Ed Kopp in All About Jazz, "Vu Du Menz has plenty going for it."
In spite of a number of critically acclaimed albums and awards, Harris has downplayed his role in the acoustic blues revival. "I don't think that just because a guy comes out with a CD he should be the 'future' of anything...," he told Sullivan in 1998. "I'm 29, so I have a long time ahead of me to play my music and develop." In 2002 Harris released Downhome Sophisticate on Rounder Records, an album that drew heavily from his experience in Cameroon and expanded his musical palette by adding rhythms based on African drumming. "This is music both primitive and elusive," Robert Doerschuk wrote in All Music Guide, "easy to absorb and more difficult to play than it seems." While reviewers and critics continued to define Harris as an acoustic blues musician, he resisted all categories. "There are no boundaries in music," he told Isola. "It's all an expression of your inner self and your experiences."
by Ronald D. Lankford Jr
Corey Harris's Career
Began playing guitar at age 12; released debut, Between Midnight and Day, on Alligator Records, 1995; recorded Fish Ain't Bitin', 1997, Greens from the Garden, 1999, Vu-Du Menz, 2000; released Downhome Sophisticate on Rounder Records, 2002.
Corey Harris's Awards
W.C. Handy Award, Best Acoustic Blues Album of the Year for Fish Ain't Bitin', 1997.
- Selected discography
- Between Midnight and Day , Alligator, 1995.
- Fish Ain't Bitin' , Alligator, 1997.
- Greens from the Garden , Alligator, 1999.
- (With Henry Butler) Vu-Du Menz , Alligator, 2000.
- Downhome Sophisticate , Rounder, 2002.
June 7, 2005: Harris' album, Daily Bread, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, June 7, 2005.
- Albuquerque Journal, May 24, 2002.
- Austin American-Statesman, August 11, 1998.
- Denver Post, June 15, 1996, p. E08.
- Guitar Player, August 1999, p. 35.
- Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), October 31, 2001, p. 57.
- San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1998, p. 45.
- Seattle Times, January 20, 2000.
- "Corey Harris," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 30, 2002).
- "Corey Harris," Memphis Mojo, http://www.memphismojo.com/ (November 5, 2002).
- "Vu Du Menz," All About Jazz, http://www.allaboutjazz.com/reviews/r0500_129.htm (November 5, 2002).