Who Is Harry Harrison?
On the trail of a musical gypsy
Story by Laura Martier
Photographs by Gayle Tiller
Every so often someone passes through our Outer Banks world and creates such a rumbling that the reverberations last a long time.
About three years ago, Harry Harrison landed here in a broken-down van, with only a guitar, a bunch of original songs and a head full of ideas. We haven’t been the same since.
To prepare for this article, I asked my Facebook community to describe Harrison, and the response was huge. People described him as being as funny as he is musical, with a miles-deep bag of references and influences, like a Hawking of Name that Tune, the bastard son of Steven Wright and Mozart with a side order of George Martin. They said he is an old soul with new ideas, a brilliant musician and wordsmith, a diminutive musical giant. They’ve called him a sweetheart with swagger, a Springsteen for moderns, a mosaic, a wunderkind, the real thing (see the full list of responses below).
He was born in Charleston, S.C., on August 30, 1990, coming into the world kicking and screaming after a difficult birth, as if he sensed that what he was about to enter would be a stark contrast to the warm comfort of his mother’s womb.
A sensitive and creative child, he was bullied in school and would choose detention over recess to avoid that torture. At home things were not much better. After his parents divorced and the family structure fell into chaos, he coped mostly through writing, music and drugs. He learned to play guitar and was eventually enrolled in a magnet school, where he studied writing and wrote a novel at 17.
Harrison’s first band was Biggie Number Six, named after the spicy chicken sandwich meal at Wendy’s; their first recording, With a Coke, included two songs. He and his sister started another band, Captain Buzzkill and the Bringdowns. At a battle of the bands contest, during which Harrison angered a fellow band member by jumping all over the amplifier, he gave a glimpse of the frenetic performances that he would eventually become known for. “Howling, seducing, raging, indignant, jeering, imploring, begging, hectoring, confessing, keening, wailing, soothing, conversational, crooning” is how one fan describes them.
After a relocation to Asheville, Harrison met Jesse Myers — “the coolest-looking guy in town who had a guitar,” he says — plus drummer Josh Martier and bassist Tom Peters, and formed the garage rock band The Critters. The band was an immediate hit; readers of the Mountain Xpress, an alternative newspaper covering western North Carolina, voted The Critters the Next Big Thing and the Best Rock Band two years in a row. After a legal battle with another band of the same name, The Critters became The Tills. “In fact,” Harrison says, “my proudest moment may have been when The Critters band from the ’60s told us to knock it off .… because after we started the band we realized the name was stolen and I remember saying, ‘Let’s just keep using it until they tell us to stop.’ I figured if a band that had hit songs in the 60s was feeling threatened by us, it was a good sign.”
In 2012 The Tills released Mixtape Vol. 1, followed by Howlin’ in 2014. They plan to release their first full-length album in mid-2016. Harrison describes The Tills’ music as “slop pop,” saying, “I usually regard The Tills’ sound as the sound closest to what’s in my head, and it’s all original music.”
Harrison released three solo albums simultaneously in 2015 – HH Goat, Pretty Songs for Girls and The Lone R.C.H. IV — which can be heard and purchased at theharryharrison.bandcamp.com.
Harrison divides his time among Asheville, Brooklyn and the Outer Banks. While on the Outer Banks he performs solo and plays gigs with Hound Dogs Family Band, Yacht Dogs, Sticky Nickel, The Billy Clams and The Running Club.
The Hound Dogs’ music is similar to The Tills’, he says, but with more improvisation and a bit more funk, R&B, hip-hop and soul, and more covers; the Yacht Dogs’ is like the Hound Dogs’ but smaller and with more folk/country leanings. He describes The Billy Clams as a vaudeville act.
“My solo performances are just me with a guitar singing whatever songs I like best at the time,” he says. “I like doing solo performances because it feels like music therapy. The solo albums, however, delve much more deeply into experimenting with whatever genre I feel like investigating. I treat solo albums more like anthologies.”
His songwriting range is vast and has elicited comparisons to Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and John Lennon.
“When you hear Harry,” says friend Chuck Larson, “you feel like you’ve just discovered new songs by the Beatles.”
Combine his songwriting skills, vocal style and stage presence – “enigmatic and unpredictable,” “commands attention in the least commanding of ways” as a couple of fans described it – and the effect is mesmerizing.
“If you’ve ever had the privilege of sharing a stage with HH, you know how hard it is not to get swept up by his presence, just like every audience member watching him,” says Katie Fuller, fellow Hound Dogs band member. “You can feel the great power of his presence behind his guitar. To be that close to him as he shares his words is a true gift. HH crafts lyrics that expertly say what others are afraid to say. He does not flinch from the shadows. He sheds light upon them. And you may not even realize what the hell he is saying until the 63rd time you’ve heard it. And when you do, it floors you.”
Where is HH?
Summer is here and so is Harry Harrison. This summer you can catch him in a number of bands — Hound Dogs Family Band, Yacht Dogs, Sticky Nickel, The Running Club, The Billy Clams — or solo. A few of his regular gigs:
Sunday: The Running Club at The Blue Point in Duck from 6 to 9 p.m.
Monday: The Billy Clams at Open Water Grill in Avon at 6:30 p.m.
The Billy Clams at Turner’s Bar in Avon at 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday: Solo at Fishbones in Duck from 6 to 9 p.m.
The Yacht Dogs at Jolly Roger from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Wednesday: The Yacht Dogs at Trio from 7:45 to 10:45 p.m.
Thursday: Solo at Sweet T’s in Duck from 7 to 10 p.m.
Friday: Yacht Dogs at Waveriders in Nags Head from 6 to 9 p.m.
Saturday: The Running Club at Eastside in Duck from 6 to 9 p.m.
Facebook Comments about Harry Harrison for the research of this story
Laura A. Martier with Ed Tupper and 52 others.
For those of you familiar with Harry Harrison as a person and musician I ask you to give me a sentence describing him in your words. I’m doing research for an article! Thank you in advance!
Ed Tupper Harry is one of the great song writers of his generation and a true showman.
Mike Rowe Harry is an entertainer with great talent and amazing style.
Biff Jennings Harry is as funny as he is musical, with a miles deep bag of references and influences, like a Hawking of “name that tune”, the bastard son of Steven Wright and Mozart with a side order of George Martin.
Belinda Lucey Wait, he’s the son I never had…..and I never met any of those dudes smile emoticon
Chuck Larson When you hear Harry, you feel like you’ve just discovered new songs by the Beatles…
Mick Vaughn Harry writhes and wrestles with his music, it’s full contact entertainment! And he’s HOTTTTTTTT!!
Chuck Larson And fun to watch gladiator movies with…
Harry Harrison Thnks for the sentiments folks! Honored to be the subject of this project wink emoticon and undeserving of such high praise from such groovy people
Lindsey Herring When you walk into a room where Harry is performing you stay until he’s done & you are begging for more!
Tyler Nilson he commands attention in the least commanding of ways. softly. he woo’s it. a perfect combination of sex and violence.
Harry Harrison glad nobody’s mentioned my body odor
Lindsey Beasley Dianna haven’t composed my sentence yet, buddy, there’s still time wink emoticon
Write a reply…
Graham Outten For someone as talented as he is, Harry is one of the most humble and kind musicians I’ve met. Keep on rockin my friend!!
Dan Martier Harry is a cross between John Lennon and Iggy Pop,and also is a fine gymnast who realized late in life beer is Not for breakfast.
Tom Peters Manic moments in the van remembered most fondly.
Jesse Meyers An old soul with new ideas, Harry is an auteur of his own autonomy, an incredible musician and wordsmith, and a sweetheart with swagger.
Daniel Will The best !
Andy Begina Harry Harrison’s writing and his on stage performance are both enigmatic and unpredictable; truly captivating.
Butch Ball Springsteen for Moderns
David Schain crazy incredible song writer and vocolist with wide range and just all around a really fun person. A Bob Dylan meets the Beatles kind of deal, but he can do it all. With an incredible stage presance.
Jim Fuller He’s alpha omega good/evil. He is a presence
Diane Dilworth Harry is a sweet, soulful being with mesmerizing stories that he shares thru song.
He takes my breath away!
Belinda Lucey Everything about Harry crawls inside your heart….fills those gaps and holes we never even knew with grace notes and red velvet cake.
Claudia Splick Larson He’s a young more talented Bob Dylan! Has his finger on the pulse of life. Makes me laugh!
Randy Burton Nice guy Lennon with a little Dylan flair.
Kerry Weber Raskin Mosaic, multi-faceted, wunderkind. That’s 3!
Patrick Ball There are musicians, and there are artists. Harry is an artist.
Taylor Casey I hear Harry Harrison created the earth in 7 days. Also, he likes to vacuum.
Manveena Singh Harry Harrison is the real thing. You feel it when you experience him artistically. You know he was sent here to make music. He reminds me of Jeff Buckley playing gigs in the village when I was in undergrad. He has that X factor. he is touched. “Je ne sais quoi”.
Chris Pendry That’s that dude!
Jeffrey D Ballard Eccentric, metro, maniac
Ed Tupper He makes a mean crock pot pot roast!
Graham Outten “Not sure if you’ve heard of him but he’s kinda a big deal”
Daniel Sebastian Gomez-Nichols I’ve been told, and think, he’s the voice of our generation. Also, some of the best company you can have around you.
Jordan Adams Incredibly talented musician with slightly awkward yet endearing stage presence.
Skyla Lamberto-Egan its always a good night dancing if Harry is playing!
Natalia Kahn This dreamy fella is prominently known for his rock-stardom as his musical prowess is truly drool-inducing, but really he’s just a guy that does what he wants to do, like he’s always done.
Nely Mendoza Harry is incredibly talented and has an amazing onstage persona.
Robert DeFazio Lou Reed, reincarnated. He’s 60s/70s Rock & Roll personified.
Betsy Owens Harry rocks. point blank perion
Betsy Owens i mean, period. period
Betsy Owens and my favorite line from a rockin’ tune… “peoples is peoples and trees is trees..” from the archived songs of THE Harry harrison
Lisa Cooper I havn’t come up with my sentence, but mark suggests “Harry is a virtuoso of acting average.”
Denise Martier Munson Though I haven’t been around him nearly enough, when Harry is performing you are drawn in…you want more…you know you are experiencing something special that you never have before.
Katie Fuller If you’ve ever had the privilege of sharing a stage with HH, you know how hard it is to not to get swept up by his presence just like every audience member watching him. You can feel the great power of his presence behind his guitar. To be that close t…See More
Lindy Lou Crassons He’s an interesting person.
Scott Sechman A diminutive musical giant.
Heather Sholar A nice young man.