He has a very broad appeal and fanbase due to his rather eclectic style. His songs are often very introspective and heartfealt and he and his band of Innocent Criminals have a reputation as a spectacular live act.
Growing up in a musical family, he quickly developed his craft as a singer-songwriter and guitarist, played his first gig at the age of 12 and by his early 20s performed live with iconic bluesman Taj Mahal. In , Ben signed with Virgin Records and released his debut album, Welcome To The Cruel World, the first of 12 studio albums he would make as a solo artist.
But over the next 25 years, Ben Harper would rarely cut a lone figure. Ben Harper also formed the bands Fistful Of Mercy with Dhani Harrison and Joseph Arthur and Relentless7, recording albums and continuing to performing live with each of them. He teamed up with legendary blues harmonica player and guitarist Charlie Musselwhite for the album Get Up! How did you discover that instrument?
It was a musical and literary epicentre for my region of the world, which was in Southern California. The people who have wandered through those doors: That was my childhood and upbringing, so the lap steel guitar just happened to resonate with me the deepest.
I was knee-deep in the blues at that point and I was very focused on learning and playing blues music — I was going around the world, meeting living blues legends those that would have me, anyway! Norma Waterson covered that song, so that does prove that there was a reason why that one resonated differently. She did a brilliant cover of that, by the way, much better that mine! Something opened up, either in me or in the universe, to let that happen.
Every wind that blows and every step you take is a frequency, so we are all living in a world surrounded by frequency-based realities that we cannot see. Doing something and thinking about doing something are quite different!
The guitar sound you produced on that Faded especially was so unusual. We got turned down by other labels, and one of the reasons was because I refused to let the ballads be produced syrupy — I wanted them to be stripped down. There was no path for musical eclecticism in that period, so I just felt we were breaking the rules.
I had done it so wrong for so long that it was starting to become a style, and it felt great and very liberating. I know screenwriters and novelists who see the world through a film or a novel. He takes notes and it ends up being an antic in his programme. I just was in a place where there was still a naivety but it was a confident naivety.
Am I running from my childhood or my past, or am I running from not wanting to run out of ideas? Am I running from being who I really am? And songwriting was always something I could run towards.
Those jump out right away. The combination and collaboration that goes on between melody and lyrics. For that reason, those do jump out at me. So I had to prod it out of them. Dean was the first Innocent Criminal that actually brought me a song that was quite well formed. There were some holes that he allowed me to fill in, but that was probably one of my earliest collaborations.
It was really fun, to just have giant white cardboard paper tacked all over the walls, giant markers, and to just go. The jamming with lyrics was borne out of our intensity and lunacy. Are you planning to do more together? How did you start working with him? John was helping a small club to pay its bills, so he was doing some free shows and Charlie was sitting in with him.
John Lee had heard my music and invited me to be the opening act, which was a hugely exciting, as you can imagine. Then in , John Lee invited Charlie and I into the studio to play with him on what would be his last studio record. And John Lee mentioned that our sound leant itself to one another and we should do more stuff as a duo. It took me 15 years to set aside the blues to be ready. I bring the songs forward and I usually pick 10 out of 20, so that was the case.
Just playing Closing Time the other night, my wife and I, and our mouths were agape at how beautiful it is. I jump down things, over things, flip tricks and stuff like that. Find out more at benharper.
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Growing up in a musical family, he quickly developed his craft as a singer-songwriter and guitarist, played his first gig at the age of 12 and by his early 20s performed live with iconic bluesman Taj Mahal.
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