Part harmonica wizard and part rhythmic explorer, Harper is a fiery artist who blurs the lines between rock, blues, soul, and world music. His latest Blind Pig release, Stand Together, is the most artistically realized CD Harper has ever written.
The self-produced album marks the first time Harper has recorded a CD using his Michigan-based touring band, Midwest Kind, a collaboration that pays several dividends. For one, he was able to go deeper into the song arrangements, incorporating some of the interplay of their live performances. And his close relationship with his band members enabled him to craft exactly what he envisioned his songs to be. Though Harper has already been acknowledged as an exemplary composer, his current songwriting has matured and his messages have become more powerful. The greater confidence and polish that come as a result of his non-stop touring schedule have only enhanced his considerable skills as a singer and harmonica player. And his proficiency as a didgeridoo player has increased dramatically since picking up the instrument in 2004.
Art Tipaldi, the editor of Blues Revue, described Harper as "a singer with the deep soul of Motown, a harmonica player who can graft Sonny Boy II and Little Walter with John Popper, a songwriter who tells his own compelling stories in an unhurried, J.J. Cale-like manner, and a musical visionary who is unafraid to mix the didgeridoo, an important part of his Australian indigenous culture, with infectious modern percussive rhythms."
Born in the United Kingdom, Harper's musical journey began early, performing in brass bands playing the trumpet and euphonium. At the age of ten, his family moved half way around the world to Perth, Australia, and his father introduced Harper to the harp. In Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, there was a thriving blues and folk scene. The blues had a rawness, an honesty and a passion of the soul which spoke to Harper deeply. Then, like every blues lover, Harper began his journey backwards to discover the deeper roots of the music, inspired by a pretty wide range of players and styles, from Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter to Sugar Blue and Stevie Wonder.
But Harper did not stop his search with the blues. It was a chance meeting with a Hopi "Dan Running Bear" in Silverton, Colorado, that led him down the path to rediscovering the music of his homeland. Fascinated with the spirituality and culture of the American Natives, he found the same qualities present in the Australian Aborigines of his homeland. On adding the native didgeridoo to his music, Harper says "It is a sound I grew up with, so it seemed natural to add it to my songwriting particularly when the lyrics related to the plight of the Aborigines in Australia. When I added the didgeridoo to the more traditional blues instruments, it worked. The deep woody qualities and its haunting drone seemed to enhance the emotional quality of my stories. The didgeridoo is a spiritual and healing instrument, and it seemed blues music accepted it with open arms."
Prior to his introduction to American audiences, Harper recorded six albums to great acclaim in his homeland of Australia, receiving multiple awards for "Male Vocalist of the Year," "Song of the Year," and "Acoustic Artist of the Year." In 2003 he released Way Down Deep Inside, named "Album of the Year" by US Magazine's Guide to the Best of the Blues Harmonicas & Beyond, which said, "Harper is a most refreshing musician, harmonica player/songwriter to come into our presence. He writes music that goes to the very core of your soul and mind with substance and thought provoking lyrics. His songs are as meaningful as say the early Bob Dylan/Neil Young era, his delivery/timing and phrasing are absolutely amazing."
Harper's memorable stage performances allowed him to take his music beyond Australia. He's played in Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Singapore, and France. In the past two years he's built a strong following in the U.K., where Blues Matters magazine said, "His performance on the didgeridoo showed it to be an instrument well-suited to the whole ethos of the genre. Its deep primordial notes lend themselves to the roots of the Blues and beyond...Harper and his band showed themselves to be tight, highly proficient and profound musicians carrying on a legacy with honor and innovation."
He first started performing in the United States in 1996 and it was on one of these tours that he caught the attention of Blind Pig, which made him their first international signing. With a home at a U.S. label and growing appreciation for his music from American audiences, Harper made the permanent move to the U.S. in 2005.
Harper's first Blind Pig release and American debut, 2005's Down To The Rhythm, won accolades from the press for its unique sound and virtuoso performances, coupled with Harper's compositional skill. "Harper is a crack harp player, and he plays the instrument with both speed and efficiency, blasting into his runs with the force of a jet stream. He is also a solid songwriter, and a soulful singer with a knack for impassioned sincerity," said AllMusic.com.
His 2007 release, Day By Day,provided fans with another prime example of why his unique roots music style occupies a category of its own. Rambles raved that Harper's harp and lyrics have "a depth of feeling and thought that is unusual in today's music. Harper's music is primal...Harper's music is essential. It should be widely heard." Downbeat magazine added, "Harper uses his trump cards - a strong and direct singing voice, a stirring harmonica out of Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter, a droning didgeridoo - to give the melodic tunes an excitement that suits his intelligent use of blues-rock and soul forms."
Harper's animated performances have been well received at blues festivals, world music festivals, and by fans of jam band music. He's even been invited to perform on stage several times with the rock band Journey. After witnessing a show last year, Chip Eagle, publisher of Blues Revue andBluesWax, enthusiastically offered, "Harper is the most exciting act on the live scene today!"
By combining traditional and modern influences, borrowing from western and Aboriginal music, Harper has created a highly original take on the roots genre, which some have dubbed "World Blues." His innovative use of electronic enhancement and feedback breaks the traditional boundaries of the harp, giving his music its distinctive harmonics and effects. The distorted guitars and the unique drone of the didgeridoo create raw yet eerie sonic textures, somehow sounding primal and contemporary at the same time.
Harper is at the top of his game onStand Together, showcasing his trademark virtuoso harp playing, distinctive instrumentation, deeply soulful grooves, unparalleled songwriting, and compelling lyrics. With his chops at their best and a band that shares his vision, Harper will continue to turn the heads of audiences looking for originality, honesty, passion and skill in modern roots music.