I first met Pete Harris at a fundraiser and afterwards we were back at Warren the Shoe's place. Warren had a 1930s archtop guitar he was rebuilding, anyways, Pete casually picked it up and played a few bits and pieces from an old Wes Montgomery album he'd borrowed from the library as a kid when he was teaching himself to play. In a room full of guitar players, no one else touched the guitar once Pete finished playing.
After a career touring and performing with many famous musicians, Pete's bringing his career arc in a full circle or sorts, he's put together a seasoned band of friends, all highly regarded musicians, just to play gigs with his own material.
He spoke to Outsideleft ahead of a show at Birmingham's Jam House. It's like a House of Blues but with less Disney-esque architecture...
Outsideleft: It would be easy for you to do major tours backing well known vocalists. Your reputation as a guitarist is immense. For now you're putting your energy into writing and recording and performing on stages closer to home... What's happening?
Pete Harris: I'm certainly not sure that my reputation as a guitarist is as you suggest....What's happening is that I have a full time job and a family! I gave up touring and working as a full time musician about 10 years ago. Now I play for other people/artists when I enjoy the music - people like Kenny Thomas - and I treat working on my own music now more as a hobby and creative outlet.
OL: The Pete Harris band comprises some of the best musicians in the city...
Pete Harris: The band is made up of my friends who just also happen to be great musicians too. I've known all of them for over 25 years. We've all worked together in lots of bands. They've all played for some really well known artists - for example, Neil with Broadcast, Marcus is working with ELO at the moment and Colin has worked with Ruby Turner. I'm just really grateful that they want to give their time and energy to this original project.
OL: Does that lead to scheduling conflicts, sounds like a logistical nightmare to get such in-demand talent all into one place?
Pete Harris: It is hard to get them all in one place at the same time. I've learnt to maximise time when they are around - Marcus especially is still touring heavily. At this stage there is not much happening so I've been mainly producing rough demos so the band can learn the material.
OL: This year you've released a couple of EPs of peerless soul-jazz workouts. Some from the archives, are you writing or recording new material.
Pete Harris: I have 'released' some old recordings - stuff that I recorded as far back as 1999 that I never did anything with. The internet spotify thing has meant I can at least get it out so people who want to hear it can. I'm hoping to record a new album before I'm 50 (next year!). That will be a mix of some old stuff and new tunes I've written recently. It'll probably be called Pete Farris Four and his mid life crisis......
OL: It kinds of interests me, and I was talking about this with Heather, from the Michigan band, Monroe Moon, about this... The Pete Harris Four is not a job of work for you, it's intense, it's purely about the music. As an older musician, it's interesting to me, getting space to create... How does it work for you? Adults can be pushed and pulled in so many different directions all at the same time...
Pete Harris: You've hit the nail on the head. Embarking on something like this requires some mental rebooting... Its hard with all the other stuff going on - kids, job, parents etc to justify making time for what is for me basically quite a selfish pastime. I love it and I want to play and record my original material but it's hard to get the space to put the time in that it needs. The kids are getting older now though so that makes it a bit easier. And I suppose I feel there's no rush. It doesn't have to all happen right now and I'm not aiming for world domination! A few gigs a year to audiences who get the music would do me.
OL: Someone told me you once ended up in Fela Kuti's house in the early hours of the morning. Invited I hope! Was he home? If it's true it is an amazing story...
Pete Harris: Yes I did once end up in Fela Kuti's house in Lagos, and no, he wasn't there, as he was dead.... That said, there was a moment when his spirit was being summoned....
OL: Let's take this small, if I was starting to play what would be best, a great guitar, a great amp? In your career have you owned pieces of equipment you love and how quickly did you fall in love with them?
Pete Harris: For me in the past I felt a pressure to have all the best gear, guitar amps and effects etc. That was partly because when working as a session musician you need to have such a wide range of sounds. Now I'm playing my own stuff I can keep it simple because its just my own sound I'm going for. That means my Gibson 335 which I've had for 20 years and a Fender Twin Reverb combo. That's it. I've never been geeky about gear and I can't justify spending money on loads of guitars rather than other priorities.
OL: What's next for the Pete Harris Band?
Pete Harris: What's next - well maybe some local gigs. Then I hope some recording. I'd love to get on the bill at some jazz festivals and get the music played on radio etc. The next gig is at the Jamhouse Birmingham on the 1st October.
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