I only spent four months a year here and it was apparent that out of sight, out of mind, said Harper. Michigan was the first state I came to 10 years ago and the people here are friendly and it reminded me of Australia. So, when I decided to move to the States to have a year-round presence, Michigan made sense to me. It is also centrally located when you are touring the U.S. in a van.
Harper has been touring both coasts of the U.S. and several places in between. The Blind Pig recording artist has been in high demand on the summer blues festival circuit, promoting his debut for the label Down To The Rhythm. The CD has sold out several times (Harper performed this past summer at the Sleeping Bear Dunegrass Festival and the closing party of the Traverse City Film Festival and had no CDs available).
NOT JUST BLUES
Yet despite his success on the blues circuit and his popularity on one of the top blues labels, Harper doesnt define himself as a blues man.
I wish they would just call these blues festivals, music festivals, said Harper. I am not a blues musician, though my music is definitely influenced by the blues. I perform some blues but there are plenty of authentic blues players out there that I dont need to do that. Certainly the blues is a big influence but so are soul, R&B and the native sounds of Australia.
He will bring all of those influences with him to the Traverse City Opera House stage Thursday October 12. The concert series is hosted by Grassroots Productions, the producers of the popular Empire based Sleeping Bear Dunegrass Festival. Joining Harper will be Petoskey folk-jazz players, Something In The Homemade Jam.
Harper has enjoyed popularity in both Australia and the United States and has even built a fan base in Europe. In 2003 he won Male Vocalist of the Year at the Australian Blues Awards and his album Way Down Deep Inside won Best Album. Despite his success in his homeland there were challenges.
It was often an eight-hour drive between gigs or more and there are fewer opportunities for performances so I had to use pick-up musicians for gigs, said Harper. I had great guys for the studio but there wasnt enough work to take them on the road. So I had about four different bands in Australia to handle gigs and then another touring band in the U.S, so it was tough to get a consistent sound out on the road. In the U.S., gigs are a lot closer together and there are more venues.
THE NEW GUYS
As for using pick-up musicians, that has all changed for Harper. He has assembled a talented group of guys with Tyler Mac on guitar/percussion, James Pace on Keyboards/ Djembe and Scott Key on Drums.
These guys bring tight sound to the stage and definitely the best band I have ever had, said Harper. I look forward to taking them into the studio with me. It will be the first time that Ive recorded with the guys I tour with.
Harper will head into the studio in January and his new album will be out next spring. He is currently working in a couple of new songs during his concerts to give fans a little taste of what to expect.
Originally coming to the United States on a cultural grant from the Australian government (Australia tourism officials wanted to promote Down Under as place that had more to offer than Fosters beer), Harper quickly caught on at blues clubs. Blues festival promoters brought him back the next year and before he knew it he was headlining several festivals.
Post 9/11 has made it a challenge for many non-residents to get work visas or green cards so Harper worried about applying for citizenship and getting a green card. He received some help from an unlikely source: rock legends Journey.
I was playing this club in Iowa when I was told the guys from Journey were in checking out my band, said Harper. So, during a set break I sat down and had a beer with Journey. They told me they loved my music and wanted me to tour with them. I just figured they were being polite. Then a couple months later their manager called and asked if I would open for them I agreed and they even brought me up on stage to jam with them during the tale end of their 30th anniversary tour. They also wrote letters of support for my green card application.
Harper said a tour with Journey is possible someday but right now the pop rockers are touring the world with Def Leopard and Harper is booked well into 2007.
When Harper first hit the U.S. stages his hot blues harmonica combined with his silky and soulful vocals and craft lyrics attracted the attention of many. He has now become a master of the didgeridoo, a wind instrument native to the Aborigines of Australia. A Harper concert is high energy and well-suited for clubs and dancing but he welcomes the theater setting of the Opera House.
I am starting to do more of these concert type venues where people are there for the music. Clubs are great but sometimes the music is an afterthought, said Harper. So these concert hall settings are nice and we have heard great things about the Opera House in Traverse City.
So, as Harpers performance career continues to spiral upward with 150 plus shows a year and his CD continue to sell well, he looks to the future.
At heart I am a songwriter. I am starting to hear from others interested in my songwriting, said Harper. I am entertaining some offers right now. I also have been approached by a successful film producer for movie soundtrack work.
While he isnt at liberty to discuss details of potential songwriting deals, blues singer Shemekia Copeland recently mentioned in an interview that Harper is among her favorite songwriters and she plans to record some of his work soon.
Harper usually tours for three weeks and takes one week off. So, is that week for songwriting?
Songwriting is different for all of us, said Harper. For me the best songs come to me while I am doing some sort of domestic task around my home like painting. Sometimes sitting down to write a song is tough but when your are doing something mundane your mind begins to wander.
To hear the results of Harpers often-wandering mind catch him Thursday October 12 at the Traverse City Opera House. Petoskey based Something in the Homemade Jam will take the stage at 7:30. Doors open at 6 pm. For info visit http://www.grassrootsproductions.net or call 231-882-8502.