Don Harrison of Harrison Country
Harrison Country is an Americana group out of Annapolis, MD. The band structure is based around vocalist Don and Karen Harrison, and daughters Amy Harrison, Jennie Harrison Young, and Lexi White. Their most recent album, Climate Change, features Maryland Legend Bryan Ewald (guitars, bass, mandolin, keyboards) and Annapolis talents Josh Chapman (bass), Brandon Bartlett (drums), Brad Kimes (drums), Larry Byrne (keyboards, bass, sax) and Aidan Ewald (drums). Hosting a collection of story songs that draw from a collection of America’s richest music traditions, Climate Change is a broad Americana music experience you’ll want to hear for yourself.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
For many years, I’ve been involved in Crosse Over Lacrosse, a lacrosse exchange program for 13-15 year old girls with the lacrosse community in the Manchester area of England. One year we send a team from Annapolis over there to play and stay with English families, and the next year they do the same. In 2007 I decided to make a video of the girls’ adventures. I had some pics of the girls in goofy crowns at Warwick Castle and trying on clothes in boutiques, so I rewrote the lyrics to Sharp Dressed Man, made it Sharp Dressed Girls, had Amy and Jennie sing it, and used it for the soundtrack to that segment. Everyone in the family has some type of singing background – garage bands, competitions, musical theatre, a cappella groups – and we all got into the act as I wrote lyrics for many subsequent videos. Eventually I got the itch to start writing my own music with lyrics that would have more universal appeal. I gave myself a music-composition crash course, and learned to left-hand my way around a keyboard well enough to get the writing job done. We’re surely the only music group in history started on a lacrosse field by a guy who can’t play an instrument!
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
The creation of Harrison Country itself is a crazy story. The lacrosse catalyst was ridiculously improbable, but the rest of the journey that brought the Harrison family together with Bryan and Lexi is even more unlikely, filled with more six-degrees-of-separation connections and chance events than I can count. In Chuck Berry’s words, “you never can tell.”
What has been the high point of your music path?
The feedback we have received from fans. A popular song in any genre should do some combination of these 5 things – make you laugh, cry, think, get the groove and sing along. It’s been very encouraging to receive enthusiastic responses like “that hook is money” or “I can’t stop humming the melody.” A woman wrote me that she was in a public place when she first heard When the Geese Fly, and had to turn it off because she started to cry and didn’t want to embarrass herself. That was heartwarming for me, to know that something we had written held that much meaning for a stranger.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
I usually start with a phrase or an idea, and build characters and situations around that. For example, Men in the House was inspired by an mc at an awards banquet yelling “Is there a doctor in the house?” when an attendee had a medical issue. At the same time, I was reading Leonard Sax’s book Boys Adrift. I have a fiction-writing background, and a story is more powerful if you show rather than tell. So the songs are filled with people, places, dialogue and “stuff.” To me, “I drink my coffee black, take my whiskey straight” says much more than “I’m a straightforward guy.”
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
The lack of financial control that artists have over their creations. I’m a business owner, and I’m appalled by the antiquated music royalty system and how billion-dollar businesses have been built on the backs of pitifully compensated creators. Would Spotify exist in its present form if creators had the freedom to say “if you want my recorded music, you have to pay for it?” Government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens from theft, violence and coercion, and it has failed miserably when it comes to music piracy.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
I would load the group into Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine, and travel back to Thanksgiving Day,1976, to the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, where we’d perform with The Band, do an ensemble version of Ophelia. I still remember how the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I first heard Levon Helm’s voice through six-transistor radio earplugs, listening at midnight to Kirby Scott’s Underground Hour on Baltimore’s WCAO, covers pulled over my head so my parents couldn’t hear. Though there are no conscious homage pieces to The Band on Climate Change, I’m constantly discovering chord progressions and “bits” that were inspired by them. There would be no “oo la la” in When the Fat Lady Sings if the people hadn’t been singing “la la la la na na” on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
The harmony parts on Fantasy League. The song is loaded with flat notes and chords, so traditional harmony parts just didn’t cut it. Lexi and I would come up with something that seemed to work and record it. I’d listen a few days later and chuck it. This lasted for 6 weeks, became a running joke - “oh no not again!” -before we came up with the finished product.
What's coming up in the future?
We’re planning another album, tentatively titled Keeper of the Past. Shadow Games was the last song we wrote for Climate Change, and the new album will continue in that direction, though none of the songs we have written so far are that politically tinged. I’ve been doing genealogical research on the Harrison family, so some of the songs will be based on my ancestor’s lives, and life in Maryland over the past 350 years.
Tell us where fans can access your music.