Those not already happily familiar with the power-poppin' pride of Middletown, Kentucky have absolutely NO excuse now to plead ignorance: On this one snappy, wonderfully packaged (not to mention long, long, long overdue!) CD lie twenty-five examples of why Rick Harper just must be this nation's best-kept musical secret. Compiling the best from his three prior "Demo Teaser" cassette samplers, "Rickenharper" demonstrates not only what a fine songwriter/instrumentalist the man is ("One Too Many Lies," "I Bring Her Down" and "Hey Now Baby" are AT LEAST the equal of any material currently being spewed from the New York or Nashville hit factories), but just how well versed he is at the nearly-lost art of Home Recording as well (what this guy can do with a mere four tracks and a single microphone is a wonder in of itself).
The absolute magnitude of musical riches present on this
one single disc can be a bit overwhelming at first - especially for those of
us used to hearing a mere two or three winners per each new CD they grab - but
"Rickenharper" is the kind of big, expansive, multi-faceted collection
you'll be finding plenty
to chew on over for months and, yes, years to come. In other words: a keeper, a killer, an all-round CLASSIC - and that last word's not one I've had cause to throw around much during the past decade or so, believe you me!
-Gary Pig Gold
RICK HARPER "Rickenharper"
Prior to cutting this excellent solo record, Rick Harper has kept active making homemade tapes and performing with bands and artists such as The Breathers, Billy Swan and Boxcar Willie. Never one to say no to a gig, the go-getter musician even took a gig on a cruise liner, playing bass for Captain and Tenille, amongst others! With a resume like that, it's bound to make one ponder what kind of stuff Rick has to offer, and the answer is bright and bouncy country pop. A multi-instrumentalist, the Kentucky kid is also a witty tunesmith, peppering his personal lyrics with comical twists and turns. Girl In The Nuthouse spews the tale of falling in love with a biker chick from the loony bin, Almost 40 nervously examines the aging process as the big one draws near (losing hair and the whole bit) and Ca$h Poor should strike a chord with countless folks who struggle from paycheck to paycheck. But buried beneath the goofball demeanor lies a sensitive soul, as clarified by Every Night I Hold You, a poignant ballad that illuminates with sweet melodies. Digging deep into the past, Rick tossed a ringing version of The Clefs of Lavender Hill's Stop! Get A Ticket onto the disc, which was a minor hit for the Florida band in 1966. Another scrumptious song here is Coffee Table, featuring the great Bill Lloyd on twelve-string guitar. I guess by now you don't have to be told Rickenharper is a sheer joy, outstripping most anything you'll hear on commercial radio these days!
-Beverly Paterson, Twist And Shake 12/97 San Mateo, CA
Almost everything about this CD screams "idiosyncratic," from the yellow-and-pink cover to the twenty-five cuts on the CD; only thirteen of which are listed on the tray insert. Harper plays ten instruments on this project, but still has a list of additional players who contributed to various songs, including Tim Krekel, who gets a co-writing credit on "Stumble Inn."
Nonetheless, put this one on your list of must-have Louisville projects. Harper has more than a little talent; he writes songs that can slide right on the radio. Indeed, the infectious "When You Were," a back-handed love song, has been getting spins on the New 92. "One Too Many Lies" is a pure late Sixties pop tune with a very singable chorus and a Lennon-McCartney-esque bridge.
Harper has his share of good titles: "Knee High To A Nehi" is about working on the railroad; "Brand New Favorite Song" equates being in love and new music.
Ah, but the radio-ready tunes are just the shills. Harper is perfectly happy to reveal his past: in "Girl In The Nuthouse," Harper sings that he "should've gone for the girl I met in the nuthouse. / She was awfully pretty and like me, not really crazy." "Ca$h Poor" details the consequences of an encounter with a "lawyer downtown."
Even better is "Rffr Mn," a Kentucky-specific tune about the red Devil with the horns on coming into a bar and offering to make a deal: "I don't want your souls, I got billions of those. / I was told you would understand. / Just answer one question, answer one question: where can I find some RFFR, man?" The bar patrons tell him to "drink up that beer and get quick out of here, we don't know nothing 'bout no RFFR, man."
He avoids the usual plight of solo performers: a deadly sameness of the music. Harper's not a one-trick pony; he mines all the pop music of the last thirty years or so for musical ideas, then twists them into shapes that are uniquely his. Echoes of tunes and bands abound, but none of them are copies. For instance, "South Florida" opens with a guitar riff, then an organ comes in underneath that evokes (without quoting outright) the Tee Set's "My Belle Ami."
Presumably, the history revealed in these tunes is autobiographical and it seems probable that he has been writing and re-writing these tunes for some time. Perhaps this CD represents all of his output. No matter: Harper has lived an American life in the second half of the Twentieth Century, and this long CD is the very respectable journal of that life. Go buy it and enjoy.
-Paul Moffett, Louisville Music News 2/98
I was waiting for this release for quite a while! Rick Harper once was a tour musician for people like Billy Swan. A first tape he sent was recorded on an ocean liner, where he was a musician with a quite famous pop singer, whose name I forget. To "survive" after the shows Rick went to his cabin and recorded the music he really wanted to play. Rick plays (except for some guest musicians) all Instruments and vocals - (GREAT harmonica) a kind of Folk/Country/Rock Inspired music including many U.K. folk/rock aspects,like he's heavily inspired by McGuiness-Flint 'n more of these. ...then there is a Beatle-esqe (Lennon) flavour and touches of Beach Boys (ca. Pet Sounds period)... well all in all this makes one of those releases I will listen to forever (like old McGuiness-Flint, that I listen to quite regularly ever since). Rick Harper is no music for the masses but music for people who love true natural emotion. I'm one! A GREAT CD, 25 songs, Ca. 70 minutes!
Lord Litter's Tapedepartement Radioshow [Berlin]Dec. '97
By PAUL CURRY
Special to The Courier-Journal
Rick Harper (HiVariety)
At a time when a second-rate pop artist like Garth Brooks is considered the king of country, fans of true country music have become marginalized into oblivion. Ironically, the "No Depression" movement has provided some hope, but in the last couple of years all those bands have started to sound the same. What's a fan to do?
I would venture to guess that Rick Harper's a fan of traditional country music, and on "Rickenharper" he explores a variety of country sounds. Actually, he tends to run a line between county and pop, with a vocal style that alternately recalls T-Bone Burnett and Marshall Crenshaw. But Harper's ar-rangements include just enough banjos, mandolins and train-whistle-moaning harmonicas to satisfy the need.
The 25 tracks that make up the album range from upbeat, corny pop of "Girl in the Nuthouse" to the contemporary bluegrass-inflected pop of "Knee High to a Nehi," and the heart-wrenching balladry of "Almost 40." Most surprising is the fact that Harper is such a consistently skillful songsmith.
"Almost 40," for instance, is loaded with the pathos of growing old, but the singer finds solace in the maintenance of a longtime love.
Elsewhere, Harper explains that "Falling in love is like finding a brand new favorite song." His world is populated with the same aimless losers that we've all seen at the "Stumble Inn," and he recognizes the pitfalls of love in "One Too Many Lies," but it all comes together in one well-rounded picture of what country music could be if it weren't being strangled by paunchy, corporate- funded, headset-microphone-wearing millionaires. Harper is the kind of guy who could help you come down to earth only to realize that you feel you're three feet off the ground.
Harper performs Wednesday at the Twice Told Coffee House, 1604 Bardstown Road
The Courier-Journal SCENE / February 7, 1998
Recording Magazine's Playback #16 features a track from "Rickenharper"
Equipment: Tascam 424 Teac C-3X Furman RV-3, Shure SX-50 mic, Korg S3.
Rick's song, "Every Night I Hold You" was recorded on a 4-track while he was gigging on board a cruise ship. He's done a very nice job. This is another great example of what can be done with a 4-track, and in this case, I assume in a less-than-perfect recording environment. Have you ever seen a cabin on a cruise ship? They're usually tiny and not exactly designed for great acoustics. For those of you listening on Playback, check out the bass and drums. Nice and punchy. The acoustic guitar doesn't sound amazing, but it's certainly good. The mandolin is right where it should be and the harmonica sound is surprisingly good. Rick asked me in his cover letter for any constructive advice that I might give him. Only one thought: Whatever Rick's doing is exactly what he should be doing. My only advice would be to move up to more tracks and keep up the good work. Summary: All things considered, this is a "10".
A lot of things have been said about Rick Harper's music in reviews over the last two decades. Not all of it has been accurate. To appreciate Rick's music, you must first find the girl of your dreams, touch her, exchange testaments of love, plan the next thousand years together...
Then you must lose it all. You must know what it is to be alone, to have Nothing! as Lord Buckley would say. Rick knows the pangs of unrequited love. He also knows how to record some great music.
Starting his recording career in the 1970's, Rick has played with the likes of Jerry Reed, Micky Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Swan. In South Florida in 1981, he formed The Breathers and, in 1983 their lp The Sunshine Rockers was critically acclaimed. Rick was already being singled out as a songwriter to watch. A decade and a half later, this CD shows the continuing distillation and refinement of his music.
"Coffee Table" begins the musical maelstrom on Rickenharper with ringing Byrds-esque guitars. From there the CD barrels through many should-be pop classics, like the sweet and mournful "Every Night I Hold You," "I Bring Her Down," and the local classic, "Stumble Inn," co-written with Tim Krekel of country music songwriting fame. "Almost Forty" is a must-listen, a cogent, sensitive piece.
The mood shifts with "Brand New Favorite Song," a happy romp reminding us of gems still within reach. "RFFR MN" takes a great hip turn as well...
Rick Harper has been sitting in tiny rooms for too long recording songs that should be on all-day radio. He has honed his craft and now offers up this CD. With luck, the music industry will begin to reward him for his monomaniacal dedication to love and music.
-R. L. Penick, Chance Magazine
RICKENHARPER: THE SONGS
01 WHEN YOU WERE 3:15 (mono) Recorded 10/94 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
02 ONE TOO MANY LIES 2:53 Recorded 1990 Lighthouse Point, FL; Boynton Beach, FL; Miami Beach, FL Pedal Steel Guitar: Jim Felicio.
03 I BRING HER DOWN 2:22 Recorded 7/92 Pompano Beach, FL by Electric Chickenland Mobile Recording; 7/93 Sovereign Of The Seas
Jangleband. Rick Harper: vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, harmonicas, tambourine.
Ken Gimmer: electric guitar.
Don Lubitz: piano.
Tom Staley: drums.
04 STUMBLE INN (Rick Harper/Tim Krekel) 2:26 Mighty Nice Music, BMI Recorded 10/93 Sovereign Of The Seas
05 ALMOST 40 2:31 Recorded 4/93 San Juan, Puerto Rico
06 KNEE HIGH TO A NEHI 3:26 (mono) Recorded 10/94 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY 5-string banjo: Ron Partin.
07 BRAND NEW FAVORITE SONG 3:43 (mono) Recorded 3/96 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
08 EVERY NIGHT I HOLD YOU 2:01 (mono) Recorded 10/94 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
09 TOO MUCH EFFORT 3:14 Recorded 3/94 San Juan, Puerto Rico; 5/94 Ft. Lauderdale, FL; 9/94 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
10 LIVE MY LIFE WITH YOU 2:37 (mono) Recorded 4/95 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
11 GIRL IN THE NUTHOUSE 2:14 (mono) Recorded 5/93 room 220 Sun Coast Inn, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
12 A MOAN FOR MARY 2:44 Recorded 9/96 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
13 O EMILY 2:57 (mono) Recorded 5/96 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
14 TOUCH YOU IN PLACES 2:28 Recorded 3/96 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
15 THERE OUGHT TO BE A RING 2:37 Recorded 9/89 Ft. Lauderdale, FL; 10/90 Pompano Beach, FL
16 SOUTH FLORIDA 2:35 Recorded 9/89 Ft. Lauderdale, FL; 1/91 Lighthouse Point, FL
17 RFFR MN 3:10 Recorded 8/95 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
18 I KNOW WHAT IT IS 3:17 Recorded 9/90 Pompano Beach, FL; 12/90 Miami Beach, FL; 1/91 Phil Cohen Recording, Bay Harbor Island, FL Electric guitar: Ronnie Brown.
19 HEY NOW BABY 3:14 Recorded 1985, Ft. Lauderdale, FL Casio Organ: Erich Overhultz.
20 CA$H POOR 2:13 (mono) Recorded 4/95 Chateau D'bris Recorders. Finchville, KY
21 COFFEE TABLE 2:58 Recorded 7/83 Prisma Sound Studios, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; 10/83 Sync Studio, Miami, FL originally issued on HiVariety ep HV4 4 More by 4 (1984) and Jax Pax lp JPM 500 The Sunshine Rockers (1985) Germany
Breathers. Rick Harper: vocals, bass, acoustic & electric guitars,
bass harmonica, tambourine, bells.
Erich Overhultz: Casio organ.
Bob Zohn: harmony vocal.
Tom Staley: drums.
Bill Lloyd: electric 12-string guitar.
22 DON'T IT MAKE YOU FEEL 3:30 Recorded 8/81 Prisma Sound Studios, Ft. Lauderdale, FL originally issued on HiVariety ep HV1 Breathers (1982) and Jax Pax lp JPM 500 The Sunshine Rockers (1985) Germany
Breathers. Rick Harper: vocal, bass, acoustic guitar, bass
harmonica. Hoze Fleming: electric guitar.
Erich Overhultz: organ, piano. Tom Staley: drums.
23 GOT A WOMAN 2:03 Recorded 7/83 Prisma Sound Studios, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; 10/83 Sync Studio, Miami, FL originally issued on HiVariety ep HV4 4 More By 4 (1984)
Breathers. Rick Harper: vocals, acoustic & electric basses; acoustic
Erich Overhultz: piano, clavinet, Farfisa organ
Bob Zohn: electric guitar
Tom Staley: drums
24 JOHNNY FINN 2:30 Recorded 7/93 San Juan, Puerto Rico
25 STOP! GET A TICKET (Travis/Coventry) EMI Music Group, BMI 2:34 Recorded 2/97 Louisville, KY "A Bananafish USA Recording"
Produced, recorded and mixed to digital audio tape by Rick Harper
Tracks 2, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 23 premastered by Phil Cohen at Phil Cohen Recording, Bay Harbor Island, FL
Final mastering and CD prep by The Gate Music Services, Berkeley, CA
Tracks 2, 15, 18, 19 originally issued on Demo Teasers (cassette) 1991
Tracks 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 24 originally issued on Boat Drill; Demo Teasers 2 (cassette) 1994
Tracks 1, 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 17, 20 originally issued on Ca$h Poor; Demo Teasers 3 (cassette) 1996
One Too Many Lies appeared on this compilation from Canada, 1992
These are indeed strange times we live in. Rap stars sell fast food as pop stars sell famine relief. The separation between TV and MTV gets slimmer every day. You can even hear the words Paul Shaffer and Rock 'n' Roll used in the same sentence. See?
Well, all I can say is, thank God for all crazed maverick musical minds who bravely buck trends, flying blindly in the face of the dreaded Top forty. In other words, thank God for Rick Harper.
Kentucky-born and bred, Rick, like so many others, picked up his first electric guitar moments after the 2/9/64 Ed Sullivan Show, but unlike most knew what to do with it, becoming a card-carrying member of the American Federation of Musicians while still enrolled in Iroquois High School in Louisville.
"Then I saw NRBQ live for the first time in 1970, and things were never to be the same again." Rick hit the road, bass firmly in hand.
Fort Lauderdale, Tim Krekel, Louisville, Tom Staley, Nashville, Capricorn Records, Kris Kristofferson, Lone Star Cafe, Billy Swan..."But even though I was primarily a stage musician, I recall doing demos for Rob Galbraith, Alan Rush, Alan Rhody, Mickey Clark, Willis Alan Ramsey, James Lee Stanley, Turley Richards, and many female vocalists whose unknown names I don't remember; even did a KFC commercial with Jerry Reed, once."
All fine and good, one supposes. What better decade than the seventies to spend lining your pockets? But whenever he could, our hero would discreetly unplug, high-tail it to the nearest (porta) studio and slowly but surely begin committing to tape the songs and sounds now swirling between his ears... songs and sounds admittedly borne by the three almighty "B"s of Sixties rock, but each meticulously infused with that inimitable Harper twist of a phrase and turn of a melodic line which we know always separates the men from the noise.
BREATHERS, "originally an NRBQ term for avid fans who rush the stage and breathlessly say how great you are," was the band that Rick formed in 1981, and within two years their German release Sunshine Rockers began exposing Harper songs to the world at large. And the world responded as it always does to such quirky musical deftness: unanimous critical raves and one helluva big buzz among the groupvine that Rick Harper's a guy to watch. Closely. I mean, it's not every day a song called Coffee Table can hit so hard to the heart, right where it hurts the best. Rick KNEW.
And he still does, too. Example: One Too Many Lies. "I wrote that one in Anchorage, Alaska in '89, and recorded it about a year later on a Teac 3440 4-track hereafter known as the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't mobile unit. Drum machine (later wiped) and guitars recorded in Lighthouse Point, Florida. Real drums added in Pompano Beach, Florida. Bass and organ added in Miami Beach. Pedal steel was played by Jim Felicio in Boynton Beach, then back to Miami Beach for drum fills, vocals, and tambourine.
"That's one saturated tape! dBX is what made it possible. Analog to digital transfer: Phil Cohen." And there we have it: the step-by-step, beach-by-beach home birth of one song, Harper-style.
And there's lots more where that came from, too, as Rick's busy writin' 'n' recordin' up storms with the frequency us mere mortals change socks. His Demo Teasers tape is currently making the cooler rounds amongst pop aficionados, and I for one am still awaiting the definitive BREATHERS compilation from their decade of 45's, EP's and 12-inchers (are you listening out there, budding A&R moguls?).
In the meantime, we should rest assured that at this very moment, most likely way down South somewhere, Rick Harper's glued to a Teac reel to reel commemorating his every move and mood in song and dance the way only HE can. Coz, you see, he must be one of those increasingly rare souls around and throughout whom that damn muse freely flows.
So by all means invite yourself inside sometime, and sit back as I do, warm and relaxed, and let Rick play all over you. Once you do, you'll probably never want to leave that sunshine state again.
-Gary Gold notes from Cool Fanzine CD compilation, 1992
Has anyone reading these words not already fallen head-over-ears in love with the musical magic of Kentucky's veteran "pop spaceman"? Then here's ANOTHER chance: Eleven new tunes fresh from the home studios of Rick Harper that, as always, never fail to twist and turn that idiom often so carelessly referred to as Rock into wickedly delightful, always dumbfounding new forms. And unlike his previous disc - the long and more than colorful career retrospective known as "RickenHarper" - this new hoot sheds hitherto unimaginable clearview onto a couple - a Bert Jansch and even Byrds tunes (Rick's take on Gene Clark's "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" in particular rings nothing short of miraculous, while "Lover Of The Bayou" absolutely wallows in the kind of swamp John Fogerty, for one, only seems prepared to dip a well-placed toe into every now and then these days). Still, the true, fine stars across this album are Rick's own compositions: "Light Of Love" is just about the most expertly constructed song the man has yet to produce (WHAT a master of the mixing board Rick is!) and "On Sundays I Leave It Alone" deserves to spend the rest of its natural life presiding all over "contemporary" Country radio. About halfway through the proceedings, "Hoot" gets kinda lushly tense - not to mention invitingly dark - with the "Salty Tears Can Sting" / "Can't Trust Nobody Blues" / "Bucket Fulla Brains" trilogy of happy, harmonious horror. This kinda hurt-fest can get cloying when left in the wrong hands, but Rick's tongue's forever deep in cheek, I'm pleased to report, especially on the ratched, gut-buzzing "Bucket." Detour completed, the truly remarkable "Sing" continues your ride (quintessential Harper!) followed by one indisputable, drop-down MASTERPIECE entitled "Mantra" (a ten-minute-plus left-base epic which brings to mind the other-worldly songwriting of Beach Boy Carl during his "Holland" days - but even that sells this monstrous creation quite short). Whew! Gush all you care to, then, over comparative light-weights like the new Wilco or Lucinda: HERE, I guarantee to you, is the honest-to-gawd, not a single note or word wasted or misplaced Real Thing - and here's where to get it Right Now from:
HOOT Rick Harper (CD)
Toiling away in his hometown of Middletown, Kentucky, Rick Harper has just provided the pop listening community with another gem of a self-released disc. Although HOOT features only eleven songs (significantly fewer songs than were on his proceeding disc, Rickenharper) this album showcases his musical growth and diversity. Fans of Rickenharper will still hear plenty of pseudo-60's elements in the songs on HOOT - particularly the jangly tune The Light Of Love. There are several clear references to the 60's influences, as Harper opens the album with a cover of Gene Clark's So You Say You Lost Your Baby and later reprises Roger McGuinn's Lover Of The Bayou. Mantra (Waiting For The End Of These Blues), the final cut, clocks in at 10:30 and it is quite reminiscent of Neil Young's For The Turnstiles. Many tunes feature harmonica, acoustic strumming and keyboards; two songs are decidedly blues-oriented. Rick professes to having had fun mixing several decades of musical influences into a single body of work; you'll have fun listening to the results!
-Eric Sorensen, Amplifier
Popping HOOT into your CD player is a bit like watching the Game Show Network on a weekday afternoon: instant 1970's headtrip. From the song structure to the production, this album feels like a postcard from another time.
But this isn't the sickly cute 70's kitsch that The Beastie Boys and Beck have been peddling in recent years. No, this is the real thing, the kind of music that would sound right at home pouring out of the halfway- busted speakers in your older brother's Vega.
There's more than a little bit of Dylan influence here, but it's all the good aspects of Dylan - the humor, the lyricism, the quirky outlook on life - minus the whine and the drone. Harper's voice is a good deal more palatable than Dylan's and is surprisingly versatile. He has a much broader range than most singers of this sort.
Not that HOOT is all retro; Harper's sound spans years, clearly the product of a mind that has loved music for decades. "Worse" has shades of Crowded House, while "O Deed I Do" is a perfect entry in the modern alt-country field.
Humor is a strong factor is Harper's work. There's the absolutely perfect "Bucket Fulla Brains," probably the best song ever written about meat production ("Lookit here everybody, I got this bucket fulla brains/Slaughtered my pigs and chickens today, don't nevermind these bloody stains"). It's also a rare example of how to successfully incorporate the phrase "head cheese and pork cracklins" in a song.
Harper's more serious moments work just as well. "So You Say You Lost Your Baby" is a great tune that's been getting some local airplay recently, but the sublime "Sing" is probably a better choice and may be the best song on the album.
-James Bickers, Louisville Courier-Journal
One can just picture the scene: crowded little room, way too little air circulating.Wire, cables, cords, microphones and other various and sundry implements of destruction strewn about. In the middle of this chaos sits Rick Harper, ol' Rickenharper himself, strumming another chord on his guitar or attempting to fix a tape deck that should have been thrown away back around '82. He's up to no good, this enigmatic everyman songwriter. Lucky we get to hear the results.
Fairly hot on the heels of his wonderful Rickenharper album (released late in 1997) comes this relatively concise exercise in mind over equipment (and money) called - quite appropriately, now that I think of it - HOOT. This time out, Harper's thrown in a few cover songs by a few of his songwriting heroes, The Byrds' Gene Clark and Roger McGuinn, and British folkie and guitarist Bert Jansch.
The tone of HOOT is fairly complex to explain, much like the man who bore these songs - kinda dark, acoustic and spare, but not without its moments of humor and release. McGuinn's Lover Of The Bayou, and especially Bucket Fulla Brains (I can't tell from this whether he's pro- or anti-meat eating, see if you can) sound like something Roky Erikson could have done. Sing and Those Salty Tears Can Sting re-trace familiar Rickenharper ground with their somber tones and "loves lost" themes. The Light Of Love seems pretty lightweight at first, but Harper's love and knowledge of classic pop hookage prevail after a couple of listens.
There are at least four amazing songs on HOOT, including So You Say You Lost Your Baby, the Gene Clark tune, which leads off the album. To say that he "makes it his own" would be an understatement of what he does to this fairly non-descript ditty. Buoyed by some really emotional singing and harmonies that sound so natural and simple that you'll swear you'd be able to duplicate them (but you can't, so give it up), Harper gives us a preview of things to come.
On Sundays I Leave It Alone is simply marvelous. ("I know it's a hard life, baby, I live it hard every day of the week, but on Sundays I leave it alone") . He doesn't try to kid anybody; life is certainly hard. But a (wo)man needs a day off. Sunday is Rick Harper's day off, so don't go messing up his good life on the Sabbath. I'm pretty sure he'll let you buy him a beer if you happen to see him on a Sunday, however.
HOOT's tour de force is the ten-and-a half minute Mantra (Waiting For The End Of These Blues), and it's quite an accomplishment. Anchored by a six-minute, droning outro that's positively hypnotizing, Mantra contains some of Harper's best lyrical moments, and - I swear to God - reminds me of an outtake from Exile On Main Street or The Beatles' White Album.
The best is Worse, track #2: "It can't get any better, Babe, I guess it'll just have to get worse" is the best Randy Newman line he's ever written. Think John Lennon. Harper won't mind.
It's here for the asking, friends. A real keeper of an album by a Louisville musician with more taste than recording equipment, a better sense of irony than most, and a lot more ideas where these came from. Harper hates it when I call him "Louisville's Van Dyke Parks" (he always tells me he's 'much better than that') - so I won't, I've changed my mind, anyway. I say he's "Louisville's Dan Hicks meets Jonathan Richman at J.J. Cale's garage sale-man."
Nah. Too long, let's just call him what he is: "Louisville's Pop Spaceman."
- Dan Burns, Louisville Music News
"EIGHT QUESTIONS For RICK N. HARPER"
1. "MUNSTERS" OR "ADDAMS FAMILY": WHICH ONE'S FOR YOU, AND WHY?
"Addams Family." Anything with John Astin (that his name)? is OK w/ me. He should be given a grant and a small state someplace just for his role in "Candy." Lurch was cool. Thing was pretty happenin'. Probably works the adult stalls on Carnaby Street these days. "The Munsters" was about as cerebral as "Car 54."
2. WHO IN THE WORLD, LIVING OR DEAD, WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO PLAY A GAME OF "TWISTER" WITH?
3. HOW MANY SID KING & THE FIVE STRINGS RECORDS DO YOU OWN?
'fraid I don't know who he is. Send me a tape? Wait! Wasn't he the editor of the old Avant Garde and Evergreen Review magazines?
4. IF YOU HAD BEEN WORKING THE FRONT GATE AT THE DAKOTA THAT NIGHT BACK IN 1980 WHEN NASTY MARK DAVID CHAPMAN SHOWED UP, PISTOL IN HAND, TO AVENGE THE CHIEF BEATLE FOR HIS "BIGGER THAN JESUS" WISECRACK, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE?
If I'd known his intentions: Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Groin. Bats are legal. Even in New York, so I'm told.
5. "GINGER" OR "MARY-ANN": WHICH ONE'S FOR YOU, AND FOR HOW LONG?
Mary Ann. Absolutely. She seemed like she'd be a good mother. Ginger was probably frigid, tho she put on a good, uh, front. "How long" ? About 42 picas I've been told.
(Perhaps I don't understand the gist of the question?)
6. WHAT SINGLE SONG, LIVING OR DEAD, DO YOU MOST WISH YOU'D WRITTEN? AND WHY DIDN'T YOU?
"Eight Miles High." Or "Let's Get Together," which The Byrds shoulda recorded...
7. WHOSE BASS HARMONICA WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO BE REINCARNATED AS?
Tommy Morgans or Charlie McCoys. There's a good, driving, bass harp on "I Will Not Be Afraid of Women" by Dar Williams. Who was the guy in the Harmonicats? Y'know, bass harps are all "blow" only ...no draw notes. Tough to play and tough to maintain. I bought mine in '81 when they were relatively cheap ($250); now the bastards (Hohners) are $1000! They use accordion reeds, y'know... I hear there's decent Chinese ones around these days...
8. IN 2000 WORDS OR LESS: YOUR HOPES, ASPIRATIONS, AND GOALS -- MUSICAL AND OTHERWISE -- FOR YOUR LIFE AND YOUR COUNTRY?
Aspirations? Goals? Gulp! Don't feel like trying to be clever, though PAY THE FUCKING RENT ON TIME just sprang immediately to mind. And I am proud to be an American who does not watch television.
HOOT: THE SONGS
01 SO YOU SAY YOU LOST YOUR BABY (Gene Clark) 2:40 Recorded 8/98 Louisville, KY
02 WORSE 3:19 Recorded 3/95 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY; 3/98 Louisville, KY
03 THE LIGHT OF LOVE 2:19 Recorded 4/98 Louisville, KY
04 ON SUNDAYS I LEAVE IT ALONE 2:17 Recorded 8/95 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
05 O DEED I DO (Bert Jansch) 2:12 Recorded 3/98 Louisville, KY
06 THOSE SALTY TEARS CAN STING 3:04 Recorded 8/95 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
07 CAN'T TRUST NOBODY BLUES 2:30 Recorded 10/96 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY; 3/98 Louisville, KY
08 BUCKET FULLA BRAINS 2:27 mono Recorded 12/95 Chateau D'bris Recorders, Finchville, KY
09 LOVER OF THE BAYOU (Roger McGuinn/Jaques Levy) 3:00 Recorded 5/94 Ft. Lauderdale, FL; 8/94 Finchville, KY; 5/98, Louisville, KY
10 SING (Rick Harper/Robert Shelley) 2:55 Recorded 6/97 Louisville, KY
11 MANTRA (Waiting For The End Of These Blues) 10:31 Recorded 3/98 Louisville, KY
Gary Pig Gold:
"MY 2000 TWENTY"
nce again, for about the thirtieth year in a row now, I spent far, far too many of the past twelve months strapped beneath my trusty Radio Shack-o-phones, lost within amongst MANY others the fabulous old and especially New sounds which flooded my way during Y2K. And I can happily report it was particularly tough this year keeping my Best Of Lists relatively succinct and manageable, such was the great glut of cool sounds which came to my utmost attention.
So then, restricting myself to a mere Ten in both the Recent and Vintage categories, here?s my picks (in purely ALPHABETICAL ORDER, mind you) as I sit here tonight:
TOP TEN 2000 CREATIONS:
RICK HARPER "Boot" (Double D) Yet another home-recorded (and home-burned) compendium of work from one of America?s best-kept secret musical treasures. How Rick manages, year after year, to come up with such a vast array of great tunes, great arrangements, great performances and then great RECORDINGS of it all continues to astound me. As it really should you too.
Louisville's DIY King Returns
Scotch Irish Bastard (HiVariety)
By Tim Roberts
He's everything a garage band wants to be: low-fi and skilled with a small mixing board. The difference? He can write and sing and play a variety of instruments and mix them all by himself (with a touch of help from some other local talent) and still sound like he's using a full band. He turns the guerilla tactics of the do-it-yourselfer recording artist into a clean, complete sound, much like what Bruce Springsteen did with Nebraska but without the wailing and the references to Charles Starkweather and heartbroken state police dispatchers.
So five years after his last DIY effort, H00T, and seven years following the career retrospective Rickenharper; Louisville's Rick Harper has returned with the home-brewed Scotch Irish Bastard. And in it, all the trademarks that worked for him as a DIY master in his previous two releases are there: the overdubs of his voice doing harmonies, the well-blended instrumentation of bass, guitar, harmonica and organ, songs that range from an exploration of the dreariness of a late-winter day in Louisville to self-assertion and hope, the honesty and simplicity of the songs and pop hooks that come straight from the Beatles '65 textbook.
That kind of refreshing pop blast greets us in the opening track, "My Dream Last Night," about the yin of everyday despondency and annoyances and the yang of a perfect, selfless world in dreams. But the pop vibe plummets with the next track, "A So What Day," which perfectly depicts a wintry day in the city- sporadic light snow being buffeted by a cold wind, bad coffee, loneliness - only to return with "Loans and Favors," Harper's starving artist mini-biography containing the CD's title in the chorus, "'Cos I'm a Scotch Irish Bastard / Of Scotch Irish Bastards / Got to take care of myself'' " Self-preservation never sounded so defiantly positive.
There's more clean pop with "More that Beautiful," co-written and performed with Tim Krekel and "Ain't Foldin Up for You." Both of those tracks lead into a triptych of love-gone-wrong songs: "All the Time," about a former lover dead more than two decades, "Cut and Run," (co-written with Northern Kentucky's Niki Buehrig) about escaping a co-dependent relationship and the attempt to squeeze out a sour relationship in "Don't Want to Remember At All." Hearts don't just break in Harper's world - they auger in at full speed.
Heartbreak aside, Rick Harper's music tells the story of a man with experience in both music and life, with four decades of one and five decades of another behind him. He has shared that with us in the best way he knows how a triad of self-recorded, performed and -produced releases. Keeping his art self-made doesn't mean that Harper hasn't grown as a musician (anybody who has played as long and as with many people as Harper has doesn't need to grow anymore). It just means that Harper knows what works for him.
- Louisville Music News, 3/04
'Scotch Irish Bastard'
Rick Harper comes armed with a guitar case full of George Harrison licks and isn't afraid to use them. Few songs pass without a Beatles echo bouncing off the bridge or chorus, but Harper makes them work through sheer will and a knack for hooks. Like all his records, "Scotch Irish Bastard" was mostly played, sung and recorded at home by Harper, which you sense even before you check the liner notes; there's a feeling of lonliness and isolation throughout. These songs aren't about those moments when it all falls apart, but the lingering aftermath.
- Jeffrey Lee Puckett, The Courier-Journal 10 April, '04
Rick Harper: Scotch Irish Bastard
There is a phenomenon in music where occasionally the greatest talent goes underappreciated by a wide audience until the artist is either infirm or long dead. Take Townes Van Zandt, for example.
Rick Harper has maintained a semi - reclusive posture for much of his musical carreer, surfacing every few years with a notable recording, then dropping from view. A bit like Tony Joe White, who records and occasionally performs, but cherishes his privacy. After decades of playing as a side man, in 1997 Harper released his Rickenharper CD which made him, if not a cult figure, certainly positioned on the map as a singer - songwriter. The sound was pure pop and critics and select radio stations ate it up like diabetics on a Klondike binge.
HOOT, released in 1999, signaled a change in the weather. There were a couple of love - happy romps, most notably "The Light Of Love". But the recording as a whole had an edgier, more tightly-wound feel to it, with clouds visible on the blue horizon. Shortly after its release, Harper left Louisville for the hills of west North Carolina, near Asheville, and his songs evaporated from Public Radio playlists. During this time he spent nearly three years playing with Louisville's Tim Krekel and was bassist and harmony singer on Krekel's Happy Town CD. He also appeared on ex-NRBQ drummer Tom Staley's CD, I've Always Known, and still does freelance graphic design work.
The new CD, Scotch Irish Bastard, is a qualitative change from his earlier work. It opens with "My Dream Last Night," a gritty, teeth-clenched rocker where the singer "...don't go out for fear I might blow away." By the time the chorus comes around ("...but in my dream last night / everything was warm and bright...as we held us in our arms") you can be sure this is a tougher, hipper Rick Harper at work, one who could handle eight rounds with the late Warren Zevon.
The following ten songs hang together like a tapestry. "A So What Day" describes a February day near Frankfort Avenue, listening to WFPK, watching snowflakes fall, missing his lady and wondering about the next gig. It features a perfect, spare guitar solo by Charlie Carmon. Other notable songs include "Loans And Favors," with imagery that would be at home in a particularly dastardly J. P. Donleavy novel, and "Don't Want To Remember At All," the latter's wounded narrator wonders "Why must I remember photographically / Silhouettes in the night and neither one of them me." "More Than Beautiful," co-written with Tim Krekel, would in a perfect world be the summer car song of 2004.
Scotch Irish Bastard is an extraordinary album, and categorically the best work Rick Harper has done. Much of it is dark, but with a strong undercurrent of hope. It's easy to put this CD on and get lost in its sad, defiant beauty.
-Robert L. Penick, Chance Magazine
SCOTCH - IRISH BASTARD SONGS
01 MY DREAM LAST NIGHT 4:55 Recorded 1999, 2003 Louisville, KY Tim Krekel: electric 12-string guitar
02 A SO WHAT DAY 4:02 Recorded 2003 Louisville, KY Tim Krekel: electric guitar Charlie Carmon: electric guitar solo
03 LOANS AND FAVORS 3:34 Recorded 1998, 2003 Louisville, KY
04 MORE THAN BEAUTIFUL (R Harper - T Krekel) copyright control/Mighty Nice Music, BMI 3:01 Recorded 2003 Louisville, KY Tim Krekel: electric guitar
05 AIN'T FOLDIN' UP FOR YOU 3:56 Recorded 1999, 2003 Louisville, KY
06 ALL THE TIME 3:23 Recorded 2003 Louisville, KY
07 CUT AND RUN (R Harper - Niki Buehrig) 3:17 Recorded 1999, 2003 Louisville, KY
08 DON'T WANT TO REMEMBER AT ALL 2:12 Recorded 2003 Louisville, KY
09 KEEP OUR LOVE 3:16 Recorded 1998, 2003 Louisville, KY
10 IF YOU TELL A LIE 1:43 Recorded 1998, 2003 Louisville, KY
11 COMING DOWN IN BUCKETS 3:56 Recorded 2003 Louisville, KY
the strange case of Rick Harper. Songwriting savant and sideman extraordinaire. In America his own music has made large ripples among critics but little impact among the record-buying public. While songs like I Know What It Is and Girl In The Nuthouse are played extensively on the radio in such far-flung locales as New Zealand, Sweden, France and Finland, here - only the most hip indy stations will play him, such as KKUP in Capertino, California. Or his home town station,WFPK.
Given the lop-sided division of public acceptance, it shouldn't be unexpected that when a bootleg CD of Harper alternate takes appeared in 2000,the country of origin was Holland. Locales such as Helsinki or Auckland might have been more likely, but Rick Harper is an artist honored in most every country but his own.
Titled Boot as a play on the previous year's release HOOT, it contained demo tracks, outtakes and varying versions of renowned Harper songs such as Ca$h Poor, and the legendary, never-released-on-CD Took A Wrong Turn. Although little money could have been made from the release of of this disc, Harper the perfectionist was irked by the poor quality of the reproduction. Apparently transferred from cassette tape, "I sent lots of promo cassettes to Europe through the years..." many of the tracks were out of phase and there were myriad technical problems that made the artist apoplectic. Taking it upon himself,Rick compiled his own "bootleg album",containing most of songs from the Dutch release, and added a few more, all from the original mix down master DAT tapes. The result is this CD, Bsides And Worse. Twenty-six tracks of the best music never to make it onto a record. This disc is available only from this website.
Picture Disc from New Zealand, 1991
Bsides and Worse: The Songs
01 WHEN YOU WERE (stereo remix) 3:19
02 WORSE 3:20
03 SPOOKS IN HERE! 1:59
04 GOLDFINGER (Bricusse-Newley, Unart, BMI) 3:14
05 TOOK A WRONG TURN 2:44
06 IF YOU HIT HER AGAIN 1:55
07 BRAND NEW FAVORITE SONG (alternate demo version) 3:53
08 TRAVELIN' (R.Harper-R.Leffler) 2:55
09 GIRL IN THE NUTHOUSE (stereo mix) 2:17
10 SOME THINGS I LOVE ABOUT YOU 4:00
11 LEAVE 2:40
12 PURPLE 2:16
13 ISLAND 2:20 Ronnie Brown:electric guitar
14 AS I HELD YOU TIGHT 4:11
15 TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF 3:06
16 YOU COULD OWN ME 2:33
17 LEESA 1:23
18 THE FINCHVILLE JANGLE 3:32
19 CAN'T SLEEP 2:33 Bob Whoozit:"vocal"
20 NORWEGIAN PIGDOG BLUES 2:23
21 THE HOTEL BEER STAIN 2:41
22 DON'T YOU KNOW IT 3:45
23 HURDY GURDY MAN (Leitch, Abkco, BMI) 3:21
24 BETWEEN THE LINES 3:22
25 LONG TIME TIL 2:56
26 END BIT 1:12
PRODUCED BY RICK HARPER
Songs by Rick Harper except where indicated
Track 2 from Hoot (CD, 1999)
Tracks 11, 13, 17, from Demo Teaser (Cassette, 1999)
Track 3, 4, 10, 14, 16, 19, 20, 22, from Boat Drill: Demo Teaser 2 (Cassette, 1995)
Track 1, 5, 6, 23, from Ca$h Poor: Demo Teaser III (Cassette, 1996)
Tracks 7, 8, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 25, 26, are previously unreleased
Copyright 2004 Rick Harper/HVGraf