Ben Harper Gets Back To Roots With H.O.R.D.E.

Harper and his Innocent Criminals stem from the deepest roots of soul, funk and rock.

Ben Harper doesn't have much time for musical labels or trends. He's an expert

stringsman whose music and rhythms stem from the deepest roots of soul, funk

and Jimi Hendrix-inspired rock 'n' roll. But now that he's been recruited for the

latest edition of the H.O.R.D.E. touring festival, he's having to deal with those

labels and the perceptions that go with them.

"H.O.R.D.E.'s an acronym for 'Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere'," he

said recently in New York. "People are definitely going to find their own opinion

about how to tag the H.O.R.D.E. tour for this year. I don't think the tour is trying to

'get back' to anything. I think it's trying to get cool music."

"Get back" refers to the lineup of this year's H.O.R.D.E., which includes roots-

flavored acts Blues Traveler, Barenaked Ladies and others (Whiskeytown and

Jonny Lang are also being mentioned as possibilities). This roster is in contrast

to the more alternative 1997 edition, which featured such acts as Primus,

Spiritualized and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.

"Hey, they had Neil Young, last year," Harper said. "He's as roots-rock as it gets.

Sure, they had Primus. But (the tour) is just trying to widen the spectrum of what

a cool festival is. And I'm excited to be able to contribute to that."

What Harper and his group, Innocent Criminals, will be contributing is a

somewhat harder rock sound than in the past. On his most recent album,

1997's The Will To Live, Harper toned down his more acoustic moods

and turned up his electric guitar and sonic effects.

"I definitely tried to give the sound of my guitar a stronger voice, letting it lean

more toward rock. But at the same time, I'm not trying to 'go rock,' I'm just

bringing that element out in the music," he said.

And on The Will To Live, it's there.


> (RealAudio excerpt) is a tapestry of wavy, sliding guitar, while "Roses From My

Friends" showcases Harper's penchant for studio trickery. The introduction to

the tune features almost a dozen different guitar snips, tracked backward

against a forward-playing bed of low-end slide guitar.

"I drive people nuts with my backward tracks," Harper said. "By the time I got to

the end of that, I had put everyone in the studio to sleep. But it was a blast trying

to do that, and on the next record, I'm going to do even more of that backward

slide stuff."

Harper said that he and bassist Juan Nelson and drummer Dean Butterworth

are "looking forward" to the H.O.R.D.E. shows. "They're in sheds (open-air

amphitheaters), which are always just the best places to play -- people can lay

down in the grass, people can stand up in the front ... you can pretty much get

the sight line you want if you're willing to go to it.

And 'B,' it's the sound quality. Every night's going to be to the highest-end sonic

equipment that you can play on, which is a joy."

With any luck, Harper's participation will be a joy for fans as well. "Ben is perfect

for the H.O.R.D.E.," said Marybeth Morgan, 29, a self-described die-hard

Deadhead and Harper fan. "I mean, I've seen Ben perform all over the place,

and that's a big part of the H.O.R.D.E. tradition. Alternative bands come and go,

but roots-rock lives forever."