Ben Harper Finds Horizons Expanding As He Grows

Folk-rocker says variety of influences have him 'not exactly sure what comes next.'

The Spokesman Review

Ben Harper fans can thank the Folk Music Center in Claremont, Calif.

That's the family-owned business where the folk-fusion musician grew up, nurtured by the musical instruments and by artists like David Lindley, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and Joan Baez, who hung out there.

"It's my musical lifeline," Harper said in a recent phone interview while driving through Hollywood. "In a very important way, it's where I grew up. It's where I wrote my first song. It's just a very important musical environment for me. It was very important to me to stay connected to that and have my kids connected to that."

Last year, Harper released his fourth studio album since 1993. Burn To Shine (RealAudio excerpt of title track) features the beat-box-infused single "Steal My Kisses" (RealAudio excerpt).

"That song is my son's song as much as mine," Harper said, explaining that his scratchy beard would make his young son run away when he tried to kiss him.

Harper and his band, the Innocent Criminals, plan to release a double live CD early next year.

Harper's music is heavily rooted in tradition; a mix of Delta blues, rootsy folk and straight-up rock. But his tunes are inflected with a certain newness, so much so that some writers have called him "alternative's alternative."

"I'm writing in so many different directions and styles right now," Harper said. "I wake up and I'm not exactly sure what comes next. ... I am a part of every song I've ever heard or danced to."

But few songs have meant as much to Harper as those of Jimi Hendrix.

In fact, as he drove through Hollywood recently, Harper had just finished taping a VH1 show on the greatest rock stars ever. ('s parent company, Viacom, also owns VH1.)

Hendrix, of course, was his pick and also was named to the top slot on the show.

"Jimi Hendrix is the closest thing this planet has ever known to an alien," Harper said. "His being, his presence, his sound, the feeling, the textures in his music. Listening to Jimi Hendrix, it's beyond biblical for me."

Harper is married and has two young children. But it was his recent 30th birthday that really stood out as a milestone, he said.

"You can be somewhat immature and irresponsible until you're 30," he said. "And once you're 30, there's no pretending you're anything but 30."

— Heather Lalley

Ben Harper tour dates:

Aug. 29; Sacramento, Calif.; Memorial Auditorium

Aug. 30; San Jose, Calif.; Event Center Arena

Aug. 31; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Santa Barbara Bowl

Sept. 2; Laytonville, Calif.; Hog Farm PigNic

Sept. 3; Portland, Ore.; Portland Meadows

Sept. 4; Seattle, Wash.; Bumbershoot Festival

Sept. 8; Berkeley, Calif.; Greek Theatre

Sept. 9; Los Angeles, Calif.; Greek Theatre

Sept. 10; San Diego, Calif.; San Diego Street Scene

Sept. 13; Morrison, Colo.; Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Sept. 15; Kansas City, Mo.; City Market

Sept. 16; St. Louis, Mo.; American Theatre

Sept. 17; Indianapolis, Ind.; Murat Centre

Sept. 18; Cincinnati, Ohio; Taft Theatre

Sept. 21; Toronto, Ontario; Air Canada Centre

Sept. 22; Montreal, Quebec; Molson Centre

Sept. 23; Boston, Mass.; Suffolk Downs

Sept. 24; Northampton, Mass.; Three County Fairgrounds

Sept. 27–28; New York, N.Y.; Roseland

Sept. 29–30; Philadelphia, Pa.; Electric Factory

Oct. 8; Sedona, Ariz.; Verde Valley Amphitheatre

Oct. 25; Dallas, Texas; Bronco Bowl

Oct. 26; Austin, Texas; The Backyard

Oct. 27; Houston, Texas; Aerial Theatre at Bayou Place

Oct. 28; New Orleans, La.; Voodoo Music Festival

Oct. 30; Nashville, Tenn.; Ryman Auditorium

Oct. 31; Columbus, Ohio; Mershon Auditorium

Nov. 1–2; Detroit, Mich.; State Theatre

Nov. 4; Chicago, Ill.; Aragon Ballroom

Nov. 5; St. Paul, Minn.; Roy Wilkins Auditorium

Nov. 6; Madison, Wis.; Madison Civic Center

Nov. 9; Pittsburgh, Pa.; A.J. Palumbo Center

Nov. 10; Richmond, Va.; Landmark Theatre

Nov. 11–12; Raleigh, N.C.; The Ritz

Nov. 14; Blacksburg, Va.; Burruss Auditorium

Nov. 15; Atlanta, Ga.; Atlanta Civic Center

Nov. 17; Washington, D.C.; DAR Constitution Hall

Nov. 18; Greensboro, N.C.; War Memorial Auditorium

Nov. 19; Charleston, S.C.; Charleston Performing Arts Center

Nov. 20; Asheville, N.C.; Asheville Civic Center