Anne Harris: Simplicity is Most Complex or Fiddlin’ With The Blues
Once again Bluescruisers were subject to the captivating sounds and exotic moves of Ms. Anne Harris, of the Otis Taylor Band.
She danced and played her way into the hearts and souls of all who experienced her aboard the boat. Whether with the Otis Taylor Band, or jamming with Terrance Simien, Southern Hospitality or the Voodoo Women showcase, she was riviting both musically and visually.
I cannot tell you how many people wanted me to interview her and learn more about her, so here is last years interview with Ms. Anne, it is as fresh and timely as it was then. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did doing it. There has been some editing done for this version of the interview to keep it current, but we did not change any critical information.
On the October 2011 Legendary Rhythm & Bluescruise I was honored to witness the Otis Taylor Band. Within minutes the audience and myself were captivated by the fiddle playing of Anne Harris. A cross between Jimi Hendrix gyrations and Gypsy-like trills soon had the boat buzzing with her name and talent. I was besides myself when she accepted my proposition to be interviewed for Blues411 and, dear readers, here is Ms. Anne Harris.
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B411: I positively was taken in by your performances with Otis Taylor. He has always stretched the parameters of what is considered the blues – that is by blues purists I should say. How did you hook up with him?
AH: Every genre will have a group of purists surrounding it. Otis has always felt like an outsider in the world of blues, he sort of lives on the edge of it. He feels he is not fully embraced by it because he is not playing a traditional format. Whether that is in the form of his instrumentation or of the bands he puts together or the way he approaches his music. It’s a different sound.
I think that’s why I relate to him and why I got picked up by him – because I am similar. I am the square peg, the black sheep of the family, as well. I don’t fit into any category of music and part of that is because I don’t come from a purist training – I wasn’t entrenched in any one school of music or form. I was classically trained initially but my tastes have always been all over the place.
I hear the marriage of every form of music when I listen – when I hear a bluegrass tune I don’t hear just a bluegrass tune, I hear Celtic tunes, I hear Blues I hear Country…that’s where my sensibilities lie, that’s how I relate to Otis’ music. I know his music would be in the broader Blues bin in a music store but his music has a broader thing for my ear – I hear West Africa specifically Mali and other things as well. I believe that’s what kept him on the fringes, he’s not approaching the form in a traditional way.
B411: That is the reason that I so enjoy the bands music, it speaks beyond what we normally hear. I sort of think of you as a band of square pegs.
B411: I think with your addition to the band it adds so much to the holistic quality of them, you break down the wall between artist and audience very well.
When I hear you play the fiddle I think Gypsy – somewhere in all of that…
AH: OK yeah, and that’s not remiss. The fiddle has a storied history and it has been taken in many directions, and Gypsy music is an important part of that story. As well as within this country, the folk tunes, the black fiddle players or early blues and jazz – then there’s the classical world which is a world unto itself, and Indian violin playing. There’s a whole matrix that this instrument has inhabited, it’s pretty fascinating, a real versatile voice, which is one of the reasons why I love it so much.
B411: Yes, as a instrument it can do so very much. OK I have to make a confession here, I am a white boy ! So to me a fiddle was always a country instrument. Because that was my only exposure to it – probably until the Jefferson Airplane introduced us to Papa John Creach.
AH: Yes that’s right! Interesting that you mention that connection. I have played a few shows with Jefferson Starship and my good friend is currently the lead singer for them. When I knew I was going to be sitting in with them, I went back and listened to all the recordings – it’s amazing, at the time they were in their 20’s and Papa John was in his 50’s and for this young white group of San Francisco kids to have that ear and inspiration to invite him on board to share what he did was so ahead of their time. I just loved that, the influence he had on them and for what it did for the profile of the violin in Rock. He’s a really important figure. I didn’t even touch on Jazz – that’s a whole other branch of the fiddle tree. So much of what he was inspired by was Jazz and the Gypsy music that you were referencing. You can hear that in what he does. I think he was the first introduction to many people at that time to the instrument and what it can do outside of country music.
B411: Some say that the funnel for delivering music to the people was wider back then. Now there seems to be limits put on by ‘popularity’ and money making opportunities. Though some festivals have seemed to expand their rosters to be more inclusive and eclectic.
AH: I think a lot of festivals are doing that, maybe it’s just because the festivals I am being booked on. But I think music has always been by people and for the people – bottom line – and along the way we discovered, since it is a populist form of art, that there is a commercial aspect to it that cannot be ignored. There will always be the battle between the artists and the people who support the artists and arts, versus the
people that see profit to be made who want to sway the art in a certain way to make money. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – we live in the kind of world we live in – but it makes it a little more of a challenge to look beneath the layers of things and one must take a little bit of time to find the cool things happening. There is amazing music happening everywhere and there’s never been a time that we have had the tools to access that in a more direct way with the technology. So there’s a double edged sword.
The world is always changing and expanding – who says radio has the responsibility to be the dictator of cool, maybe for their fifteen minutes of fame they did, but that’s a paradigm that’s not relevant anymore. But we got this entire internet world that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. If you can press record on a tape machine you can put up your original song for the world to hear.
B411: Through all of this – the square peg, globally influenced, but can I ask who is Anne Harris? I mean how have you managed to fly under our radar, what makes Anne Harris – Anne Harris? I never asked this question to anyone but you are different, and at some level I think there is something very special there that is intriguing, forgive me!
AH: That’s a question! Who is anybody? We are all a big mash up of all of our influences, obviously my heroes in this story are my parents. They are amazing people who raised me and brother and sister in this tiny utopic college town during the seventies and eighties, they and the town afforded and encouraged freedom of expression, the questioning of everything and thinking for yourself. Those, among other things, fueled or ignited my passion to discover who I am. Which I don’t know who that is, because it is always an unfolding process. We are all works of art in process.
I think it’s been part of why I have an insatiable appetite and interest for all kinds of music. I want to know about the soul of the world and for me soul is translated thru music and dance (my body). In my quest to get to know the soul of the world better I want to immerse myself in all things musical. Every artist, every musician, every song has a little fractured piece of this bigger mosaic that is the soul of the world, the universe and I will always get a huge charge out of discovering these pieces and seeing how these pieces reflect and teach me more about myself. Does that make sense?
B411: That’s amazing – I love the answer – that’s really what I was looking for without knowing it. By learning more about ourselves we teach others.
AH: I should also mention that my household was an ongoing soundtrack. My father loved music from Basie, Sinatra, Opera, Gospel, Mahalia Jackson – so I was always privy to that. I began experimenting with his records while they were gone.
B411: So with all these influences – do you play with other people – and create other forms of music than what we know of you?
AH: Yes, I do. I play with a band based out of Chicago, The Macro-Dots, Cathy Richardson. I mentioned her earlier as the singer touring with Jefferson Starship, she is just an amazing vocalist/singer/songwriter. I have my own band as well – a more folk-rock band. I also get hired to sit in with people. Most of that is along the lines of rock genre thing, I do some session work doing string arrangements for other people (which I love to do). Like most musicians I piece meal my life together on a daily basis!
I am fortunate enough that people hire me for my sound. I blend a lot of different things together. One of my goals as an artist, the one thing I want to develop, and think I have been, is to develop my own individual sound. A lot of the artists that inspire me the most as the ones that have a sound that is theirs. Bob Dylan might not go down in history as the greatest vocalist but that voice there is nothing like it, and the way it delivers the message is singular. I want to be the kind of artist that is known to have their own stamp of individuality – one that no one else has .
B411: I think you are well on the way – I do have that ‘sense’ with some guitarists and drummers where I hear a track and say ‘that’s so and so’ or even someone I don’t know I hear and say ‘wow, who is that ‘. Yes that’s what Otis has and I believe your association with him has, and will help you in your quest.
AH: It was an absolute blast! A long weekend, we had workshops all during the day Saturday and Sunday. These were wonderful, everyone got to be up close and personal with these amazing people and jam, discuss and work together. Everyone brought instruments with them, a flutist, an oboe player, another fiddle player, ukelele, a bunch of guitars, drummers a great eclectic mix of instruments. Everyone got to sit around with such legendary people as Bob Margolin, Don Vappe, Mato Nanje, Tony Trischka, George Porter – these are legendary people. The jam on Saturday night went about four hours, the big jam at the Boulder Theater, quite insane. It was a wonderful experience and I am so looking forward to that happening again.
B411: I thought the concept was just so beautiful. I saw some video of the jam recently.
AH: Yes, the main structure that Otis set out for the weekend was ‘no chord changes’! He would stop the jam if he heard anyone trying to throw in chord changes – which I just love. Not sure if this is obvious but I am a great fan of John Lee Hooker, and his vamping over a chord with spoken word, just get the beat.
This harkens back to what Otis’ sound is about. He tries to distill a groove out of the music that’s how the whole ‘trance’ moniker works. When you have wonderful people with all this technical ability things can get real fancy and complicated. But its always real important to have this grounding or root to bring it back to, this simple thing like a heart beat. When you bring it down to that level of simplicity – a heart beat – everyone listening and playing has a heart and feels it and it doesn’t matter if you are the most technical player in the room or never picked up an instrument, everyone’s polar access is their heart. That’s the bottom line and I love the way Otis disseminates that. I think it is important that we keep circling around that and keep it in the periphery of our vision.
B411: People want to wander and change chords because that seems to be what music is to us, and when we break it down it almost seems too simple – but yet there is a certain purity that harkens back to Meher Baba in his speaking of the one note and that note/sound is OM.
AH: Yes! That’s perfect! Pour me a glass of wine, now we’re talking. That’s genius! That’s what I’m getting at. There is room for everything, there is a space for getting intricate, taking journeys and creating things inside the structure – all that is supposed to happen. There is nothing that is not supposed to happen. But there is a great reminder in returning to that center, it is a meditation of sorts, as you so eloquently put it returning to OM. Which is kind of the under-current of all that gets laid on top of it.
B411: Anne it has been more than wonderful sharing this time with you. I only hope the readers get as much from this session as I have.
Otis Taylor will be releasing a brand spanking new release ‘My World Is Gone” on Concord Music Group/Telarc label. It once again sets the highest of standards and features Ms. Harris, Shawn Starski, Todd Edmunds, Larry Thompson, Ron Miles, Brian Juan, and special guest Mato Nanji. Look for it February 2013 wherever you find excellent music, and look for a review right here on Blues411.
For more info on Ms. Anne Harris visit: http://www.anneharris.com/
Mr. Otis Taylor: http://www.otistaylor.com/
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: Leslie K. Joseph.