“Sometimes I think to talk too much about music almost cheapens it” – Ben Harper
Ben Harper – The Bright New Hope
Ben Harper has very quickly made a name for himself as being an original guitar player using soul and rock and roll music. His guitar playing skills have given him a cult-like status. Ben Harper even plays the slide guitar; often invoking images of Robert Johnson. It’s his simple lyrics and original sound that have given him a ready mainstream as well as a college audience. Ben has often been compared to the like of Jimi Hendrix and Curtis Mayfield. Ben’s musical style infuses folk, blues and soul influences to a rock sounding sensibility. Ben Harper has never thought about commercial success and embraced many new musical textures, to grow as an artist. In 2005, Ben Harper also won two Grammy awards.
The New Hendrix
Ben Harper was raised in California and right from a very early childhood started playing the guitar. As a young teenager Ben started playing slide guitar to the astonishment of his family and friends. Ben’s early interest in folk and blues music was refined by his family knowing blues artist such as Taj Mahal. At age 20, Ben started touring with the legendary blues artist.
The Early Years
Ben secured a recording contract with Virgin music and released an album in ’94 “Welcome to the Cruel World”. The album was a strong debut and it showcased the wide range of Ben’s talent not only as a guitar player but a singer/songwriter as well. Based in folk/soul music, the first album had a social awareness and political consciousness which made it unique. The album was also aesthetically produced and not going with the current trends in music.
The album was quickly followed by “Fight for your Mind” in 1995. The album showcased the guitar playing talents of Ben Harper. The album had many textures in its sound and included heavy metal, folk rock and even reggae. He was touring with various bands as an opening act which helped him, to increase his fan base. His on stage jamming with the big college bands like Dave Matthews Band, Phish and Blues Travelers gave him recognition as the new guitar talent of the future. The album artwork included national insignia of many African countries representing the songs on the album.
Ben Harper was getting wide spread attention in Europe and Australia. His music received heavy radio attention. In 1997 he released “The Will to Live” which was again folk based rock and now he had a backing band called Innocent Criminals. It reached no. 89 on the US album charts making it his biggest selling album. “Burn to Shine” in 1997, was one of his strongest albums to date. Infusing rock, blues and soul – it was a hit with his dedicated college fan base. Harpers passion of pursuing a unique sound and blending many genres though may not suit commercial rock radio but it allowed him to make the kind of music he always wanted to. The album had a semi-hit called “Steal my Kisses”.
The 2001 Live from Mars album was a document to the 2 constant years of touring. The live music is a combination thunderous guitar based blues rock to simple soul sensibilities. Ben often plays many popular songs fusing it with his own songs. From the hard rock guitar hero of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” to the raunchy “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye; but Ben Harper is not a rock star he never wanted be and it is his self belief to be an artist first which has always driven his guitar playing and musical direction. The live album was certified Gold in the US.
In 2003 his popularity was at its peak, the 2003 album “Diamonds are Inside” and tour is a huge success in Europe and Australia. The album is more relaxed and a shift from his political and social messages of his previous work. The same year he was voted as the Artist of the Year by the French edition of the Rolling Stone magazine.
The Love of the People
Ben releases his most commercial sounding record, the double album “Both Sides of the Gun”. The album even debuts at No.7 on the US charts his highest ever. The album has just about all genres of music sprinkled across its 18 tracks. Musically the album sounds a lot more rock and is well received. The very next year he releases “Lifeline” which lacks real direction and the 2009’s “White Lines for Darker Times” manages to successfully merge the various sounds by a more electronic approach. The strong ballads are also well received.
Ben Harper is one of the most respected musicians by other artist and fans alike. He has not sold out or tried to create deliberate commercial albums. He has stuck to his roots, to what he does best. The originality in his guitar playing and the dynamic improvised stage performances has made his a bona-fide international star
Did you know that...
- ...Ben Harper was featured on the last Tonight Show episode with Conan O’Brien
- ...Ben Harper is married to Hollywood actress Laura Dern from the Jurassic Park fame.
- ...Ben Harper played a slide guitar version of “Star Spangled Banner” for the 2007 NBA finals.