About Harry

High resolution for publicity use: One Two (photos by Pat Schories)

Born in Mississippi, he has focused on, performed, recorded, and taught the classic fiddle tunes from Mississippi.  The University Press of Mississippi has just published his book, co-authored by Stephen T. Austin, "Mississippi Fiddle Tunes and Songs from the 1930's." He has 8 recordings to his credit and performs in the "Wahoo String Band", as well as leading duos and bands under his own name. He teaches fiddle and mandolin weekly in Garrison NY and teaches workshops on Mississippi fiddle tunes around the US.

In 2004 Harry has put his focus on the Carroll County tunes that he learned from recordings made in the 1920's by musicians William Thomas Narmour, Shell Smith, and “Mississippi” John Hurt. During the two years before recording the "Carroll County, Mississippi",  Harry had visited Carroll County and elsewhere in Mississippi to do fieldwork, interviewing musicians to more fully understand this music. While other states share many tunes and approaches to playing, the Mississippi tradition stands out for its unusual melodies and rhythms. In 2013, Document Records approached Harry to write the liner notes for their reissue of the Complete Narmour and Smith Recordings Volumes one and two.

Reflecting on his background, he explained: “My mother was born in Carrollton, Carroll County, and I was born in the nearest hospital in the next county. I spent summers in the County as a child and have been visiting relatives there ever since.  I remember playing for my grandfather [on one visit] and being surprised when he volunteered that he knew "Carroll County Blues." I had thought him oblivious to music. I later found out that before he married he was quite the dancer! He did not talk about it around his church-going wife! Avalon, the home place of ‘Mississippi’ John, Narmour, and Smith, is only about 5 miles from my grandfather's farm.” Harry went on to college in Alabama, where he recalls “I was lucky to meet and study with folklorist Beatrice McClain. Her family's band, the McClain Family, toured for the Department of State and played Carnegie Hall. She inspired me to learn square dancing, to learn my first fiddle tunes, to go to fiddle contests, and when I moved to Manhattan in my 20's, to search out the folk music community.”

Harry actually mastered the fiddle in Brooklyn, playing with the local accomplished players there: “I am almost totally self taught, learning ‘on the job’ while I played, as well as from the classic recordings of the 1920's-30's…The Brooklyn players were inspired by regular sessions with the Red Clay Ramblers from North Carolina, who were in town for an extended run in the play "Diamond Studs.” In addition to the many house parties and sessions, playing on the streets, public regular jam sessions, coffeehouse concerts and square dances, we would all go to many southern fiddle festivals.”

In the 1980s, Harry taught Country Fiddle at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, and organized and chaired the open ‘oldtimey’ sessions at the Sun Mountain Cafe. Over the years he has formed or played with numerous bands, including Wahoo, Reel to Reel, Tunesmith, The Wooden Nickel, Gridlock, Screaming Lulu, and Zombie Lust.  He has shared his passion for music with large festival crowds and in intimate coffeehouse settings from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Harry’s large repertoire includes southern tunes and songs from friends, early commercial and field recordings, as well as many of his own original tunes.

The Mississippi tradition was only familiar to a few collectors and enthusiasts, but more recently, thanks to Harry's research and efforts to publicize this music, it has enjoyed a wider hearing. Having assembled all the available material from a wide range of sources, Harry has made this available to fiddlers and other interested musicians, thus introducing this unique musical tradition to a much wider audience. Because of Harry's efforts, Mississippi tunes are starting to show up more consistently at fiddler's conventions and gatherings.

 

“FIDDLING,” The New Yorker, July 20, 1987 - (Extensive Interview of Harry)