Ben Harper (vox, guitar), Adrian “Alex” Painter (guitar, vox), Darwin Johnson (bass, vox), Oliver Charles (drums, vox), Christopher “CJ” Joyner (keys), Leon Mobley (percussion, vox)
Ben Harper was born in California to a family of musicians with vastly different backgrounds. His grandparents founded Claremont’s Folk Music Center in 1958, a store and museum featuring a wide range of instruments, records, books and artworks, and which was behind Harper’s relationship with music. His parents too were musicians: his mother was a singer and guitarist and his father a percussionist. Harper grew up surrounded by music; soul, folk, reggae, country, blues, R&B, rock, hip hop, Jazz…
These origins and musical environment help to explain why the fledgling Harper started playing the guitar and immersed himself in the roots of blues and country, soaking up the music of artists like Blind Willie Johnson and Robert Johnson, while also listening to and admiring more contemporary artists such as Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and Taj Mahal, all of whom had a strong influence on him.
He soon started to play his music at local venues where he acquired something of a following, but his career took off when he met his much-esteemed Taj Mahal. The veteran bluesman, blown away by Harper’s slide guitar, invited Harper to join him on his tour.
Thanks to that tour, Harper was signed by Virgin, going on shortly afterwards to release his first album, the critically-acclaimed Welcome to the Cruel World (1994). The following year he brought out his second album, Fight for Your Mind (1995), featuring a wider variety of textures still anchored by Harper’s slide guitar work. This album saw him subsequently tour with artists and bands including Pearl Jam, PJ Harvey and John Lee Hooker.
From then on, by now applauded as an artist in his own right, Harper continued to make music alone; with The Innocent Criminals, The Blind Boys of Alabama and Relentless7; and supporting or working with groups and artists like John Lee Hooker, Gov’t Mule and Beth Orton, R.E.M., Radiohead, Jack Johnson, Ringo Starr, Metallica, Mavis Staples, Pearl Jam, The Fugees and Charlie Musselwhite.
Over the years his style has evolved and his curiosity has driven him to expand his range of colours, to become a more rounded and heterogeneous artist, yet always recognisable, with his velvety and hypnotic voice; his expressive and marvellous guitar; and his thrilling live shows of a quality hard to beat.
Harper’s strong political commitment can be seen, on the one hand, in his social projects and, on the other, in the words of his songs, often bearers of messages on issues such as race relations, the environment, politics, peace, religion…
His latest album, Bloodline Maintenance (2022) is dedicated to the memory of his friend Juan Nelson, bass player with The Innocent Criminals who died in 2021. Harper, who released an album with his mother, Childhood Home (2014), completes that work with this one about the relationship with his father. The 11 songs take us on a trip combining styles and influences, leaving space to condemn slavery and racism, but also for the music of the 70s, for Jazz, blues and soul, for human relations and for love. A magnificent album with influences of musicians including Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke and Ted Hawkins, taking its inspiration from the past, but which looks squarely at the future and into the eyes.