HAL HARRIS (By Dave Penny)Born Harold F Harris, 27 September 1920, near Pike, Alabama
Died 11 January 1992, Jackson, Mississippi One of the most celebrated of the early rockabilly guitarists of the 1950s, "Fuzzy" Hal Harris' chaotic and spine-chillingly bluesy solos on his Fender Stratocaster for Starday Records in Houston were as distinctive (and valuable) as Roland Janes' in Memphis, Grady Martin's in Nashville or Joe Maphis' in Hollywood. Spending his early years in Alabama, playing in a string band with his brothers Roy Harris and Clyde "Boots" Harris, Hal joined the Florida-based band of "Pappy" Neal McCormick in the early 1940s and moved to Los Angeles, at Boots' insistance, after the war, where he made his recording debut with Curley Williams' Georgia Peach Pickers for Columbia Records in 1946. He moved back to Alabama, and by the dawn of the 1950s, Harris was disc-jockeying in Mississippi and was based in Jackson. It was here that he cut his first solo record for Webb Pierce's Pacemaker label in 1951. One of the sides, "Poor Boy Rag" gives us a taste of what to expect later in the decade! In 1953, Hal took his family to Houston, Texas, having been offered a DJ job at KYOK where he spun records and featured his own band, The Southern Playboys. He moved to KRCT around 1954 where he was billed "Fuzzy" Hal due to his new flat-top crew cut and remained with the station until 1963. By 1954, coinciding with Harris' move to KRCT, Pappy Daily's local Starday label was starting to hit its stride and was established enough to experiment with the new Texas "Cat Music", invariably recorded at Bill Quinn's Gold Star recording studio at 3104 Telephone Road. The small coterie of seasoned session musicians chosen to support this new breed of wild young singer included Herb Remington on steel guitar, Doc Lewis on piano, Link Davis on fiddle or tenor sax, and Hal Harris on lead electric guitar. Harris would soon become the session leader on classic Houston rockabilly and rock 'n' roll sessions by Joe Clay (Vik), George & Earl (Mercury), Al Urban (Sarg), Floyd Lee (Enterprise) as well as a plethora of Starday/Dixie/D sessions by the likes of Sleepy LaBeef, Rock Rogers, Link Davis, Bob Doss, Eddie Noack, Benny Barnes, Glenn Barber, Jimmy & Johnny, Ray Campi, The Big Bopper and George "Thumper" Jones. It was reportedly at the end of a 1957 Jones session that Harris was given the rare opportunity to cut a couple of tracks in his own right, and the two strong rockabilly sides - "Jitterbop Baby" and "I Don't Know When" - became a big success in 1978 when Ace Records issued them on a 10" LP and, subsequently, back to back on a 45 (rumours persist that the coupling was released in 1957 on Starday or one of its subsidiaries, but no copy has ever been uncovered). He enjoyed two more releases in the '50s; "Please Pass The Biscuits" (Dixie 529) and "Boy Crazy Jane" (Rainbow 1203) and acted as Sleepy LaBeef's manager briefly, but by the early 1960s the Houston scene was at a low ebb; Quinn had sold his Gold Star studio to Huey Meaux and Radio KRCT changed its c all letters to KIKK and its format to a top 40 Pop station. In 1963, Hal moved back to Jackson, remarried, and spent his last three decades quietly as a born-again Christian, working as a gospel DJ and recording three solo religious LPs, until his death aged 71 in 1992. (Acknowledgements to Andrew Brown's article that appeared in "Texas Jamboree #11") Recommended listening: Virtually anything and everything recorded at Gold Star and issued on Starday, Mercury or D between 1955-58, but in particular Bob Doss' "Don't Be Gone Long", Thumper Jones' "Rock It", Jimmy and Johnny's "I Can't Find The Door Knob", Sleepy LaBeef's "All The Time", George and Earl's "Done Gone" and "Better Stop, Look and Listen", Floyd Lee's "Go Boy", "Sixteen Chicks" by both Link Davis and Joe Clay or "Duck Tail" by both Rudy Grayzell and Joe Clay.
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