JET HARRIS (By Steve Walker)
Born Terrence "Jet" Harris, 6 July 1939, Kingsbury, North London, UK
Jet Harris was the oldest of the original Shadows (Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Tony Meehan) and, for my money, was the only one who looked the part. While the rest of them wouldn't have looked out of place waiting table at The Ritz, Jet always had the air of one who would give you a quick razoring if you looked at him the wrong way - a sort of tough-looking David Hemmings. Subsequent events showed that poor old Jet would be the one to live the true rock'n'roll lifestyle and pay the price.
Terrence "Jet" Harris was born in Kingsbury, North London, on 6th July, 1939, the only son of Bill and Winifred Harris. The young Terence Harris was nicknamed "Jet" by his school friends because of his ability at being one of the fastest runners in the school. He left school at the age of fifteen and started work with his dad as an apprentice welder, making milk churns. The very first record that he took notice of was Winifred Atwell's "Left Hand Boogie" in 1952. He was fascinated by the 'bass' sound on Winifred's left hand.
His initial enthusiasm was for jazz and, after a brief flirtation with the clarinet, he took up the double bass and began playing in jazz clubs. His first professional appearance was playing for Terry Dene on stage at Middlesborough in 1957. A week later he was playing at the Astor Club in London, whilst a week after that, the contract was finished and he was unemployed. For the next few months, he sold coffee and cokes at the 2I's, practising his bass in the cellar and emerging to do the occasional week at a variety theatre here and there.
His first big break came when he was booked to play with Tony Crombie's Rockets, backing Wee Willie Harris on a variety tour lasting six months. It was during this tour that he switched from double bass to bass guitar. Jet is reputed to have been one of the first musicians in the UK to play a bass guitar. The tour must have been a great success as he was then asked to join Wally Whyton's Vipers for a spell (during his stay, the line up included on occasions both Hank Marvin and Tony Meehan). The Vipers were a popular act at that time, but the skiffle era was on the wane and there followed a six months period which brought him only four weeks work.
Probably his biggest breakthrough came in October 1958 whilst on tour with the Most Brothers (one half of which was the recently deceased Mickie Most). On the same bill were Cliff Richard and The Drifters (later to become The Shadows) for whom he guested during the tour. At the end of the tour, Jet joined Cliff Richard and the Drifters permanently as bass guitarist, replacing Ian Samwell. His recording debut with the group was on Cliff's third single "Livin' Lovin' Doll" in January 1959 (earlier Cliff recordings were backed by studio musicians). Shortly thereafter, The Drifters recorded their debut single "Feelin' Fine" (a vocal recording rather than an instrumental) c/w "Don't Be A Fool (With Love)".
In May 1959, the group recorded their first instrumental, "Chinchilla" for the soundtrack of Cliff's movie "Serious Charge" and a month later Jet married Carol (Da) Costa (the lady said to have taken away Cliff's virginity). The marriage didn't last very long. In July, "Jet Black", an instrumental written by Harris, was the second Drifters single but, like its predecessor, it did not chart. The record was released in the USA as by The Four Jets, since "Feelin' Fine" had been withdrawn from the US market when Atlantic group The Drifters issued an injunction to prevent duplication of their name.
In view of the US injunction, the band decided that a permanent change of name was necessary. Whilst drinking at The Six Bells (some say The Eight Bells, but what's a couple of Bells between friends?) pub at Ruislip, Jet suggested the name The Shadows, and his suggestion was unanimously adopted.
Their first record as The Shadows was "Saturday Dance" in December 1959, but this fared no better in the chart stakes. At the Christmas Pantomime season, the group appeared with Cliff in "Babes In The Wood" at Stockton-on-Tees. During the run, Harris was involved in a car crash, injuring himself and Hank Marvin slightly. He was fined £35.15.0d for dangerous driving, failing to display L-plates and driving unaccompanied by a qualified driver.
In January 1960, Jet and the Shadows accompanied Cliff on a 38-day tour in the USA. "The Biggest Show Of Stars" also featured Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and Freddy Cannon. On this tour, they made their CBS TV "Ed Sullivan Show" debut.
Back in the UK, on tour in April, the group met singer/songwriter Jerry Lordan, who demonstrated his composition "Apache", which they recorded with Cliff Richard sitting in on bongos. By August, "Apache" had hit the top of the UK charts and opened the floodgates to a series of top ten hits featuring Jet on electric bass - "Man Of Mystery", "F.B.I.", "Frightened City", "Kon-Tiki", "The Savage" and "Wonderful Land" (his last recording with The Shads). Go ahead and dig out those original 45's and appreciate just what a fully rounded sound this group produced during their purple period - all underpinned by the bass magic of our hero.
After taking "Wonderful Land" to number one in the spring of 1962, differences between Jet and Bruce Welch came to a head and Harris walked out to pursue a solo career (drummer Tony Meehan had left The Shadows the previous autumn to start production work with Decca records). Jet was replaced by ex-Krew Kat Brian "Liquorice" Locking. Harris' final appearance with the group was at the "New Musical Express" Poll Winners Concert in April, 1962, at which The Shadows were belatedly presented with a gold disc for "Apache". Two weeks later, Jet signed to Decca records under the management of Jack Good, who also acted as his producer.
His first solo recording was a six-string Fender Bass VI guitar version of "Besame Mucho" (c/w the vocal "Chills And Fever") which reached # 22 in the UK charts, selling 50,000 copies. Ex-Shadows colleague Tony Meehan played the drums. Meanwhile, The Shadows carried on producing their own hits, reaching # 4 with "Guitar Tango". August saw Jet making his live debut at the Princess Theatre, Torquay, with his backing group The Jetblacks, on a bill with Craig Douglas and Mark Wynter (I told you this was a sad story).
The follow up to "Besame Mucho", again featuring the Fender VI was Elmer Bernstein's "Main Title Theme" from "The Man With The Golden Arm". A number which has now become the trademark introduction to Jet's stage act (aptly summed up by Rob Bradford as "the six string thunder thrill"), this enjoyed similar success to "Besame" - this time spending 11 weeks in the chart and reaching its highest spot at number 12. The B-side was another vocal, a cover of the theme from the British film "Some People".
The start of 1963 saw an interesting run of UK # 1 hits. Cliff's "Bachelor Boy", was replaced by his backing group, The Shadows, with "Dance On" and then, on 31 January, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan (both credited side-by-side this time) usurped their former group at number one with the wonderful "Diamonds" - another Jerry Lordan composition. For this recording, Jet changed to a new Fender Jaguar guitar tuned one tone lower than normal guitar pitch.
Two more hits followed for Jet and Tony; "Scarlett O'Hara" and "Applejack" both made the UK top ten. In September 1963, just a few days after the release of "Applejack", a chauffeur-driven limousine in which Jet was travelling with his girlfriend Billie Davis, was in collision with a Midland Red bus as they travelled back from one of Billie's shows in Evesham. The bus was written off in the accident and it was almost fatal for Jet too. Billie, who suffered a broken jaw in the accident, pulled the unconscious Jet from the wreckage of their car. He suffered serious head injuries requiring 34 stitches in the wound. With the single high in the charts, there was a lot of pressure on Jet to resume playing before he was physically and mentally recovered sufficiently to do so.
Early in 1964, posters announced "The Return of Jet Harris" as the "All Stars '64" package began touring the UK. The series of one-night shows also featured John Leyton, Mike Sarne, The Rolling Stones, Mike Berry, Billie Davis and the Innocents. "The Return of Jet Harris" was, however, less than successful. Jet's final single for Decca, "Big Bad Bass", was released in February but failed to sell in large numbers.
When the court case from the car crash was finally settled, in December 1966, Mr Justice Donaldson recognised that while Jet "was no Beatle and possibly no Cliff Richard, he was nevertheless at the top of his profession". Jet was awarded compensation of £11,150 - not much by today's standards but a not inconsiderable sum in 1966. Jet's only comeback attempt in this period was the release in July 1966 of "My Lady" which was written by Reg Presley of the Troggs and produced by Tony Meehan. The single was Jet's only release on the Fontana label.
The next few years saw Jet working in various jobs including labourer, bricklayer, hospital porter, bus driver and cockle seller (for some time in the early 70s, he lived in Jersey searching for cockles on the beach during the day and selling them and playing bass in a hotel during the evenings). In 1974, he was contacted by Roger LaVern, former organist with the Tornados. Lavern arranged for Jet to record a session for the SRT label including the appropriately titled "Theme for a Fallen Idol" (later re-titled simply "Theme"). Other titles released were "This Sportin' Life" and "The Guitar Man".
By the spring of 1977, Jet was working with a new band, "The Diamonds", playing mostly Shadows material including some numbers which had been made after Jet had left the group. One of their concerts (at Gloucester Prison) in April 1977 was taped and subsequently released on an LP (and later CD) entitled "Inside Jet Harris". He later joined the established revival band Vintage for a spell before settling down as a professional photographer. He was (and still is to this day) a very good photographer, having been taught in the early days by Dezo Hoffman. Jet was able to take lots of photos of Cliff and The Shadows that no one else could. Many of these photos ended up in various books including Dezo's "Cliff & The Shadows Around The World In Pictures With Dezo Hoffman".
The 80's found Jet back on the music scene again and he started touring Holland, Norway and Sweden. He worked with The Strangers (a cassette of a 1985 concert was released by his fan club). In 1988, a compilation LP and CD - "The Anniversary Album" featured re-recordings of Jet's major hits. Later he worked with Bristol group Tangent (appearing with them both on CD and video) and joined Cliff Richard at Wembley (guesting with Tony Meehan on "Move It").
In 1996 Jet joined The Local Hero's as their guest and since then has played with them in France, Germany, Holland and Norway. Jet also played on The Local Hero's CD "One Of Our Shadows Is Missing".
Fender Guitars presented Jet with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, and also sponsored Jet with his amplification. Burns Guitars have also presented Jet with a Legend lead guitar, a Six String Bass called the Jet Six, and a Four String Bass.
Most recently, Jet has been playing the UK with The Rapiers, The Bobby Graham Rock Experience, Mike Berry and The Outlaws and Clem Cattini and The Tornados.
CD's available (there are a lot) are included in a fully illustrated discography at:
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