Origin: Pomona, California
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Combining funky, groove-laden soul with handcrafted acoustic folk-rock, Ben Harper enjoyed cult status during the course of the ’90s before gaining wider attention toward the decade’s end. As a young California artist, he drew his influences from classic singer/songwriters, blues revivalists, guitar slingers, and jam bands like Blues Traveler and Phish, which meant he was embraced by critics and college kids alike.
Despite finding commercial success with the radio single “Steal My Kisses” in 2000, Harper continued to explore different (and often challenging) musical textures during the 21st century, enjoying a solid fan base at home and a considerable amount of fame in Europe. Harper scored a deal with Virgin Records in 1992 after maintaining a steady schedule of shows in the L.A. area; two years later, he released his debut album, Welcome to the Cruel World, to positive reviews.
Released in 1995, the politically heavy Fight for Your Mind made for a strong sophomore effort, an obvious growth in musical experimentation and individual declamation. It was also the songwriter’s first record to later reach gold status. Harper’s third album, 1997’s The Will to Live, pushed his blues-oriented alternative folk into the middle mainstream, becoming a mainstay at college radio and making inroads at adult alternative radio. Recorded over two years of touring in support of Fight for Your Mind, The Will to Live also introduced the Innocent Criminals, Harper’s longstanding backup band. The Innocent Criminals — bassist Juan Nelson, drummer Dean Butterworth, and percussionist David Leach — helped solidify Harper’s musical rhythms and emotional diversity over the years to come.
Harper’s career gained momentum during 1998 and 1999. One of his most successful albums to date, 1999’s Burn to Shine, blended his fondness of ’20s jazz compositions with urban beat boxing, resulting in a clever and passionate collection of songs. “Steal My Kisses” and “Suzie Blue” were radio favorites, landing him two headlining world tours and an opening spot on the Dave Matthews Band’s annual summer trek in 2000. The following spring, Harper issued Live from Mars, a double-disc of live electric and acoustic material spanning the previous year’s tour and including covers of material by Led Zeppelin, the Verve, and Marvin Gaye.
Harper dove into world beat on his fifth studio effort, Diamonds on the Inside, which appeared in March 2003. He toured through Europe the following year with the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the two acts entered Capitol Records’ basement studios after the tour’s commencement to lay down ten tracks together. The resulting collaborative album (issued under the names of both Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama), There Will Be a Light, was released in September 2004, followed by the concert CD/DVD package Live at the Apollo in 2005.
Eager to release more material, Harper reconvened the Innocent Criminals and issued the double album Both Sides of the Gun in March 2006. While touring in support of the record, Harper and company began playing a new slew of songs during their evening soundchecks, eventually decamping to Paris and recording the new material within one week. This resulted in two records–Lifeline and Live at Twist and Shout Records–both of which were issued in 2007. For his 2009 album, White Lies for Dark Times, Harper recorded with the band Relentless7, the members of whom had previously worked with Harper on the track “Serve Your Soul” from Both Sides of the Gun. Harper & the Relentless7 recorded Live from the Montreal International Jazz Festival in July 2009 and released the album early the following year.
Afterwards, Harper began working on his first solo album in years, using Jackson Browne’s basement as a recording studio and collaborating with Ringo Starr on two tracks. The album’s first single, “Rock n’ Roll Is Free,” was released during the early spring of 2011, followed two months later by the full-length Give Till It’s Gone, and in 2012 by the career retrospective By My Side. Harper then moved over to Stax and teamed with blues legend Charlie Musselwhite for 2013’s collaboratively released Get Up! which won a Grammy.
Harper literally went back to his roots on his next offering. He teamed with his mother, Ellen Harper, a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist in her own right, and the director of The Folk Music Center and Museum in Claremont, California–which his grandparents founded–for the recording Childhood Home. Ellen wrote four tunes on the set while Ben wrote six, and they performed together throughout. The set was issued by Concord in May of 2014.
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals followed up their triumphant 2015 reunion tour with Call It What It Is, their first new studio album in over eight years, released in April 2016, via Stax Records. The band’s Call It What It Is World Tour 2016, took the beloved rock, soul and R&B band around the world throughout much of 2017. Every online North American ticket order will include a CD of Call It What It Is upon its release. Now, about the newest Ben Harper album and his friend, Charlie Musselwhite.
No Mercy In This Land is a blues record. Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper were introduced to one another by John Lee Hooker. The legendary musician thought the two men should play together, so he brought them into the studio to record a song called simply “Burnin’ Hell.” The two remained friends and their paths periodically crossed out there on the road. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the two met up in a studio to record what would be their Grammy-winning album Get Up!. And as good as that record was, it was just the beginning. They both agree that their friendship deepened in the many months of touring that followed. And it’s that bond, that closeness, that makes this new record something special.
“Everything I’ve ever done has had one foot in the blues,” Ben says. “There has never been any doubt in my mind that if Charlie and I are on the planet together, we are going to be making music. The last record kicked the door open, but it was just the beginning. At this moment, I don’t think I could make a better record than this. I mean that.”
Ben Harper’s new album, with Charlie Musselwhite is titled No Mercy In This Land, released in March 2018, and happily spinning on K-ZAP with a song titled “Found The One;” hear it on 93.3 FM and it’s all part of 50 years of rock, blues and more, 24-7 on our station’s stream at K-ZAP.ORG/LISTEN!