Spotlight on Hank Harris
Interview with Darla Drew Lerdal from the Rapid City Arts Council
Give us the short bio of Hank Harris- where from, school, parent & family, how you washed up on the shores of South Dakota?
I was born in an Air Force hospital in Tampa. My parents were from small towns in Central Florida. Postings in Washington D.C., Hawaii, Detroit, Virginia, and Guatemala. Jock in High School. Lots of art. Only formal guitar lessons were in were in Guatemala City from a teacher who spoke no English. Southern Babtist College in Macon, Georgia. Bad student, photography and conscientious objection.
Escape from the Gothic South to the Epic West. Tam Valley, California, Bellingham , Washington, Nederland Colorado. Hippie days. First band (Terraplane) in Boulder.
Moved to Vermillion , South Dakota at the bequest from a friend from Atlanta who was returning to his own roots in the Coyote State.
Series of bands; Lonesome Prairie Playboys, Red Willow, The Shades, DD and the Fayrohs with others in between and overlapping. Solo, duos, trios, quartets, quintets up to septets. Acappella, old timey, rock, swing, bluegrass, punk, oldies, hundreds of original songs, soundtracks and tone poems. Albums, cassettes, CDs, and MP3s. Analog and digital, unadorned and live, effect drenched and multi layered.
Now I’m studying music history with a focus on the music from Deadwood South Dakota from 1875 to 1910. Still doing solo, duo, trios etc. Still doing acappella, old timey, rock etc. Still writing and recording.
Tell us how you started playing music professionally?
A friend of my brother’s heard me playing behind closed doors in my bedroom. He played himself, and talked me into learning ten songs with him to play at a Coffee House at a college in Winter Park, Florida. We made ten dollars apiece and two of the four people in the audience were cute girls that took us to their dorm room and got us high afterwards.
We will talk about your solo projects in a minute, however, I understand you have been in two of the most successful bands in South Dakota music history. The bands are musically very different. What can you tell us about your experiences with Red Willow and DD & The Fayrohs?
Red Willow ~ I was living at a hippie farm (Bluefeather) between Elk Point and Spink, South Dakota that was a musical hangout for many local players. After years of playing only acoustic music, I had just bought a blond Gibson hollow body electric guitar and a Fender Deluxe black faced amplifier. I had no idea of how to use them. I was invited to a barn dance in Brandon, South Dakota by Wally Saukerson, a frequent visitor to the jams at Bluefeather.
I went and sat in with Lonnie Shumacher (bass), Chris Gage (guitar), and Barry Carpenter on drums. They knew country rock and Grateful Dead stuff and I knew old country. They asked me to join they’re band. A few months later Lonnie came up with the name “Red Willow”.Kenny Putnam joined six months later and I played with them for seven years.Two albums, South Dakota Public TV shows, Nemo concerts and probably 250 shows a year, each year. We still play occassionally.
DD and the Fayrohs ~ After my trio ,The Shades, broke up in 1988, I worked at a music store in Rapid City, S.D. I found the money and experience underwhelming. Local Rapid City favorites, DD and the Fayrohs approached me about playing bass (gasp!) guitar and singing with them, in an oldies band! Working an unfullfilling day job made me just desperate enough to attempt to play a new instrument in a band that played music I was totally unfamiliar with. I was glad they didn’t wear costumes and grease their hair back. I’ve played with them for almost nineteen years…….
While you are known for performing in bands, you also focused your solo career and recording. How many albums (yes, we will go back that far) and CDs have you done with bands or by yourself? What were they, do you have a favorite?
Out of my System was me playing everything and the rest had most excellent musicians contrubiting. Asking me to name a favorite is like asking who your favorite child is. Not a good idea. I did my best on all of them.
What is your preferred type of project? Do you like the collaborative or solo process when recording?
I like constant variety.
Your latest projects, The Deadwood Songbook 1 &2, is a musical work and a preservation project for the various ethnic music of the Black Hills during the 1880s. You have said this is one of your best projects. How did it come about and what do you like about the work?
I like the chance to explore history and make it live again, and work with Rick Jacobsen and Kenny Putnam and many other wonderful friends and musicians. This opportunity , afforded to me by Mary Kopco, Director of The Adam’s Museum and House of Deadwood ,South Dakota, has been a joy. The museum and it’s researchers and curators have given me a loving and supportive workplace to thrive and learn in.
What do you do to get ready before a show?
Change strings if neccessary. Get some excercise if possible. Prepare equipment for what ever gig is imminent. Decide what material to play, and review. Play and sing a few hours if possible. Check weather conditions in the winter. Determine, according to venue, when to set up equipment. Coordinate with other musicians (if an ensemble gig) as to set up time. Dress appropriately. Slow down breathing if possible.
What do you think about while you are playing?
If I do it correctly, I am thinking only of the song I am playing at the moment, and the people that are in front of me at that moment..
Who are your influences?
Thousands of artists, writers, musicians, statesmen, historical figures, friends, family, acquaintances and anonymous others. Sorry, no name dropping.
The power and illumination of Nature and Art and everything I have ever experienced through all my senses.
What is your favorite type of venue?
Where ever there are people that care to listen, be affected, support and respond positively to the music. Tell us a funny story about a show or performance.
Kenny, Ricky and I played last Fall at the Western Heritage Festival in Hill City ,SD. During the performance I related a story about the great American song writer, Stephan Foster, dying at the age of 38 with 37 cents in his pocket. After the show a woman from the audince came up and gave each of us fifty cents apiece.
Career & Life
What is one of your goals with your career?
To be honest and maybe have a little fun.
What do you want people to know about your music that they might be surprised to learn?
My favorite sounds are wind in the trees, moving water and silence. I don’t listen to recorded music that often.
If you could play anywhere where would it be?