The Harris Brothers come out of the American songster tradition, drawing from diverse currents of vernacular music, including Appalachian bluegrass and old-time and the distinctive blues styles of the upland South, as well as country, jazz, and rock. With Reggie on guitar, Ryan on bass, seamless brother harmonies, and a kick drum fashioned from a suitcase, listeners often ask, “How can two people put off such a big sound?”
Reggie and Ryan Harris were born into a musical family in Lenoir, a small town in western North Carolina tucked into the rising foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This area is a hotbed of traditional music – old-time, bluegrass, gospel, and mountain blues. Bristol, Virginia, considered one of the birthplaces of country music, is nearby. The boys were surrounded by unceasing music, from family, friends, and popular country television broadcasts such as The Porter Wagner Show. Their father, Charles Harris, played guitar between his shifts at one of the area’s furniture factories and favored country classics like the Carter Family and Hank Williams – in Reggie’s words, “his playing always had a lot of feeling in it.” Reggie had mastered the guitar by age 12, and his younger brother Ryan was born a singer.
Reggie and Ryan cut their teeth playing with family and friends on front porches, at community picnics, and at town celebrations. They always play music the way their father taught them – from the heart. With variety and flexibility as their trademarks, the Harris brothers have played together for over 30 years, moving between bluegrass jams and rocking house parties in the early days, to a progressive blues band, to a country trio. When their bassist moved away, The Harris Brothers duo was born; in the early 1990s Reggie took up a suitcase kick drum to pound out a baseline beat. That beaten-up suitcase, as much as the brothers’ versatility, has become their trademark.
Regular gigs at Woodlands Barbeque in nearby Hickory, North Carolina, where they sometimes opened for famous musicians like Doc Watson and Vassar Clements, solidified their reputation. Today, The Harris Brothers are regularly featured at venues such as the Blue Ridge Music Center, Merlefest, regional fiddler conventions, and, increasingly, at national festivals.
While their sound always reflects the duo’s Appalachian roots, The Harris Brothers’ musical tastes are wide-ranging. “I love all kinds of music…. We don’t label ourselves, we can play anything from mountain music to jazz.” The brothers are often drawn to the blues, performing Mississippi or Chicago classics they have made their own, as well as the upland blues of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge with which they grew up.
The Harris Brothers, known for their showmanship and their spontaneity, never play with a set list. With their hearts truly in the music, and no performance ever the same, The Harris Brothers are sure to captivate any audience.