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- Posted on Oct 20th 2010 10:30AM by Pat Pemberton
'Suzie Blue,' Ben Harper
Growing up in Claremont, Calif., Ben Harper would often frequent Nick's Cafe, where a group of 60- and 70-year-olds played a regular gig every Thursday night.
Years later, Harper would channel that group -- the Real Time Jazz Band -- while writing songs for his fourth album, 'Burn to Shine.' But to really capture the 1920s-era Real Time sound, he knew he had to have the band in the studio. So he invited the old timers to record with him, and they knocked off their part in one take.
The result is, of course, an authentic-sounding jazz tune, heavy on the clarinet, featuring Harper's sly vocals. It's elegant and hip, an image Cadillac no doubt wanted to promote for its pricey (starting at $33,000 but going up fast) mid-size crossover SUV. It doesn't hurt that Harper -- a soulful folkie who has won a Grammy for a gospel album -- is a pretty good crossover act himself.
The ad is simple, showing interior and exterior shots of a shiny black Caddy as Harper sings, "Where did you learn to do that so well?"
We can't speak for the car, but we have a pretty good idea where Harper learned to do his thing so well. Through most of his life, his grandparents owned a music store and acoustic musical instrument museum, giving Harper easy access to an array of instruments and records. Meanwhile, his music-craved parents would introduce him to their vast album collection and take him to see acts like Taj Mahal, David Lindley and Bob Marley.
By 14, Harper was playing coffeehouse gigs of his own. By the time he reached his early 20s, he was opening for acts like Mahal, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker. Eventually, he would become known for his prowess on a Weissenborn slide guitar. The rare instrument, crafted by German luthier Herman Weissenborn, is a single-piece, hollow-neck guitar made of rare Hawaiian koa wood.
Critically praised from the outset, Harper has always been known for experimenting with genres. And he has done so with ease. When asked about 'Suzie Blue,' he told one reporter, "My fingers just fell on the chords."
Harper, who won two Grammys for his work with the Blind Boys of Alabama, released 'As I Call You Down' this month with his new side band Fistful of Mercy, which includes George Harrison's son, Dhani.