Dave Harris is a permanent fixture upon Victoria’s cultural landscape. In a city filled to the brim with buskers ranging from Country Dave to Copper Cowgirl, to the hordes of wandering minstrels who seem to disappear as quickly as they arrive, Harris is king. I suspect that the Inner Harbour will one day be renamed in honour of Harris, who has inhabited a corner of the space for over 36 years. Harris’ very first memories are made of music. His parents, avid classical music devotees who also introduced their boy to folk musicians such as Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, encouraged their son in his own fledgeling musical interests. Harris took piano lessons for several years before switching to guitar and violin in hopes of emulating the folk musicians he had come to love.
Harris’ musical education continued to flower well into his teenage years: he listened to music almost as much as he played it, moving from innate classical musical tastes to contemporaneous rock and roll bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who were reaching their creative crescendos at the time. Let It Be and the Woodstock Soundtrack were the first records to populate Dave’s record collection which has since grown to over 10,000 titles. Harris’ relationship with vinyl cannot be overstated. The decline of LP production in the late 1970s directly coincided with Harris’ veritable divorce from modern music in its recorded incarnation. While Harris owns some compact discs, he prefers time’s black musical documents: history’s vinyl remnants dominate his home.
“Records are what I grew up with — they’re what I’m used to.” Says Harris. “CDs are so much more convenient, there’s no doubt about it — downloads too, but I don’t have an iPod. But the sound of those mediums isn’t quite as good. I do prefer the analogue sound — it has a distortion and it’s a distortion that we like. We are used to hearing it and we like it.”
Harris has recently enlisted some of the records in his collection in a much different capacity: in addition to listening to his albums, Harris has used the extensive liner notes of his record library as primary research material for his encyclopedic historical book about one man bands, Head, Hands, and Feet. The book, a culmination of three years worth of research both online (Harris joined the online world to research the book) and offline, was self-published by Harris two years ago.
The research which eventually spawned Head, Hands, and Feet began as Harris’ increasingly intensive investigation into the blues tradition of one man bands. Harris’ music of choice is the blues, and the genre was the obvious choice for his labour of love. As his research turned into an obsession, however, Harris realized that the book was destined to take on a much larger scope.
“As I started working intensively in research, I started discovering some really neat one man bands outside of the blues tradition. I knew they wouldn’t fit unless I widened the scope. I then decided that I would include every one man band I could find… and when I say ‘one man band’ I don’t mean the guys using backing tracks, I mean people who manually play physical instruments.”
Harris’ research informed his approach to his own music. In addition to expanding Harris’ repertoire of material, researching the book gave him insight into the limitless possibilities regarding the physical arrangement of the vast array of instruments he plays simultaneously.
“I added a little cymbal to my setup and began hitting it with my guitar headstock… seeing all those performers gave me so many ideas because I watched a lot of videos on YouTube and listened to a lot of people on MySpace. The whole experience widened my spectrum quite a bit.”
Harris’ groundbreaking book will undoubtedly be recognized one day as a foundational work in a field untrodden. Head, Hands, and Feet has been well-received by others interested in the ancient tradition of music, which manages to transcend genre, space, and time. For now, however, most of the books lay in wait in Harris’ garage: you can order one here: onemanbandbook.blogspot.ca
Words by Nick Lyons, photography by first Benjamin Madison.