Saturday, 28 January 2012

Profile on BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris

Profile on BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris

Awards, OGWT40 series, Americana Music Association Trailblazer Award -  Bob meets a Queen, OBE – Bob meets a Princess, Bob Harris Country Revisited – Harris meets Harris!,  What is Americana?....

2011 proved to be quite a year for BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris. He was honoured receiving four major Awards:
a) American Music Association (AMA) Trailblazer presented on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium by Emmylou Harris.
b) The Mojo Medal (presented by Bob Geldof)
c) The UK Heritage Award (presented by Bee Gee Robin Gibb)
d) An OBE at an Investiture at Windsor Castle.

Bob recovered from prostrate cancer in 2007 and he said it gave him a greater sense of purpose. “You realize time is going by. I came out of treatment with as close to a clean bill of health as you can get, but you never get away from these things scot free. It’s a reminder that I’m 65 and I haven’t got a huge number of years ahead of me. You want to get the most out of life while you’re living it, so that is my philosophy
In February 2011 at  'Sound and Vision' event to which Whispering Bob is a co-patron, £340,000 was raised for Cancer Research UK, thanks to the efforts of Tom Jones, the Feeling, Eve Selis, Newton Faulkner, Nicky Campbell, Giles Martin and Robin Gibb who all joined Bob onstage.

Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company
In 2011 Bob’s WBBC production company made three Cropredy programmes for the Sky Arts summer festivals season, including specials with Fairport and Seasick Steve. Bob also spent three days in Glasgow at Celtic Connections in January, making a further series of Sky Arts films, including the Bob Dylan Tribute night organised by Roddy Hart.

OGWT40 series

Bob Harris in the OGWT days
( Photo hosted by The Telegraph)

The WBBC also made the OGWT40 series for BBC Radio 2, which for Bob became a huge reunion. More than 90 artists participated during a sixteen week residency at the BBC's renowned Maida Vale 3 studio - BBC Page.

Music fans of a certain vintage were delighted to learn that The Old Grey Whistle Test, the BBC’s seminal rock programme, was revived for its 40th anniversary later this year. Curiously, however, the 16-part series was broadcast on Radio 2 - “I grant that radio might seem a funny place for a television programme,” concedes Bob Harris, the veteran presenter, “but even when you disconnect the video from the audio, you’ve got this incredible archive of amazing performances that really have to be heard to be believed.
“The sound quality is fantastic and it’s striking how many of the great names of that time, the likes of Elton John, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones and so many huge talents, still provide the spine of playlists worldwide that we hear on radio to this day.
It does mean, of course, that people will be able to appreciate the show’s eclectic variety of ’70s and ’80s music without having to cope with the fashions of the day, when jackets were often louder than the bands....Read More: Bob Harris: still a champion of the music at

Bob’s affection for The Old Grey Whistle Test has increased with the passing of time. Cherished memories include spending time with John Lennon in New York and having the Bee Gees sing their Spirits Having Flown album to him when the studio mixing desk broke down. “Robin and I are still very good friends, and he recently presented me with a heritage award. I am now qualified to put a green plaque on a building — you only get a blue one after you die, so I’m in no hurry for that. I’d love to plonk it on the BBC building somewhere: Bob Harris Was Here!”

Americana Music Association Trailblazer Award – Bob meets a Queen
The 10th Americana Music Association awards took place at the Ryman Auditorium on October 13, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. Referred to as the reigning or veritable Queen of Americana Music, Emmylou Harris presented Bob Harris with The Trailblazer Award. It seemed fitting as the innovative legend Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band performed a special concert recorded for the Old Grey Whistle Test back in 1977. Watch her OGWT set on Youtube

Bob Harris with his AMA Trailblazer Award
( Photo at Bob

Presenting the award Emmylou Harris speaking of Bob said: “Described by 'Radio Times' as ‘one of the greats of British contemporary music broadcasting and an independent champion of great music’ and by the 'Mail on Sunday' as ‘a national treasure’. Actually I think I should tell you who this is, its Bob Harris no relation, but I’d Be Proud to Claim Him”, has been at the centre that is C.E.N.T.R.E, this is British were talking about, at the centre of the British music industry for more than 40 years. Few people have broken as many bands into the mainstream consciousness as Bob Harris through his work on Radio 1, the legendary Whistle Test TV shows and his current programmes on Radio 2. He is passionate about music and his infectious enthusiasm permeates his work. Bob’s guiding principle is the pursuit of excellence, and this is reflected in his broadcasting skills and his devotion to the best music.

He is a trusted guide and mentor to millions who have music at the centre of their lives. When Bob gives his support to an artist, people listen and his shows have become the ‘Holy Grail’ for acts worldwide. And I can say how important it was for me in 75’/76’ when I first toured went over to England with The Hot Band and his stamp of approval and giving me his enthusiasm and support it meant so much at that time and has continued through the years. His tireless promotion of new and cutting edge music is second to none. And of course he champions the stuff that we're here celebrating tonight. His unbridled passion and commitment to country music has gained him the recognition of the Country Music Association, who honoured him with the ‘International Broadcaster of the Year’ award in 2004.

Bob Harris making his acceptance speech
at the AMA Awards

He has appeared on International panels at the Americana Music Awards here in Nashville and was the keynote speaker at NXNE in Toronto, in 2008 and at the East Coast Music awards in Nova Scotia Canada in March of 2010.

Bob and his wife Trudie (were so glad she’s here with us tonight too) recently founded the Whispering Bob Broadcasting Company (No relation I think to Whispering Bill), an independent radio production house, making documentaries for Radio and also winners of 2 Sony Silver Awards in 2008/2009. There is even more, you wouldn’t believe the amount of pages of credentials here.

I’m just going to mention a few. He co-founded Time Out Magazine, has written books, newspaper articles and magazine columns. He has produced records, done 48-gig rock tours and interviewed a President (although it doesn’t say which one here!). He has voiced television and radio documentaries, major advertising campaigns, including the Beatles USA campaign for ‘Anthology 3. He has been given a Fellowship by the University of Northampton, and GET THIS Bob was made an Officer Of The Order of The British Empire in June of this year. Well done Bob! (Applause). OK, So that last one is kind of hard to compete with but I just want to say that were grateful and happy to have Bob here with us tonight so that we can at least try to give back a little to someone who has given so much to so many of us and to this music that we love by presenting Bob Harris with The Trailblazer Award. Bob where are you? (Cheers and applause)

Receiving his award Bob said: “Wow, thank you very much. Well I’m here in Nashville with my wife Trudie and with my very great friend and radio producer Al Booth and we're here this year to cover the Americana Awards as we have been since 2004 which was the first time we covered the awards. We also recently, Al, made a documentary about The Ryman Auditorium; the programme was called The Mother Church of Country Music. We recognise the warmth and history that exists in this building and for me walking out onto the stage and look up at the Confederates Gallery and see you all here it’s a bit of a dream come true to walk out onto this stage in this role, I must say (cheers and applause)

 In the 70’s I used to do a Television programme called The Old Grey Whistle Test (loud cheers). The theme tune for TOGWT was a tune called Stone Fox Chase and was played by a group of friends, a loose gathering of musicians who played under the name Area Code 615 (laughs and applause). The strange thing was that so some reason although we came over to America regularly during the 70’s to do filming trips over here, we never visited Nashville Tennessee. The first time I came here was in 1999. I can’t believe how lucky I was that Radio 2 decided that it would be a good idea to ask me to present the country music show.

When I came out to Nashville when I touched down it sounds like a bit of an exaggeration but I really felt that I’d touch down at my spiritual home. I could not believe the amazing level of musicianship here. I truly believe it is the best in the world and I’m not just saying that, I really think it is (loud cheers). Funnily enough shortly after arriving and getting back home I began to tell Robert (Plant) about Buddy and about Emmy and everyone here. Of course Robert knew anyway. It is fantastic to think that we are now on the same stage Robert Plant and myself on a night like this it’s absolutely incredible. But it wasn’t so much the music I loved when I got here I found that the community, the music community in Nashville, you are the warmest people and friendliness and you’ve given me the warmest of welcomes which I truly and sincerely thank you (applause). I really believe in you and I believe in this music and I hope I’ll be able to come over to Nashville for many years to take this music back to the UK. I really would like to thank Radio 2 for giving me the opportunity. I’d like to thank Al Booth for being with me on all these trips and she is something very special indeed. I’d like to thank my wife for the support and Jed (Hilly) and everyone at The Americana’s and for Emmy for presenting me with this award. But particularly and especially I’d like to thank YOU because the music you send out to the rest of the world well it’s so special to me and to everyone in the UK. So thank you very much indeed this is a real honour “(cheers and applause). 

OBE – Bob meets a Princess

Radio DJ, 'Whispering' Bob Harris,
with the OBE he received,
for services to Music Broadcasting,
 from The Princess Royal during an Investiture
 at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, 20 October 2011

FROM a council chief executive to a radio DJ, 5 Oxfordshire residents were honoured at Windsor Castle in October 2011.
With The Queen away on royal duties with a tour of Australia the awards were presented by the Princess Anne, HRH The Princess Royal and among the recipients were veteran Radio 2 host “Whispering” Bob Harris, who lives just outside Abingdon. He was given an OBE for his 40 years behind the mic.

Mr Harris said: “It felt amazing and slightly surreal. It is fantastic to get the acknowledgement, but I don’t feel I have done anything to deserve it. I’ve just been playing records I love.
“I had a lovely conversation with Princess Anne because she listens to my programme on Radio 2. I half expected her to not really know who I am.” Bob forged a career playing rock, country and folk music on radio, including a stint at BBC Radio Oxford in the 1980s and on BBC TV’s The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Bob said: "I had a lovely conversation with Princess Anne because she listens to my programme on Radio 2. I half expected her to not really know who I am."

So is Princess Anne a secret “Whisperer” (nickname given to Bob’s message forum) and with her equestrian history does that make her a true Horse Whisper? Wonder what was said in the conversation?
Discussing the merits of the latest Emmylou and Steve Earle albums perhaps? Defining Americana?
Perhaps after her son-in-laws antics with the England squad at the Rugby World Cup (Mike Tindall refused to discuss the storm of controversy engulfing him following his infamous drunken night out in a Queenstown bar) Princess Anne might well have asked Bob to recommend some country drinkin’ songs she might acquire for him with Christmas in mind!

Radio DJ, 'Whispering' Bob Harris, with the OBE he received, for services to Music Broadcasting, from The Princess Royal during an Investiture at Windsor Castle, Berkshire, 20 October 2011

Bob Pictured with his wife Trudie on OBE Day - Twitter photo 

Bob Harris Country Revisited – Harris meets Harris!
The very first Bob Harris Country took place on April 7, 1999 with a recorded conversation with Emmylou Harris.
Gram Parsons emerged in the 70’s and Bob refers to him as “The Grandfather of country rock” as part of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Bros and became seminal figure ever since.
Bob met up with Emmylou and her beautiful cat, 14 year old Jemima, in her old house with its old heating system and with its noises she said “it talks to me”. Bob spoke with Emmylou Harris (no relation) about 2 current projects at the time, The Trio II album and her labour of love with the Gram Parsons tribute RETURN OF THE GRIEVOUS ANGEL: A TRIBUTE TO GRAM PARSONS” .

Trio II
Emmy revealed they (Emmylou, Dolly Parton & Linda Ronstadt) started out trying to do a Trio album in 1978 and time to be together and focus on it had passed and so it finally materialized in 1987. The Trio II project was finished in 1994 but they were not able to tour and promote it with full guns blazing and it was put on hold. Some solo tracks appeared from it on Linda Ronstadt’s and Dolly Parton’s projects. Somebody new at Elektra record company heard it and thought it had timeless qualities and got excited about it resulting in its 1999 release. Dolly Parton suggested one of its numbers a cover of Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush”. Linda did the vocal arrangements from a basic triad to moving the vocals 2 parts above the lead implementing the use of a glass armonica (see photo) adding subtleties of shading.  
Emmylou who loves harmony was intrigued by the “second voice” that is made by 2, 3 voices. When the 3 of them first met they sang “When I Stopped Dreaming” an old Louvin Brothers song and knew they had something special as it was effortless. Bob Harris likened that magic to when Crosby, Stills & Nash first sang together.

Gram Parsons Project
Emmylou was approached by Paul Kremen from Almo Sounds and it took over 2 years to complete. Her take on it was that it  wasn’t really a tribute but more of an” Introduction Too” as Gram’s music wasn’t that well known in America due to a lack of airplay and little awareness of his music. “He was ahead of his time in America, they didn’t see the forest for the he remained more of a footnote figure” she said.
Emmy suggested songs – Specifically asked Gillian Welch and David Rawlings to perform “Hickory Wind”, whom had the unique ability to sing a waltz slowly and beautifully in the vein of Gram. One criterion on the project were people who had a connection with Gram as a peer but then people who would twist something as Gram did. Hence The Cowboy Junkies were called in as interpreters of songs – “When I Heard the track (Ooh Las Vegas) I was absolutely blown away, it was one of the best things I’d ever heard” said Emmy

In the two decades following Gram Parsons' death, his legacy continued to grow, as both country and rock musicians built on the music he left behind. Musicians such as Emmylou Harris and Elvis Costello covered his songs, and his influence could still be heard well into the next millennium.
The very first song Emmylou sang with Gram was “We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning” from on his first solo record album in 1972 titled G.P. They met in Washington DC where Emmylou was living, as a single mum, with a toddler raising her daughter Hallie.

One evening in 1971, Emmy trio performed to a crowd that included members of the country-rock pioneers The Flying Burrito Brothers. In the wake of the departure of Gram Parsons, the band's founder, the Burritos were then led by ex-Byrd Chris Hillman, who was so impressed by Harris' talents that he considered inviting her to join the group. She sat in with them at a time when Parsons was planning his solo project. Chris Hillman went to play in Baltimore where Gram “showed up” to sit in with his old pals and Parsons them he was looking to do some George and Tammy, Conway Loretta-type female duets and he needed a female singer. Chris mentioned Emmy but didn’t know had to contact her.

Emmylou’s baby sitter who happened to be huge music fan went to every show and happened to be backstage and was able to tell them she looked after Emmys daughter and could give them her phone number – It was meant to be! Emmylou Harris got a phone call out the blue from Gram and she didn’t really know (being a folk singer) who he was and she wasn’t involved in the rock and roll scene. He came to a club called Clyde’s where Harris played for 5% for the gross of the room, split between 3 as a folk trio, with fellow local musicians Gerry Mule and Tom Guidera. A waiter who knew who Gram Parsons was wrote on a piece of cardboard “Tonight Gram Parsons” and stuck it in the window and still nobody came in on a rainy Monday night. They sat on the barrels of beer and worked on some songs – “Singing with Gram made me into a real singer. I think it was the restraint and the economy of phrasing and emotion that is inherent in country music that Gram brought to my very un-country sounding voice. I had much more of a folk sounding voice and he added a missing ingredient and in addition to that a passion for that type of music, coming to that harmony door. It was just something that I don’t think I would ever have come upon, without his going into my life” reveals Emmylou. 

What is Americana?
In 2011 the word Americana was recently added to Miriam-Webster's dictionary, with the definition: "a genre of American music having roots in early folk and country music."

Although used to tag music with online music stores there isn’t an "Americana" section in record store (assuming record stores exist!). Americana is “roots” at the Americana Music Festival, more than 100 acts from across the country converged on Nashville to demonstrate the sound's broad range of styles and influences. America is a nation of mongrels. American culture is a fluid, organic mix and hybridization of other cultures and Americana is representative of those roots.

There were those who saw “Americana” as just a new name for the great little scare of the time, built on the rock music with roots in punk beloved by young hicksters, the audience No Depression magazine courted and built on. “Americana” has been defined, easily and simply enough, as contemporary music that finds ways to acknowledge and build on American roots— sounds and themes, history and place. (Americana is about as “amorphous” as jazz, country, rock, classical music, easy listening–or any other lasting genre—all commercial constructs, all evolving and inclusive.)

 Americana is said to have arisen at the beginning of the 90s in the United States. Its starting point was the release of the album No Depression by the band Uncle Tupelo. In comparison to classical country, the typical “Alternative Country sound” is clearly edgier and more aggressive. It comes as no surprise then that Alternative Country bands also include elements of Punk and independent music. The greatest hits are naturally available with music streaming through online radio. The content of the songs often deal with depressing themes such as death, loss and setbacks.
Some of the genre’s most important interpreters include Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams. Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac, the band and album that popularized the alt-country sound that you could argue launched the Americana movement.

Media reports on this roots music field that suggested that it’s “amorphous” or hard to define, or a dumping ground for acts without a category, or  “supposed to be derived from punk like Uncle Tupelo.

Last year in session Bob Harris asked Americana queen Lucinda Williams – “What do you think about Americana as a music genre? She said it served a purpose as she found herself as an artist without a musical home or category. She is quoted in the past as saying “At first I couldn’t even get a record deal, because my music fell in the crack between country and rock. There was no Americana. There was no alternative country. There was no market for that, her unique musical amalgam mostly is identified as that tasty stew called "Americana," a field that gladly embraces virtually all artistically motivated, guitar-driven groups in the House that The Byrds and Burritos built as well as prolific singer-songwriters.

When Emmylou Harris released her excellent and critically acclaimed 1995 album WRECKING BALL she took a somewhat different direction and it became a career-redefining album which had a harder edge and it was frowned upon by mainstream country. She too gravitated towards the Americana home along.
With the 2001 release of the diamond-selling O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? soundtrack (which celebrated its 10-year Anniversary last year) this elevated the Americana acts without much help from mainstream radio allowing the genre to gain in strength over the next decade.
In 2003 though win every AMA award winner went to Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Levon Helm, Gram Parsons and Sam Phillips it seemed to be looking back to groundbreaking days of the 70’s and not moving forward. Nowadays it has been invigorated by active younger artists. One of the most popular Americana acts in the world the recent years are British group folk-rockers Mumford and Sons. Young acts of every flavour are ready to carry the Americana torch forward–soulful Amos Lee, Avett Brothers, the traditional country Secret Sisters the attention-grabbing and Grammy Nominated Civil Wars duo, Hayes Carll, Justin Townes Earle with the song of the year—built on 1920s vaudeville and blues. Even ex American Idol contestants like Lacey Brown are embracing its territories and new acts seem to be materializing like sisters duo The Hello Strangers who could make something of a splash in 2012. Americana looks to be in a healthy state although with the 2012 Grammy five nominees in the category released great music, but there is no nominee under 50 years old..

Bob Harris Country goes out on BBC Radio 2 every Thursday at 7pm - Show page 
Forthcoming Sessions:

Gretchen Peters - 26th January
Clint Black - 2nd February
Reba McEntire Special - 9th February (Whole programme is a Reba McEntire Special , recorded Nashville Interview )
Nanci Griffith - 16th February
Eric Church - 23rd February
Connie Smith - 1st March
The Band Perry - 8th March
Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers - 15th March
Vince Gill - 22nd March
The Sweetback Sisters - 29th March

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