Hal Harris, Finger Pickin' Rockabilly Legend

Of all the country guitar styles, none are richer or more complex than those played with the fingers. And none have had such far-reaching effects on other musical idioms, like rockabilly. History has generally credited only a few guitarists, most notably Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, for the development of the wide range of fingerpicking styles. Two other legendary early rock stylists heavily influenced by the Atkins/Travis style were Eddie Cochran and Duane Eddy. Both even emulated Chet's choice of guitar, the Gretsch 6120.

The lesser-known Hal Harris was a Texas country and rockabilly player who also excelled in this style. Though he approached it with a more primitive sense of phrasing. His pulsating, harsh sound worked well on many country and rockabilly recordings for Starday Records. Harris worked as a deejay in Houston and was a session guitarist at the Gold Star studios, where many of the Starday records were cut. He was featured prominently on George Jones' gospel number "Taggin' Along" and Thumper Jones' (who is in fact also George Jones) "Rock It" (Starday 240, 1956). He also backed Rock Rogers (a pseudonym of Leon Payne) on the Elvis Presley cover "My Baby Left Me".

Hal Harris was born in 1920, in Alabama, and started performing in the early 1940s. His two rockabilly vocals are "Jitterbop Baby" and "I Don't Know When" (1958), neither of them were issued at the time, but have been considered rockabilly classics ever since they first appeared on various rockabilly compilations. I think Ace Records was the first, correct me if I'm wrong, who also released them on 45 (NS47, 1978).

On April 25th 1956 Hal Harris played lead on Joe Clay's session. 5 songs were recorded: "Ducktail", "Sixteen Chicks", "Doggone It", "Goodbye, Goodbye", "Slipping Out And Sneaking In". The session was held at Bill Quinns Goldstar studio. Only "Ducktail" and "Sixteen Chicks" were issued at that time on the Vik label, a subsidiary of RCA. "Sixteen Chicks" was written by Link Davis and Wayne Walker. Link Davis had made a recording of it himself prior to the recording by Joe Clay and released it on the Starday label and Hal Harris also played lead on Wayne Walkers version.

Harris was Sleepy LaBeef's manager for a short time during the late 50s, and he was co-author of LaBeef's classic "All The Time", which was released on Mercury 71179 in 1957. He was also booked for a session by Charlie Fitch of Sarg Records. Hal Harris would be scheduled to play lead guitar on two recordings by Al Urban, "Gonna Be Better Times" and "Won't Tell You Her Name". Both were released on Sarg 158-45 in 1958.

Compiled by The BlackCat, 2001
Special thanks to Ole V. Frank