As a child, he began playing guitar in his hometown of Claremont (in California's Inland Empire) - eventually specializing in the acoustic slide guitar. As a young man, he recorded an LP (Pleasure and Pain) with fellow folk guitarist Tom Freund, which spurred record label attention. After this limited edition record, Harper received a record deal from Virgin Records, releasing his debut album, Welcome to the Cruel World (1992) to generally positive reviews.
His 1995 follow-up album, Fight for Your Mind was a more mature and more political effort, while his third, The Will to Live (1997), expanded his fan base at college and adult alternative radio audiences. It also introduced the Innocent Criminals, Juan Nelson (bass), David Leach (percussion) and Dean Butterworth (drums), Harper's back-up band. Over the course of the next two years, Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals toured incessantly and played on records and live with R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, Gov't Mule, Beth Orton, The Fugees and John Lee Hooker. In 1999, Burn to Shine was released, which included Steal My Kisses and Suzie Blue, two college radio favorites. 2001 saw the release of Live from Mars, a critically acclaimed double-LP of a recent tour with Dave Matthews Band.
Diamonds on the Inside, another of Ben Harper's offerings offers a further diversification of style to include reggae, funk and a guest appearance by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Interestingly, it sees a return to the line up featured on the Fight for Your Mind LP as neither Dean Butterworth or David Leach feature. For the following tour, Marc Ford, formerly of The Black Crowes joined the Innocent Criminals. Strangely, the CD returned the Innocent Criminals to un-credited status in the title, with Diamonds on the Inside being credited to solely Ben Harper, although they played as backup band on the record just as on all previous.
In October of 2004, Ben participated in the Vote for Change concert tour organized to benefit Moveon.org and encourage people in the swing states to vote during the 2004 U.S. presidential election.
Most recently, Harper released a collaboration album with The Blind Boys of Alabama, called There Will Be a Light, a heavily gospel-influenced album. The entire album features the Innocent Criminals (as featured in Diamonds on the Inside) as back-up band to Harper and the Blind Boys, who sing harmonies over the music. The special edition included live versions of a number of the new songs.
Harper has released three DVDs: a documentary called Pleasure and Pain after his initial LP release with Tom Freund, which covers what a tour is like with Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, along with much of Harpers personal philosophy; Live at the Hollywood Bowl, which was the first full concert DVD for Harper, who also released a 4 song EP Live at the Hollywood Bowl along with the DVD; and Live at the Apollo, a concert DVD featuring most of Ben's 10-12-2004 concert at the Apollo Theater with The Blind Boys of Alabama, along with an oversea's only EP version of the concert.
Ben Harper's family also owns a music store in his hometown of Claremont, California. The Folk Music Center is also a musical instrument museum and features instruments from many countries as well as vintage stringed instruments. The store was established by Ben's maternal grandparents, Charles and Dorothy Chase, is currently managed by his mother, Ellen Chase-Verdries, and is shown in Pleasure and Pain.
Ben Harper Facts
|Birthday||October 28, 1968 (53)|
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