bassist/guitarist/songwriter/singer DON HARVEY
Washington, DC based bassist/guitarist/songwriter/singer Don Harvey is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. He started taking piano lessons at age eight. After a few years, he switched to organ, learning popular songs of the 1930s to 50s from fake books. Falling under the spell of The Beach Boys and British invasion groups, he dropped keyboards and took up bass guitar in 1965. He played in a band with his brother and other older guys for several years, covering songs by the Stones, Beatles, Association, Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful, Who, Animals, etc. When his brother left for college, Don joined a band led by Peter Laughner (later a founding member of the proto-punk Rockets from the Tomb and Pere Ubu), and started playing less commercially viable, more improvisational music (blues, R&B, Velvet Underground, etc.).Don continued playing bass in rock bands in college, later in a country-western band in Austin, Texas, and more recently, bass in a bluegrass group in the DC metro area. After a several year break from music, he joined up with some Cleveland musicians, the Back Door Men (think Jim Morrison, not rear entry!), to record a studio CD, Mohawk Combover. At that time, he discovered digital multi-tracking, and began writing and recording his own songs. He just released his first CD, ‚Good Clean Fun, and has performed in several Bearapalooza shows in the past year.
GOOD CLEAN FUN cd review by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE - June 2008
GOOD CLEAN FUN is a light-hearted collection of 16 rockin' odes on the joys & sorrows of man-to-man sex, friendship and romance. Don Harvey spins his same-sex yarns with honesty, simplicity and no small amount of gritty, good ol' boy roadhouse humor. Just hitchhike through the track titles:"Cruising", "I Want a Buddy", "Truck Stop Boy", "Good Old Boys", "Take it Like a Man", "Queer Cowboy Lament", etc. They say it all. The songs are stuffed full of rocker, hippie, biker, bear, trucker, trailer park, rural folk and cowboy archetypes. Don's manly queer tales weave a colorful heartland quilt - patched together with influences as diverse as R. Crumb, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman, Will Rogers, Andy of Mayberry (and perhaps even a dash of "The Dude" from The Big Lewbowski).
By way of introduction to this review, I had the pleasure to work on Don's new GOOD CLEAN FUN cd as long-distance, "NYC to DC", technical consultant. At the outset of the project, Don mailed me approx. 24 "work-in-progress" tracks on a cd and I began my work by listening through each one.
My first impression of the songs that were to become GOOD CLEAN FUN was to note how minimally they were produced and arranged. But the more I listened to the "work" mixes, the more I found myself strangely drawn to them just as they were. Don is such a rhythmically strong, percussive guitarist and bassist - the drumless tracks really grooved ok all on their own. The overall simple production fits the songs' down-to-earth, meat & potatoes, rock n' roll roots-style; Don's straightforward, free-wheelin' lyrics; and his easy-going, "everyman" personna.
Don's singing, songwriting and instrumental playing draw comparisons with the whole catalog of southern blues rock. Unplugged Creedance Clearwater Revival, Grateful Dead, Black Crowes, Canned Heat, Eagles, Hot Tuna, Sopwith Camel and early Jefferson Airplane come to mind.
To his credit, Don plays and sings every note on this album. Furthermore, his bass, acoustic guitar and electric guitar playing are top-notch and dead-in-the-pocket throughout. Just check out his baaad-ass bass riffin' on "Oklahoma Jack" and "Otter". For guitar-work, the sweet, twin counterpoint acoustic guitars soloing all through "Old Photograph" are a standout. To paraphrase both The Grateful Dead and R. Crumb - everything on GOOD CLEAN FUN is truckin'!
Bawdy, hokey, honky-tonk, self-deprecating comic-book humor runs through many of the songs on this album. Yet true to its title, GOOD CLEAN FUN never descends into pornography. It's ample amount of sexual material is presented in an innocent, PG-rated "guy-stuff" kind of way. If there ever was a Nickelodeon cartoon channel for Bears - this cd could be it's soundtrack. And speaking of R. Crumb - the charmingly silly opening track - a rousing a cappella sailor chorus called "Sailing for Constantinople" brought back for this listener some fond memories of Crumb's amusing classic "Captain Pissgums & his Pervert Pirates" comic.
My favorite tracks are actually the final two. There's the irresistable boogie-woogie beat in "Dancing with Mike" that makes me wanna jump up, grab a geetar, and jam out with Don; and the true blue western ballad "Queer Cowboy Lament" that closes the album. This misty-eyed, soon-to-be gay campfire classic is as good as anything Roy Rogers or Gene Autrey ever put out. (and if you think writing a genuine, believable cowboy waltz is easy, just try it sometime!)
GOOD CLEAN FUN's packaging and artwork concept is the best I've seen on any cd release - major or indie - in years. Don designed a sumptuous 24 page cd booklet of glossy, sepia-toned, archival photos (from World War 1 era up thru the 60's). The photos depict men in various scenarios of relaxation, male-bonding and camraderie, e.g. - skinny-dipping at swimming holes, cavorting in military barracks, etc. The cd's song lyrics are tastefully distributed throughout the photos. Each photo's subject matter purposely ties in with its accompanying song lyric. In this sense, The GOOD CLEAN FUN cd actually doubles as a alluring, artistic coffee-table photo/poetry book. The close-up photo of a hairy chest, (at least I think it's a chest), imprinted on the cd disc itself is a hoot, and aptly sums up the cd's masculine "bear" ambiance.
In sum - special congrats to Gay Guitarists Worldwide's June 2008 special LGBT Pride Month featured artist DON HARVEY. I love this album. It makes me smile and tap my foot. It is worthy of music awards in any number of categories. Every single song on GOOD CLEAN FUN is homosexual-themed. Yet interestingly, this "gayest" of cds, in both its lyrics and musical style, comes off refreshingly ambivalent to many current trends in gay pop culture. In bypassing gay political correctness, separatism, cosmopolitanism and any sense of victimization, Don offers up a world and a sense of sexual identity in which gay men and straight men are much more alike than they are different.
One thing's for sure - If there is a silent majority "bear" counter-culture out there somewhere within the larger gay culture, this bro's good clean fun is for you. - Robert Urban, URBAN PRODUCTIONS, NYC
DON HARVEY Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE June 2008- Tell us about the making of your new cd, and of your life experiences that helped produce all the gay-themed lyrics in the album. There’s a lot of sexual humor in your lyrics.
When I started writing songs, at 50, it was a reaction against having played nothing but “heterosexually-oriented” music all my life. I decided to write ones that were clearly “gay” but that also took being out as a given. Because at first I didn’t intend to release a CD, I didn’t censor anything: the songs were as serious, funny or odd as I felt at the moment.
Socially, I became a hermit during the nine months of writing and recording, cranking out almost one song each week (and hats off to you, Robert, for so thoughtfully thinning out that herd.) The pervasive sexual content of the songs probably came from sublimation (perhaps Freud was actually right about something!) And if you step back and look at it objectively, sex is inherently funny. While a few of the lyrics came from my life experiences, most are products of a fevered imagination, and several were inspired by old photographs (many of which are included in the 24-page CD booklet.
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
I have a Hofner bass that I got in 1967, when I couldn’t handle the size or weight of a Fender Precision. It’s easy to play, but has some intonation problems, so now I mostly use a vintage Gibson Les Paul Signature Bass (c. 1973), which has a low impedance pickup and fantastic tone. When I want some nasty single coil twang, I use a cheap Danelectro bass. For acoustic guitars, I have a custom made by Mark K. Bluett and a Takoma Papoose. A Fender Telecaster rounds out my guitar arsenal. For keyboards I use Bilhorn folding organs, old portable pump organs used by military chaplains, travelling preachers, and missionaries.
Any special/favorite amps/instrument tones/effects/approaches/techniques you've used/discovered in recording and/or performance that you really like?
Inexpensive home digital multi-track recording opened up tremendous possibilities for musicians. I particularly enjoy playing guitars parts that are rhythmically syncopated ‚Äě probably inspired by my love of the interplay between the two drummers in the Grateful Dead.
- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist? Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
For bass, I most admire Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna) and Phil Lesh (Grateful Dead). I spent countless hours learning parts from their records, including most of the improvised bass lines on “Dark Star” from the Live/Dead album. I was pretty obsessive!
For acoustic guitars, I have a custom made by Mark K. Bluett and a Takoma Papoose. A Fender Telecaster rounds out my guitar arsenal. For keyboards I use Bilhorn folding organs, old portable pump organs used by military chaplains, travelling preachers, and missionaries.
- Tell fans about your luv for your particular style of music, as opposed to other styles - how it became your favorite style, etc.I’ve been influenced by many different kinds of music, so I don’t have one particular style - the songs on my CD range from rock to country to sort of old-timey, with a few other styles thrown in.
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music? Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc? Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
Until recently, I only played bass in cover bands. On “Mohawk Combover” (punk/garage rock songs of middle-aged male angst) I played bass, guitar, and did some vocals. Other than that, I’ve only recorded my own songs.
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
At one extreme, I like “Queer Cowboy Lament” for its carefully thought-out arrangement. At the other are a few songs whose guitar and bass parts were improvised, rapid-fire, while recording, like “Old Photograph” and “Cruising”. Playing off of yourself as you lay down multiple tracks is fun, but a crapshoot - the result can range from truly inspired to not-so-good. For electric guitar solos, I particularly like the ones on “Jake” and “Good Old Boys”.
Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
My father played trumpet in the big band era, later a Hammond organ, and there was always music in our house when I was growing up. Playing music, especially bass, has always been a source of great joy in my life, and it nicely counterbalances my career in science. I can’t imagine life without music.
Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a gay musician in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
After I came out in 1973, I’ve never had a serious problem being gay in otherwise straight bands, with the possible exception of the country band in Austin. The other guys were all native sons of Texas and a bit redneck, but they really liked my playing and adjusted to my being gay. Playing LGBT-oriented music with other LGBT musicians was something I couldn’t even imagine in my youth, but now it is a reality that’s real progress.- Tell us about any touring and other promotions involved in the GOOD CLEAN FUN cd.
I’ve had a great time playing some shows with the Freddy Freeman’s “Bearapalooza” group of bear-identified gay musicians, and will be doing more shows with them in the future. Because I don’t think most of my songs come off well with a single instrument and voice, I’m looking to working with some local musicians, but there’t nothing definite, yet.
- How is the overall music scene in your locale?
Washington DC area has a thriving live music scene, with lots of venues, and a wide array of genres to choose from. On the GLBT front, we have Morel/Mould, singer-songwriters like Mara Levi and Tom Goss, and more experimental musicians like Jim Adams (aka BLK w/Bear).
- Any advice for new, upcoming LGBT players?
Sure: practice, practice, practice! Train your ear so when you hear chord changes, you know what the chords are. Play with other musicians whenever you can. And record yourself , it’s the best way to get an objective look at your playing.
- What are your current and future musical projects?
Having just released my first CD, I’m focusing on promoting it. Although I’ve written quite a few songs for my next CD, I haven’t started seriously recording. Because I’ve been so happily partnered for the past several years, the new songs deal with different subject matter than that on Good Clean Fun.
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