First memory of J.P. Harris is of him singing and playing the banjo on “Let Me Fall,” around a bonfire in turn-of-the-century West Townshend, VT. In a few short years he left his mountainside cabin in Halifax, VT for the honky-tonk life in Nashville, TN, and the road. We miss you, J.P.
excerpts from www.tinymixtapes.com interview with J.P. Harris:
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Montgomery, Ala. That’s where I was born. I grew up between there and a little town called Dadeville, Ala., which is where my family had been from for probably 200 or 300 years. They’ve been there since before the Revolutionary War… We moved away right before I turned seven and there was kind of a big economic downturn in Alabama; a lot of jobs lost and a bunch of big companies shut down.
My dad was in heavy construction and my mom was a teacher, and we ended up moving out to the middle of nowhere, this little town called Apple Valley in California, which I assure you had no apples whatever.
We moved out there, and my dad worked for a dirt-moving company, and then, in the summers and Christmastime and stuff when we were kids, for a couple of years, my folks would ship us back home. We kind of had this funny reality… We got transplanted abruptly out to the middle of nowhere in California, and then kind of chucked back and forth as kids.
Back to this teeny little town of Alabama and then back out to this weird little town in California and eventually we moved from there out to Las Vegas. My dad got a new job and [sighs] we were there until I was about 14 and then I decided it was time to split and I stuck a couple of T-shirts and I think, about $42, in ones, in my backpack and jumped on a Greyhound and took off and that was sort of the end of where I grew up officially. [many years pass–ed.]
Eventually, deciding that I had never been to New England before, and an old girlfriend of mine had grown up there, and said, “Hey, let’s go. Let’s get ourselves up to New England for the summer and go check it out; Vermont is really nice.” “All right. Cool. Sounds like a plan.”
We rode trains and I worked my way through Texas and then rode straight up and over to Minnesota and over through Milwaukee, Chicago, whole bunch of other stuff, and got thrown off a train in New York by a couple of rail cops and hitch-hiked through the night the rest of the way and finally got to Vermont. We split about half a year later and then I just stuck around there until just recently, when I moved down to Nashville. I was there about 11 years.
Where was that in Vermont?
Down in southern Vermont. I lived in this little town called Halifax, which has a post office and a little elementary school and about 10 houses and that’s about it. It’s about 20 miles from the nearest city, which is a town called Brattleboro, about 20,000 people in it.
What did you do for a job down there?
Oh God, I did everything. I did all sorts of stuff in the first couple of years, just picking up work wherever I could. I was scrapping sheet metal, or I worked harvesting apples in a couple of different orchards, and running equipment, and I went from there. I eventually started getting into carpentry work when I was out in the Navajo reservation.
I just kind of worked my way up to that, working on old churches and barns and just got really obsessed with the old-fashioned way of building and doing all this. I was living in cabins that were way up on the logging roads… From the time that I moved to the Navajo reservation when I was about 16, until just this past September when I moved to Nashville, I hadn’t had any power or running water that entire time, so I was basically living in hunting camps the whole time.
But I made it work pretty good and I managed to get a business off the ground doing carpentry and restoration work. Did a lot of logging in the wintertime, running heavy equipment; basically anything people would pay me to do… I did pretty good for myself.