I’m still on a quest to enjoy this weekend of music in Huntington WV as my good friend Mr. W.B. Walker celebrates his SIXTH anniversary of the Old Soul Radio Show, with some short inter views on some of the GREAT talent we will be seeing on this year’s bill. He’s got a few nice surprises in store for us I’m sure, and this time I got the pleasure to chat with Mr. Tony Harrah, who I have some REALLY cool questions for.
Here is his BIO
Based out of the small town of Nitro, West Virginia and steeped in blues and traditional folk sounds, Tony Harrah is a voice of Appalachia that begs the attention of the hardest heart string. Gritty and true, his songwriting speaks to the life of blue collar society and forgotten America.
Since the 2016 and 2017 albums “Two Dollar Suit” and “Oklahoma Blues” done with the Putnam Prohibition, Harrah has been showcasing his widespread instrumental and writing talents. Being billed alongside artists like Tyler Childers, Jeremy Pinnell, Nicholas Jamerson and many more, Harrah is breaking out of his regional coverage and spreading his fan base nationally. With musical influences ranging from Guy Clark and Tom Waits, to Springsteen and Ryan Adams; Harrah has perfected his own unique sound and has been described as “like Ray Charles and a hippie had a child and it came out sounding like Muddy Waters.” – J.A. Outlaw Resurgence.
Tony is currently exploding back onto the scene after some time away and is loading all the pain, love and loss of the world in his guitar case. His songwriting is shockingly true to the human experience and hits so deeply it brings a perspective that will take even the toughest music lovers to their knees. His latest album, “Unicorns“, promises to further cement the certain rise in listeners and fans, and releases worldwide Summer of 2019.
Gary how are you my friend?
I have my ups and downs, how are you?
I been doing great, I got this mint patch out here and every year I add it to my sweet tea, and it tastes amazing. A buddy of mine killed him a big ol turkey, and I have one of the breasts in the smoker right now. A little Sunday dinner then about 4:30 I got the guys coming over from West Virginia to do a little video shoot.
I hunt about 100 days a year. I do it all, I stopped waterfoul hunting now, man I’m too old to be wallowing in that water anymore. But I still do everything else, but my arthritis gets so bad. I still do most of it though.
Man, waterfowl is about the only thing I do anymore, I squirrel hunt some. I don’t eat enough deer to really justify killing them and I don’t trophy hunt, I did when I was younger and it’s no longer a thing. But I do waterfowl hunt, and hell I don’t get out very often anymore.
Yeah it’s so hard to find the time, it’s just adulting I guess. I deer hunt alot and I live on it. Well i always ask everybody what got you started in music, but with you…I would like to hear the story of the song “Aviator”. That is absolutely fascinating to me Sir.
Well stories change a little bit, but that story is as honest and as real as it could ever be. I was on my way back from a three week trip across the country, and I stopped in Nashville for a few nights. My late wife was with me and the kids were with me, and we took them to the Nashville zoo while we were there.
There was this guy that was camping next to us, and I seen him mill around his campsite. He had this really big square tent, and we wondered if maybe he was living there and walking or something. We got back from the zoo, and he wasn’t there, but he got back after we did. At some point I was doing something but my wife hollared at me that he was passed out in his campsite.
So I ran down there and at first I kind of wondered with all of the opioid addiction, and being from West Virginia I unfortunately thought about that first. I realized that wasn’t the case very quickly, so I called up to the campsite management, and me and that gentleman took turns giving him CPR. We gave him CPR, trading off at two minutes at a time, you know because CPR wares you out really quick.
We did it enough for the ambulance to come and we kept him alive. and my wife was on the phone with 911. I was trying to keep the kids in the tents during all of this. They took him away and we asked the campsite management if they had any information. He was the son of the owner, and was about my age and in the music industry as well. He was into recording and production as well, so we kind of hit it off.
He told me that guy was there for aviation school, and he was attending Middle Tennessee Aviation School. He said those guys will come here and camp for several weeks while they are attending school, because it’s cheap. And so, when we were there we looked at the kid’s campsite, and his tent was set up like an apartment. It was meticulous and clean, and he had a lot of books. So he was just staying there and studying.
We asked for any information because we found out he passed away the next day, his brain had shut down. So, my wife wanted his family’s address so she could write them a letter. She came in toward the end and only saw some of it, but she wanted to write them a letter of condolences.
So we got the last known address, which was his parent’s house and with his name I looked up his facebook page, and it turns out he had a brother who was a pilot in Alaska. That next weekend we got home, and we went camping in West Virginia with my brother and his family. I have a songwriting group that I have to write a song a week for. I went down to the pool of the campground, and I wrote that song aviator as a tribute to the kid, the only thing I could come up with was his life was beautiful, and my life was beautiful and the part about Alaska. I never did get to contact his parents, and unfortunately twenty days after that my wife passed away from a blood clot.
I had planned on sending his parents a copy of the record with a longer explanation of why it took this long to get a hold of them. Posthumously giving them a letter to them from my wife in the first place. So that’s kind of how it came about.
That’s really interesting, it truly is. Tell me more about your live album from Fayetteville, is that Fayetteville Arkansas?
No, that’s Fayetteville West Virginia. Yeah, so I made that one in town, and I’ll put that on hard copy in the next couple of months. Now, Brad Kinders of Big River Records handled that. There was a benefit concert here for the Dakota academy. The Dakota academy is an at risk youth program for robotics and engineering and art, music and drama.
So Mr. Andrew Atkins from Fayetteville West Virginia and I talked back in November of 2018 about putting together a songwriter festival at the old Fayetteville Theater. And it’s an older than the hills amazingly cool theater, he got John Lilly the West Virginia legend, he got Abe Partridge who is a friend of ours and he got Allen Sizemore from Black King Coal. He got Clint Collins from Princeton who is one of my favorite songwriters , and we were going to do this two night songwriter’s festival.
So, night two which was myself, John Lilly and Ron Soul and we had a backup band. That night sold out and I only did four or five songs and my friend was recording all of that and did the sound. And I contacted him and asked him if he wouldn’t mind if he sent me the rough tracks on them. And when I got the masters they sounded great.
It’s really hard for me to find a performance that A- I am happy with and B- there is a large crowd that is engaged in the performance. So there is this really nice organic laughter and banter with the audience, and it just kind of fits the bill of what I think a live album stands on.
I’m not the biggest fan of live albums, because they rarely have the best sound quality, good performances or really great audience interactions…or too much audience interaction, and you cannot hear anything, you know? So I usually shy away from them. But this one kind of hit everything that I love about those. So I said you know what, I’m gonna take those four songs and add an intro to it, be kind of funny and goofy, and I’m gonna put this out there for my fans. And for anybody else that I could maybe make a fan with it.
That was a very intricate introduction, yes. I enjoyed it very very much.
You know I had an idea of what I was going for, and an idea on the album cover. I was going to record it, but I thought it’ll be better if I kind of did it in person. I wanted to kind of stumble on top of myself and have a grand old time. So I was listening to Charles Mingus and the Ah Um album form 1959, and I had that playing in the background. I forget what track I used on it, but I thought this will be cool and I’ll let this fade in and fade out. I wanted it to be like a masterpiece theater armchair kind of thing, and introduce these four songs.
I did that in my studio at the house, but yeah I been really busy and really proud of that one. To not have a bunch of studio production, and brought it here and mixed and mastered it. And I’ll just put it out there.
Tell me more about this upcoming project you have, this Unicorn project.
So, Unicorn is one of the collections of songs that I wrote from March until August of 2017. So, Travis Egnor and I have partnered up and we plotted to go down to Nashville in November and track the record. And another session in December and have the masters in January and mix the masters in January with Eric McConnell who did van Lear Rose..Loretta Lynn and Jack White’s album. And then we would have the master sometime in spring.
So we have the songs pretty much set out, other than Aviator. I had written Aviator in August of that year but I hadn’t planned on it being on the record. So the other songs were already written, and then on September 8th my wife passed away. So everything was really up in the air about what was going to go on.
We already had the studio time, so we thought we needed to still go down there and do it. And so we went down there to do the tracking, and we decided to do Aviator. We were talking about the album name and we were re cutting an old track called “Here I Am Lord” from Oklahoma Blues on this record. There is a line in the songs that says here I am Lord I’m brought to my knees. So Travis was thinking with everything that happened to me, we should call it brought to my knees.
Now, My eulogy to my wife described her as a Unicorn at the front, and kind of recapped that at the end of the eulogy. So, we all agreed that the album should be called Unicorn, and I would dedicate it to her memory. And so, we finished the album officially in April of 2018.
Now, as the old saying goes when you have a windfall of money you don’t really notice that the windfall of money affects your financial situation, like of you get laid off at a job, your’e OK for a little bit. ..then it hits. And vice versa. And I think that’s how everything went in my life and in general, everything seemed like okay I just gotta slow this down. I gotta take care of my kids, I gotta take care of keep this going.
And for a few months everything seemed fairly normal, and not for a lack of a better term, but normal in the sense that we’re going to be OK . I think it took seven months for the backlash to really hit me just how hard and how physical things were. So when the album was supposed to come out in the summer of 2018, 2018 trucked along so fast, I was trying to play some shows. Travis and I decided into September that with his availability, and what he does, traveling and working, and what I can put forth that maybe our partnership would be more along the lines of pay to play to bring him in when I can use him. So we kind of parted ways in September.
So I wasn’t really sure what was going on at that time, if I could even continue a music career or not. And so there I was with Unicorns , having the masters, finished all the work done, and I have already at the same written 30 to 35 more songs which was going to be my next record. I write in a writing group constantly.
Around December, I got a call from Amanda Carlon from Outlaw Resurgance, who really loved some of my early work . I sent her Unicorns and she loved it, and wanted to know what I been working on lately, and we got into this whole big conversation. We worked out an agreement for her to take me on and manage me, which has kind of lit a fire under me. I was pressing myself, do I have time for this or not?
So starting in 2019 we decided on it, and she called my publicist out in Oregon, she started working with them. She started kicking my butt and now we are going to release Unicorns this year. Coming up the gun, I’m starting in July on my next record. Which is setting up to be a double album now. It’s going to be a pretty intimate songwriter’s record.
How did you go about meeting W.B. Walker?
WB Walker, well there was an aforementioned time when Travis Egnor was with me, it was when the Horse Traders had split up, I was out playing shows. I got home around July, me and him had talked a little bit, we had known each other from years ago he is a good good friend. We both moved to Nashville around the same time, so we knew each other down there.
We got to talking, and he was wanting to get out there and do some things and so he said HEY W.B. Walker has a birthday party coming up, Colter Wall and a bunch of folks will be there, you ought to come down. So me and my wife, and him and his wife drove down to W.B.’s to spend the night.
He was doing a birthday party radio show, and he asked me to be on it, and of course Travis was playing with me. That’s how W.B. and I met, and of course when me and W.B. met we immediately loved each other. We been married about the same time, we both had three boys, we were close to the same age, we had all these similarities. That immediately got me and W.B. right into the same box with each other, and of course three weeks later my wife passed away.
It shook his walls too, you know. Because his wife Fallon is a direct cross reference of a family exactly like mine. It shook him pretty hard, and I guess the rest is history there. I assume he likes my music too…
Who influenced you as an artist most of all?
Well, I have stepped out of the names. But in all honesty if I had to pick one it would be Bruce Springsteen. I am a ginourmous Springsteen fan and have been since my youth. I’d love to tell you it was Guy Clark or Ryan Adams and Hayes Carll or B.J. Barham from AA. All of those guys have a special hold on me but Bruce was the best.
I’m a big fan of all those guys, Guy Clark especially but you know if I had to pick my biggest unknown mentor it would be Bruce Springsteen.
Are you playing solo Saturday or what are you going to do?
I’m bringing a string band, yeah my upright bass player, who played with my band the Putman Prohibition which helped me release Oklahoma Blues. I’m also bringing my lead guitarist and my harmonica player. We also use Jeremy Roberts at times, and we will kind of do a string band type thing there. It allows us a lot of space which is really fun.
Good deal, well it’s been a REAL pleasure talking to you Sir.
Hey, Gary thanks for having me and we’ll see you this weekend and maybe get a handshake in there.