W. Ed Harris grew up in Miami, Florida, the oldest of five children. “We were fortunate in that we grew up in a modest home which was situated on a large lake. One of my fondest memories is of the time my dad and I had built a sailboat together. I’ll never forget the excitement the first day we put her in the water! I had a great childhood, and I had been blessed with a wonderful and supportive family”.
Ed spent his childhood weekends mostly going exploring with friends, fishing, swimming, sailing, surfing, building forts, and playing music. “Every Saturday morning, we would be up before the sun, take off on our bikes and our parents would not see us again until just before sundown. Though I was an active kid, there was also an artistic side to me. I liked to draw, oil paint, and of course, play my guitar and mess around on the old “Story and Clark” upright piano we had. Music was always my greatest passion”.
Ed was first introduced to the guitar around the age of 5. He credits his Mother in getting him interested in music at this early age. “Mom had purchased a small child-sized Stella parlor guitar from Sears I believe. I think she may have picked it up for herself initially, but having recognized my interest in music, soon encouraged me to play. Mom had a natural gift for music and had “perfect pitch”, and even though she had no formal music education, came up with the idea of tuning the guitar to an open chord”. Ed remembers that the very first song he learned on the guitar was ‘On Top of Old Smokey’. His mother had him place the small guitar flat on his lap and while singing the tune, teach him to listen for the chord changes. “The ingenious part in this teaching method was that by using the flat handle of a butter knife, I could simply lay the knife across a fret to make the chord changes when it was appropriate. This resulted in me being able to make music within a very short period of time while training my ear to listen for the chord changes. Also, without having to initially learn chord positions, endure sore fingers, and possibly give it up due to frustration, I believe this introduction to the guitar was paramount in making it a pleasurable experience initially for me”. It was a couple of years after this when Ed started piano lessons and began to read music. Around the age of twelve, Ed picked up the trumpet which he continued to play through college and as a young adult. “My mentors on the horn were Herb Alpert, Louis Armstrong, and Al Hirt. As a young adult, I performed with jazz ensembles, held first chair in orchestra for 5 years, and did a stint with the Drum and Bugle Corps for a while. Of course, I never stopped picking up the guitar and I always kept it close by”.
Ed has never considered himself a vocalist. “Either, you are born with an exceptional voice or you’re not. I’m one of those who wasn’t and I’m ok with that. However, over time the voice does change, and I have been venturing out of my comfort zone recently. Though I am able to sing “on key” pretty well, and harmony has always come easy for me, I do consider myself an instrumentalist primarily”. Ed was always sought after as a backup musician and vocalist for this reason. “I was never one for being in the spotlight. What I enjoy most is the composition, arrangement, and musicality of a piece”.
The guitar has remained Ed’s primary instrument throughout his life spanning 6 decades now. During this time, he studied Classical Guitar formally under the tutelage of Jose Serrano back in the late 70s while living in Arizona, studied music theory, played Jazz, and was in a few Folk, and Bluegrass bands. For the past 28 years, his focus has been on Celtic, Scottish, and Irish Music. “During the late 80s and most of the 90s, I volunteered as a sound engineer for the Fiddle and Bow Music Society. Fiddle and Bow was founded on Celtic Music and it was during this time I was richly introduced to this kind of traditional music. Since my heritage is Irish, it was a genre I immediately identified with”. Ed has picked up playing other instruments along the way and performs the instrumental work found on all his recordings. He has proficiencies in: Trumpet, Fiddle, Viola, Cello, Mandola, Mandolin, Piano, Acoustic Bass, Banjo, Recorder, Tin Whistle, Harmonica, Bouzouki, and Cittern among others. “It really isn’t that difficult in learning more than one instrument, especially if you already play an instrument. There are similarities between many instruments. For example, being a guitarist, and playing the fiddle, it’s not a stretch to play mandolin. The mandolin is fretted and shares similar hand coordination (chording and plectrum) and it shares the same tuning as the violin (fiddle)”. Asked about finding time to practice, Ed’s response is, “Practicing to me is like taking a shower, brushing my teeth, or breathing. I can’t imagine a day without practice. It’s not so much how many hours a day you practice, but it has more to do in how you practice and practice frequency. I also practice mentally as well. During the day I will visualize finger placement, phrasing, etc. which helps maximize practice when I am able to pick up an instrument. I have at times gone twelve hour stretches in practicing and other times I’ve practiced multiple short periods for only fifteen minutes or less each time but maybe twenty times during the day. I would leave the instrument out and every time I walk by it, pick it up and go over a passage, etc. Practice is different for every musician”.
For Ed, music has always been personal, and he prefers being far removed from the competitiveness. “I remember playing for chairs in orchestra and then having to compete to keep first chair”. Sure, a little competition is a good thing and it does help keep a person motivated. I get it. However, I always had issue with competition in regard to artistic expression. Always seemed to me there was something not quite right with that”. There is no vanity in Ed’s music. The passion he has for the art is readily apparent. Ed has developed the ability to make his instrument an extension of himself; the vehicle by which he is most comfortable in expressing himself. He is able to convey and evoke profound emotion in the listener. “One of the biggest challenges I have found for a instrumentalist is to communicate an emotion using only the instrument that will connect with the listener on some level. People relate readily to vocals and lyrics, but it is more of a challenge to evoke emotion using instrumentation only”.
“New technology is impacting the music industry and creating challenges for artists unlike we’ve ever seen before. We now have a generation that do not need to spend money for music. The upside is that indie artists now have more tools and resources available to them than they ever had before”. Ed adds that, “Although these new technologies have made possible for just about anyone to create music without having to play an instrument, performance will never become old-fashioned”. Ed states that he doesn’t perform much anymore, and that he has always enjoyed being in the studio more. However, he enjoys taking part in traditional Irish Sessions publicly that take place in nearby towns. “Music has always been central in my life, and I’ve elected not to pursue it at a professional level but simply as an avocation. For me, it eliminates the anxiety and competitiveness inherent to it, and it gives me complete freedom to pursue music for the sheer enjoyment in making music. I never want to lose that. I’ve always maintained that if my music makes a connection at some level, then it’s all worthwhile. However, I’m not pressured trying to build a fan base or worry about maintaining and keeping everyone happy”.
Ed is passionate about music and believes that it should be used for good and that it should be shared. “Music has always provided me great enjoyment and sanctuary from the challenges of everyday life. I chose not to pursue music as a career for fear that in doing so, it would take some of the enjoyment out of it. I made the choice many years ago to keep it as an avocation and not try to make a living from it. I have a great deal of respect for those who have done so however. Though I have no regrets in this decision, if I was able do it over again, I think I would have studied music formally to become a composer. I am happy where I am musically, and I can’t imagine my life without it. I am content in that I truly create, record, and share music out of the sheer joy and love I have in doing it and not because I’m trying to get discovered or because it is something I have to do. I am truly free creatively, and that to me is my ‘happy place’. It truly is liberating. I’m just grateful that I’m still able to do what I love doing, and I will continue to do so for as long as I can. It’s been a fantastic ride of which I have met some very talented and wonderful artists and folks along the journey”!
Websites and Social Media:
Personal Music Website: Wedharris.com
“Two Rivers” released Jan. 2014 (Traditional and Contemporary Celtic Music featuring solo guitar, flute, fiddle, and more) – HarrisMusic label
“Celticophilia” released Jan. 2015 (Traditional and Contemporary Celtic Music) – HarrisMusic label
“The New Bern Seisiúns” released Feb. 2016 (Traditional Irish/Celtic Sesssion Music) – HarrisMusic label – Album nominated “Celtic Album of the Year by INEC, Scotland
“Reflections of the Heart” released Feb. 2017 (Contemporary Celtic Music) – HarrisMusic label
“The Well Below the Valley” – released Aug. 2017 (Traditional Celtic) – HarrisMusic label
“Celtic Christmas Reflections” – released Sep. 2016 (Celtic Christmas Music) – HarrisMusic label
“Crawdad Slip” – Documentary – Folk Films, Inc.
“New Life” – Documentary – Folk Films, Inc.
“8 Weeks in March” – Documentary – Folk Films, Inc.
Audio and Sound Effect Projects:
“Theatrikos – Radio Theater 2013
“Inner Sanctum”, “Time Machine”, “Fibber & Molly”, Flash Gordon”
BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.)
Fiddle & Bow Music Society
Northern Arizona Celtic Heritage Society
Arizona Irish Music Society
Grand Canyon Music Traditions Society
Four Peaks Irish Arts Council
Special Thank You to Sheri Lynn for introducing Ed to the magazine