always been in the car! She grew up in a large family where singing for your supper was definitely encouraged.
August Emerson Shapiro embarks on one of his earliest expeditions into the Chicago winter.
'One that got away' from the Touch shoot. Yes, the bar really was called Touch!
And is there a lot of autobiography in the new collection?
“Well, let’s just say there’s a little bit of me in every song and a lot of me in most. But the majority of the tracks on the new album were co-written with Paul Carne, my charming Welshman, and husband of twelve years. He has the most unusual way of saying something, so refreshing and original. The reasons for writing are as varied as the songs themselves but as far as the actual writing process goes, things tend to kick off out of the blue for both of us - I usually start from the music whereas Paul tends to start with a title or a lyrical idea.
"Take the title song: when my first grandson was born this past Christmas Eve, we were in the middle of finalizing the album under the title This Is Love. It was a few days before my son Simon revealed the baby’s name―August. It was about 10am, and Paul was doing dishes when I told him. A couple of minutes later he came and dripped suds all over me and said we needed to write a song called August In December, and we needed to start right there and then so it could go on the new album! Off came the rubber gloves and he disappeared upstairs with my Taylor. Yes, THAT Taylor―hate when he does that! Literally five minutes later he was back with the chorus, just as you hear it on the album, so all was forgiven. We sat down together and by lunchtime we had the whole song . . . and a new title for the album.”
Many of the songs on Touch were personal pieces about friends and family, but their universal themes, beautiful melodies and down-to-earth lyrics reached out to connect with listeners' own experiences. Vicky told me once that she heard of several repeats of her own driving experience – with friends calling from the roadside to say they had to pull the car over when listening for the first time. I wondered if the same was true of her new album, August In December.
“Well, family is important to all of us, and it’s still an important thread through the material. But it’s more that I write about what is close to me, what I know. People who touch me, and life-altering moments joyous and sad.”
A young Vicky with her first Gibson
Music has always been an integral part of Vicky Harris’s life. There were times when it had to take a back seat, but as Vicky says, it's
“I think it may have all started with my grandfather, Sam Harris, who was a professional song-and-dance man on the vaudeville stage. My father couldn't sing a note, poor guy, but he loved a good show and he emceed like no other. He used to love to watch his daughters perform. One of my earliest memories of taking the Harris stage was singing All My Trials in three-part harmony with my older sisters, Marie and Cathy. My father had big dreams for his girls and used to say the Lennon Sisters had nothing on us! The Harris Christmas show was legend...”
So that explains the performing instinct, but I wondered how Vicky got into songwriting . . .
“Oh, to begin with, there was a lot of youthful angst,” she chuckled. “I wrote my first song when I was about 15 years old. I had big dreams back then of a career in the music business. Doesn't everybody? I continued writing until I was about 18, but then I put the pen down and started performing other people’s music. Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt were always a great inspiration to me. Then a lifetime passes and something spurs you back to an early dream.”
In Vicky’s case, the turning point was when she was driving around town running errands.
“I heard this beautiful song on the radio. Within a few seconds I was moved to tears―I had to pull the car over.” She had missed the announcement for the song, but as she discovered at her favorite record store a little while later (yes, there was a choice in those days), that song turned out to be I Don’t Know Why, written by Shawn Colvin and sung by Maura O’Connell. And if there were no music, then I would not get by, I don’t know why I know these things, but I do. “Within weeks I had bought my beloved Taylor and my love for writing was reawakened. First out of the blocks was Baby Blue, a song to celebrate my son Simon’s 21st Christmas, and that went on to be a cornerstone of my first album, Touch.”
I pressed Vicky a little more about her influences.
“Hmmm. I’ve been in love with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell for as long as I can remember. My music doesn’t resemble James’s work at all, but you can hear Joni’s influence in my music as I play in open tunings quite a bit. On the contemporary side, I listen to Shawn, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Story (broke my heart when they split up), Bonnie Raitt, and I love Beth Neilsen Chapman’s writing. Truthfully, my musical interests are very broad and there have been more people than I could name now. I'm sure they've all played a part in my musical journey, but I like to think I've brought my own contribution to the party as well.”
Whenever Vicky steps foot in a new studio or rubs shoulders at songwriting camps with seasoned troubadours of the folk circuit, the same questions always come up when her beautiful, heartfelt vocals hit the mic: Where have you been all this time? Did you never want to do this full-time? So, what’s the answer?
“Well, when I was very young I won a local talent show and was approached by an A &R person who wanted to represent me. He drew up a contract which my father had our attorney look at, and to make a short story even shorter - they said I’d be a fool to sign.”
Apparently, the guy wanted the singer’s firstborn as part of the transaction, and that was the closest she ever came to a record deal.
“I’ve always performed and written for the love of it. That’s not to say I haven’t worked it as a business. I’ve won numerous showcases and songwriting competitions. I’ve been in wedding bands, jazz trios, contemporary duos, and even did a short stint as lead singer in a rock band. Some of that eclecticism probably shows through in my current work.