Ride The Classic R&B Time Machine From 2022 To 1970 With The Throwback Sound Of Terry Harris!
Terry can do it all! He puts the Midas Touch on anything he touches! Everything Terry touches turns to gold! Though he has worked with many well-known R&B and Soul Icons and sang in the background, his solo career propelled his current success. Even though many people who have heard his voice hear a clear comparison with Gerald Levert, he has a distinctive voice of his own. In our conversation, he shared his musical experiences and life experiences. This is what he shared.
Hi Terry, how are you doing? I'm great, thank you.
First, I want to say thank you for allowing me the privilege of interviewing you. Thank you.
It's my pleasure. Your voice reminds me of the good music I grew up listening to and your style makes me think of Curtis Mayfield. Do you ever get to hear that? Because I'm old school, I’m loyal to R&B. This is the type of music that I'm passionate about.
Oh yes! As Smokey Robinson says, “I second that emotion.” Tell me, how did you get started in the music business, and did you begin when you were young? I've been singing, writing, and producing for a long time. I write and produce all my own material.
I sang background for Shirley Brown, and worked with J. Blackfoot, The Bar-Kays, Michael Mauldin from (So Def) Kool and The Gang, and Ruff Endz. After I left Memphis and moved to New York, I worked with Ron Grant from Sony Music. In New York, I met Robert Kool Bell from Kool and The Gang, and he got me my first publishing deal with Michael Mauldin, Jermaine Dupri's father. That’s when I did my first single on Ruff Endz.
How nice. Yes, for a while, I floated around in the industry but then I walked away for a season.
What happened when you came back? When I came back, we produced a record that went number one in the UK or for Kejam. He and I went on to do my first number one record in the UK, called “Two Can Play That Game.” That’s the song that got me exposure in the UK. The song even crossed over into the steppers market consequently leading to one of the Ojay's discovering me, Eric Nolan.
OK, now let's go back a little further, how did your love affair with music begin? My mom’s a singer. In fact, I come from a musical family. Although I grew up listening to my mother sing, singing was not a priority for me. On the other hand, I always listen to a lot of music. I had great admiration for the music of The Commodores, the Ojay's, The Isely Brothers, Michael Jackson and, I was a big fan of Prince. So, I loved listening to music for as far back as I can remember. As soon as my mother would leave, we would pull out the records and listen to them all day long. I absolutely loved the music!
Did you ever scratch one of your mother's records, put it back in the case and act like you didn't scratch it? (laughs) No, because I always took care of things. I was a tidy kid. After playing them, I would put the record back in the jacket and stack it.
You mentioned that your family sings. Who are those family members? My brother and my sister both sang with my mom in church. Because I didn't sing in that setting, a lot of people didn't realize I could sing. Nothing personal but gospel didn't move me.
What happened that made you change your mind from not wanting to sing to wanting to sing? Girls were my motivation. So, I did my first talent show when I was in 8th grade. I remember my mother telling me, “You don't want to sing in church, but you want to sing at the clubs.” Personally, I felt more comfortable singing in a club than in a church. Maybe it's because I felt less restricted singing secular music. Although my mother didn't agree with it. After she saw one of my shows, she understood why I chose a path separate from hers. Secular music was the type of music I naturally gravitated to because when I sang in the clubs, I came alive.
And why do you feel that was so? I just felt like the club environment was loose and unrestricted. Therefore, that was the reasoning behind my choice. That’s where it all began for me.
In your youth, were you involved in talent shows? Yes, I performed in many of them. In fact, I attribute my present level of performance to those talent shows. After I perform, many people would tell me that I'm good. I appreciate their compliments, but I also point out that I stumbled on many occasions. You have to work hard.
You've worked with some pretty renowned artists and icons in the music industry. I'm sure that mentorship has also helped you. Yes, unlike many up-and-coming independent artists, I had the privilege of working behind Larry D. Dodson from The Bar-Kays.
That's awesome. Tell me about that experience? I was privileged to sing with the Bar-Kays for approximately one year. Since I have many years of experience in this industry, I'm able to provide young people with helpful tips that can assist them in advancing their careers.
What are some of the things you share with them?
Well, one of the things is that the industry is no longer grooming artists. I'm almost 55. When I entered this industry, Alan Jones was producing The Bar-Kays. In fact, Alan sat me down and showed me how to put together a record when I was around 13 years old. So, I've been around a long time.
A lot of people in this industry, when asked about how they made it, they like to talk about how they grew up and then tell you that they won their Grammy but, I always feel like something is missing in between. Can you help me figure out what happens in between? How did you make it to where you are today? I was discovered by singing in talent shows, and that's how I got discovered and ended up going on tour. One link just leads to the other, but you must put the hard work in. I've always believed in hustling. You can never become discovered if you don't go out there and show people what you do and how well you can do it. I share this story with people too. When I was young, I felt like I wasn't the most talented kid because I didn't know my voice. Even as a young person, I had a very mature sound. Because of that, it made me a bit insecure. I was a young person who sounded like Gerald Levert, a grown man. My voice was different from those of my peers.
Listening to it, I'm reminded of another artist by the name of Johnny Gill. He also had a very mature sound for a young age. But I can see how a young person who doesn't understand the uniqueness of their own voice would feel a bit insecure about that. Definitely. Though I hid my voice for a long time, I was committed to learning everything I could about music. After much consideration, I decided I wouldn't focus on one thing exclusively. For me to achieve my goal, I needed to learn as much as I could, playing, producing, and learning how to sing backgrounds. Initially, it took me some time to gain attention, but once people noticed that I was moving, they were more than willing to give me a chance. For those with great popularity, it's easier, but I didn't have that. I wasn't popular. Because of this, I recommend setting a goal and sticking to it. If you're not what they're looking for right now, don't be discouraged. Just stay on course.
I know guys today who had great careers at one time but when they tried to come back, they were unable to sustain it. They sometimes ask me how I did it? Because I trained myself for this industry, I was able to deal with the unpredictable nature of the business. It was clear that I was not the smartest person in the class, so I conducted extensive research on this subject.
I tell any young artist this; Do your research because there are a lot of ups and downs, but you must be focused and find out what you're good at. Once you understand what line you're on, is easier to travel the path. Make no mistake about it, you will get knocked off, but when you do, don’t stay down, get up.
A lot of people will compare me to Gerald Levert. Although this was flattering, I was committed to being Terry Harris. I think that's the best advice I can give a young person upon entry into this business today. Focus on what you want to do, achieve it, and then go to that next level. What makes you Terry here is what's different than you than any other artist out there.
What makes Terry Harris unique? Who are you? I say that I'm different because I have a different energy in my stage performances. For example, I just did a show in Baton Rouge with Donell Jones, Cupid and Case, all amazing artists, and after I came off stage, the promoter grabbed me and said, “man, I didn't know you performed like that!”
Wow, I wish I was there to see you perform. I'll bet that was a great show. You must really love what you do! Yes Gina, I do. I love entertaining. In fact, although being paid is preferable, I love singing and performing so much that I would do it for $1 or even for free. No matter how many people are in the audience, 3 or 30 thousand, I would still perform with the same intensity because that's how much I love it!
You perform in a way that you don't see a lot of people in this industry performing any longer. Exactly. My own experience has been that I have seen a number of shows and seen many men who are just comfortable with making money. These guys have made a lot of money. But, in my opinion, the tragedy of that is, that many of them have lost their zeal and are no longer investing much time and effort into their shows. I've always had the passion and high energy.
When I think of passion and high energy, I think about Michael Jackson and Prince. Oh yes! Michael Jackson and Prince are among two of my favorite artists.
What is it about music that draws you to it? The creativity of it. It's almost like I have a radio in my head. Sometimes I write for about 3 or more days. I'm so passionate about music that I sometimes get out of my bed and go into the studio to write a song. I write songs daily because I'm created by nature. Just like the conversation you and I are having. I can take that and write a song from it. It comes that naturally for me. Certain things in life just trigger me to write. Basically, how I operate is that when I hear a song in my head, I go straight away into the studio and record it. I don't put it down on paper.
Awesome! If music wasn't a thing, what would Terry Harris be doing? I would be some sort of radio Presenter because I have an entertainment mindset. I will probably produce short films and documentaries.
You talked about taking a little hiatus from music. What happened in your transitional moment? The politics in this music industry burned me out, therefore I walked away from the music business for about approximately 10 years. I even sold my studio and started driving trucks. So, one day an artist by the name of Chanel approached me wanting to do a song. So, I did a song with Chanel along with Kejam without putting much thought into it. Before I knew it, the record hit big in the UK and became number one in the steppers market because they thought it was Gerald Levert.
What was the name of the record? It was called, This Love Is Magic.
You became motivated to get back into the music business after seeing the success of that song. Exactly, seeing the success of that song pushed me back into my destiny. I guess you can say I reacquainted myself with my love for music once again. I felt like this was my second chance. that was in 2016.
What a great story. So, let's talk about today. From there, who are some of the people that you’ve worked with? Sure, I've worked with B2K, Jerel Allen and we worked with B2K and Chris Stokes. I’ve worked with Kenny Lattimore and placed a single on Ruff Endz called "if it wasn't for " Dave McPherson of Epic records put us on that project. Likewise, I did a project with Jaheim. Unfortunately, neither of the projects was released. No matter what we did, or how hard we worked, we never got the break we needed to make it to the next level in this industry. Nobody ever stepped in on our behalf. The politics in this industry can be extremely exhausting.
Did you find yourself having the same problems going solo? It was easier for me to succeed as a solo artist. My production partner said, “Hey man, we've been writing for everyone else, let's just produce you. So that’s what led me to become a solo artist.
And a very good solo artist indeed. Although your voice reminds me of Gerald Levert, it’s beautiful and you have a unique style. What projects are you working on currently? Yes, presently we have an Ep out called, “The Soul of Gerald Levert.” Additionally, I have a new EP coming out called My Life My Way. The song has an O.V. Wright and Al Green type of flavor. With this project, I wanted to go back to the heart and soul of R&B and soul music. They're all classic soul. I wanted to reinstate into our society the good songs that I grew up listening to, like those sung by Marvin Gaye, and Teddy Pendergrass. Those were the songs that elevated our women and promoted love. That's the kind of music that I do.
That’s the message I wanted to convey through these projects. In today's soul and R&B music, most of the songs focus on the demeaning of women. This wasn't true. Back in the day. The songs discussed the importance of loving women and the ways we can make our relationships work. So, my primary goal in the music that I do is to get back to where we were. Loving our women and conveying it through song.
Do you have any upcoming shows? Yes, on May 14th I'm doing a Gerald Levert tribute with Mickey Howard. I also have a show that I'll be doing with Hope Flood in Atlanta, GA. I'm also working on some additional shows and working out the details of the contracts. So yeah, I'm really excited about my future in music.
All that sounds great! I'm super excited for you. I can't wait to see what God is going to do in your life! What advice would you give someone coming into the industry? My advice to them would be to stay focused. Understand when you need to make changes in this business. Be creative and try to become the best version of yourself. Basically, stay rooted in your belief.
Well said, because you are an R&B singer who sings about love. I thought this would be an interesting question for you. Tell me how many petals are on one single rose? That's an interesting question. I've never counted rose petals; I just thought the Rose was always beautiful. Because I've never had to peel back the layers, I assume maybe 10 or more. I'm not sure how accurate I am.
You know, before today I didn't know either, but in my research, I found that it was between 20 and 40. Isn't that interesting? Yes, it is. I never knew that. (laughs) I can honestly say no one's ever asked me that.
Hey, maybe you can write a song about it. That's something I'll have to consider in the future.
Awesome, Terry. It's been a delight to speak with you and learn about your life and career, and I wish you all the success in the world. My prayer for you is that God will continue to bless the works of your hands, be it done according to his will. I pray that God will keep you and your family safe in this time. Keep striving to be the best version of yourself. As you have said so eloquently. May God bless you. And thank you again for your time. It is an honor. Thank you Gina.
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All photos are courtesy of Terry Harris