Ben Harper to play Grand Theatre during Artown
Guitarist, singer and songwriter Ben Harper doesn’t sit still long in his career. Albums and tours have included collaborators and different styles on a frequent basis. For his latest tour, though, he’s back with his most notable backing band, The Innocent Criminals. Harper plays on July 28 at Grand Sierra Resort as part of the Artown festival.
Harper is joined in the Innocent Criminals by bassist Juan Nelson, drummer Oliver Charles, percussionist Leon Mobley, keyboardist Jason Yates and guitarist Jason Mozerksy. Harper’s latest album is a full-fledged album released in 2016 with the Innocent Criminals, named “Call It What It Is.” It reached No. 19 on the Billboard album chart.
Born in Pomona, California, Harper’s grandparents owned the The Folk Music Center and Museum. He subsequently played guitar at an early age and had his first public concert at age 12. Known for his slide guitar playing, Harper began playing in Southern California regularly in his teen years and toured with famous roots/blues artist Taj Mahal in 1990.
This notoriety led to a major label contract with Virgin Records a few years later. His debut, “Welcome to the Cruel World,” was released in 1994. It and its three follow-ups didn’t lead to huge sales figures, but all were critically acclaimed and earned Harper a loyal following on the road. Among the best known songs from this period of Harper’s career are “Faded,” “Forgiven,” “Burn to Shine,” “Glory and Consequence” and “Gold to Me.”
His breakthrough came in 2000 with the single, “Steal My Kisses.” The song became a big radio hit and helped set the stage for a breakthrough in 2003 with “Diamonds on the Inside,” his fifth album and a million-seller, and also Harper’s first to hit the Billboard top 20 album charts. The title track and another single, “With My Own Two Hands,” also did well on radio.
That was Harper’s commercial peak thus far. His follow-up to “Diamonds” was the first of his collaborative albums, a soul/gospel record with the legendary vocal group The Blind Boys of Alabama.” The album, “There Will Be A Light,” won the Grammy award for best traditional soul gospel album in 2005. He also won in 2014 for best blues album with “Get Up,” which was another album he shared with an artist, this time the late harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite.
Along with these records, Harper often regrouped with the Innocent Criminals for albums such as “Both Sides of the Gun” in 2006 and “Lifeline” in 2007, both hitting the Billboard Top 10. Another album with a new Harper side band called Relentless7, “White Lies for Dark Times” also hit the top 10 in 2009. Among his best known songs in this later period include “Shimmer and Shine,” “Rock and Roll is Free” and “Better Way.”