When I was a kid in the 1970s, I had to make choices of participation. We couldn’t do every activity we wanted to do. I think parents were different then and didn’t cater to our every whim.
I loved and played sports early on growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, and was indoctrinated into ethnocentric sports fandom – including St. Louis Cardinals baseball, St. Louis Cardinals football and St. Louis Blues hockey. Two of the three are still ingrained in me today. Of course I had to switch out the Football Cardinals to the New Orleans Saints. I’m sure you understand.
When it was time for high school, it was time to pick new friends and define my environment. The groups were varied…there were the athletes, the book smart kids, the popular kids, the artists and the stoners. A person could navigate the different groups, but for comfort sake, you picked one in which to belong. I suppose kids are still doing the same today.
That being said, there is probably something inside everyone of us that lays dormant. For me, it raised its head every now and then….playing Beatles’ records my three older sisters had laying around or hanging with my older brother who fronted a garage band. Then in 1978, at the impressionable age of 16, I saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time at the 2,000-seat Kiel Opera House in St. Louis. That was my first concert ever thanks to my older brother. It was eye-opening. The Boss takes no prisoners and my imagination was forever alive with the sound of music.
Ignoring my artistic inclinations and continuing to hang with sports-minded people in college, I managed to meet one guy who played piano. We sang Squeeze and Beatles songs for fun. I specifically remember taking McCartney’s high harmonies on “If I Fell“ and feeling a certain tug. The artist in me was beginning to make some noise. Thank God I discovered a creative writing outlet at Mizzou, a university renowned for its Journalism School.
When I graduated, I was thrust into the real world where I reported, wrote, and marketed and eventually found my way to Mississippi. It was here that I finally bought a guitar in 1993. The guitar sat idol as a decorative item for about a decade in my various South Mississippi living spaces. Then, as a new millennium began, I met my RSF (Rock Star Friend) and my world changed.
I walked into a Mississippi Gulf Coast nightclub to see what the “buzz” was about surrounding singer-songwriter Rochelle Harper. A handful of people were scattered about the room and when the music started, a performance erupted -- no matter that there were only about 10 of us in the room. I remember a feeling in my bones that this was something special. Darned if it wasn’t the same feeling I had when I first saw Springsteen.
So yes, in 2001, I discovered my own local music scene Jon Landeau and its name was the Rochelle Harper Band. I took in every RHB performance – not some performances, I’m talking all performances…from the beginnings of The Shed Barbecue Joint to the comings and goings of Mallini’s Point Lounge and Hurricane Cove to the Casino stages, to ballrooms, to classrooms, to festivals, to children’s hospitals, to charitable causes, to the Blue Gill in Alabama, to unplugged acoustic performances at the Julep Room, to live performances on WCPR’s Home Grown show, to BridgeFests and BayFests to the annual Christmas party at the Bay St. Louis residence of Lee and Liz Bosarge and on and on.…so I witnessed literally hundreds of performances. This was easily the busiest and hardest working band on the Coast and I decided to get involved.
story continued below
Listen and buy Rochelle's new album "Lilt" from I-Tunes now!
For about 10 years I made bootleg recordings, snapped countless photos, wrote promotion for the band and made videos back in the days when film still had to be bought and developed. I thought I might as well document it all, since I was there anyway. That got expensive because I was always in search of an iconic Janis Joplin-like photo of this dynamic performer who was presenting theater-worthy shows basically for free in my own backyard.
I never did capture that iconic photo, but I’ve seen plenty of great photos of Harper and the band by fantastic photographers, especially since we ushered in the digital age. The only thing that surpasses the number of shows performed by Rochelle Harper is the number of photographs snapped of Rochelle Harper. Some are amazing photos that capture the dynamic, the charismatic, and the energetic essence of my RSF.
So you see, after forty years alive on planet earth, I finally discovered that artistic friend that motivated and encouraged me to pick up my guitar and play. Through her encouragement and a certain muse, I finally put music to all the words I had written over the years and discovered that I have an ability for coming up with melodies.
Who knew? I guess that’s the result of a life that spans the history of rock n’ roll and listening to most of it. Writing songs for me now is an important part of my life and I like it a whole lot better than keeping journals. All it took was three chords and the truth (and some encouragement from an RSF).
Down the Road...
I was lucky enough to witness Rochelle’s showcase in Nashville this past September as Moonwatcher Records released her first professionally recorded studio CD. I was up to my old tricks, documenting the showcase performance via iPad video and uploading on facebook. It was exciting to experience.
The CD is “Lilt” and contains eight original compositions, a classic Bobbie Gentry cover and songs written by record producer Joe Taylor and hit songwriter Rob Crosby. I enjoyed writing one of the first record reviews for the production (see below) and I plan to continue contributing promotion as Rochelle’s musical journey continues.
As for my late budding musical itch, I scratch away with my guitar in hand and it feels real good! Thanks RSF.
See y’all down the road.
Review of "Lilt"
by Tom Carlton
“Lilt” is a labor of love, the culmination of a 10-year musical journey for American singer-songwriter Rochelle Harper.
The cover art for the project tells you all you need to know about the artist – lean and committed -bringing it every time she steps on stage in the tradition of classic rock heroes – from Janis to Bruce. Rochelle Harper is not afraid to let people see her sweat. Her lilt is as Southern as an ice cold glass of sweet tea, but there’s a whole lot of lovin’ grit and peaceful determination in her heart.
This Mississippi artist delivers the past, present and future with honesty and respect, singing her original home-spun songs and energizing fans with a heart on fire…proudly representing her sweet home Alabama and the strong roots that have taken hold in the rich soil of Mississippi, home of the Delta Blues.
Yes it’s true…Rochelle Harper sings out with a distinct Southern lilt -- songs that tell stories forged from a burning heart. Her passion for the soul of a song is imminent and her enthusiasm connects with audiences, one by one.
Fans in South Mississippi know the passion of Rochelle Harper. In her neck of the woods, she has been called “The Hippie Chick.” Her mantra is “Peace Within Music.” Her signature venue is “The Shed” barbecue joint. Her fans are young and old. And now the world can hear, thanks to the first studio produced record by Grammy-nominated musician Joe Taylor.
Like the artist, this collection of songs is lean and strong, emotional and true, grounded in love and soaring with hope.
Can you imagine love? That’s what this record wants to do. That’s what this record does.
"Lilt" is available on I-Tunes or Amazon.com