Called ‘the Jimmy Hendrix of the violin’, compared to Eric Clapton and spoken of in the same breath with the likes of Jean Luc Ponty, Don ‘Sugarcane’ Harris was the violin master of jazz-inflected rock ‘n’ roll. His association with John Mahall and Frank Zappa brought him into the limelight, but he also played and recorded with John Lee Hooker, Little Richard and the man who gave him the nickname ‘Sugarcane’, rhythm & blues legend Johnny Otis. L.A. guitarist Randy Resnick reminisced about Harris; “All I can say is that I never got chills in any other band like the ones I got when Don took off…it was tribal, it was primitive and it was real...”
You can argue that all the MPS Sugarcane Harris albums are special, but this one deserves extra attention; it’s recorded in LA with Sugarcane’s homeboys, not least of which is keyboardist Dewey Terry, Harris’ friend and playing partner from childhood on. It also includes drummer Paul Lagos and guitarist Randy Resnick, who, along with Terry were members of Harris’ LA-based band. The album is replete with Sugarcane’s patented mix of blues, jazz and rock, but his violin takes a back seat to his driving vocals. There is also a backup horn and vocals section, with the pieces composed by Harris and arranged by Terry. I’m On Your Case is filled with horn-backed LA soul and a sumptuous chorus of Harris’ violin. Keep On Tryin has a relaxed shuffle feel and a Harris vocal that compares with such greats as Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Makes It Kinda Hard is the kind of rock ballad that sends chills up and down your spine, and I Think I’ve Suffered Enough is a rock-inflected ode to the pain of love. Sugarcane’s vocals and violin takes a funky stroll down the dark side of love on Midnight Walk, whereas Nothing But Time and I’m All In are two powerful soul ballads replete with horns and back-up vocals, with the driving, soulful Dear John closing out the album.
Harris was a legend on the violin. After listening to the pieces on this album you may well wonder why he wasn’t also a major singer in soul music.