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Peppermint Harris

The contemporary blues boom resuscitated the career of many a veteran blues artist who had been silent for ages. Take guitarist Peppermint Harris, who in 1951 topped the R&B charts with his classic booze ode "I Got Loaded." Nobody expected a new Peppermint Harris CD in 1995, but Home Cooking producer Roy C. Ames coaxed one out of old Pep for Collectables nonetheless. Texas on My Mind may not be as enthralling as Harris' early-'50s output, but it was nice to have him back in circulation. By the time he was in his early twenties, Harrison Nelson, Jr. was lucky enough to have found a mentor and friend on the Houston blues front: Lightnin' Hopkins took an interest in the young man's musical development. When Harris was deemed ready, Lightnin' accompanied him to Houston's Gold Star Records. Nothing came of that jaunt, but Harris eventually recorded his debut 78 for the company in 1948 (as Peppermint Nelson). Bob Shad's Sittin' in With label was the vehicle that supplied Harris' early work to the masses -- especially his first major hit, "Raining in My Heart," in 1950. These weren't exactly formal sessions; one legend has it one took place in a Houston bordello. Nor was Shad too cognizant of Pep's surname; when he couldn't recall it, he simply renamed our man Harris. Harris moved over to Eddie Mesner's Aladdin Records in 1951, cutting far tighter sides for the firm in Los Angeles (often with the ubiquitous Maxwell Davis serving as bandleader and saxist). After "I Got Loaded" lit up the charts in 1951, Harris indulged in one booze ode after another: "Have Another Drink and Talk to Me," "Right Back on It," "Three Sheets in the Wind." But try as they might, the bottle let Harris down as a lyrical launching pad after that. He drifted from Money and Cash to RCA's short-lived subsidiary "X" and Don Robey's Duke logo (where he allegedly penned "As the Years Go Passing By" for Fenton Robinson) after that, but it wasn't until a long-lasting association with Stan Lewis' Shreveport, Louisiana-based Jewel Records commenced in 1965 that Harris landed for longer than a solitary single. Later, Harris worked various day jobs around Houston, including one at a record pressing plant, before moving to Sacramento, California, and then to New Jersey to be with his daughter. ~ Bill Dahl
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