There aren’t many, but a major highlight of 2020 so far was seeing James Samuel “Cornbread” Harris perform for his CD release and 93 and a half birthday party at The Hook and Ladder on October 22. The man is a legend. He played on the first rock and roll album to come out of Minneapolis. He played with Elvis. Before the pandemic, he was playing gigs twice a week, including a Friday night gig at the Loring Pasta bar, which he told me was scheduled in perpetuity.
He is an elegant man. He is a man of faith. (I learned a lot about that in a recent interview.) He is funny. That man can still play piano. More than anything that man has a love of life that is the kind of infectious we need during this never-ending pandemic.
He had his whole band with him: Scott Soule “the soulman” on backing vocals, electric bass, upright bass fiddle, arco and pizzicato; “Tall Pall” Glenn Graham on backing vocals, saxophones; Doug “can you dig it” Hill on backing vocals, all drums and percussion instruments; “Mr. John Penny” on backing vocals, rhythm and lead guitar and Jason “Bobby Jay” Marks on trumpet joined for a few songs. The love on the stage was palpable as they teased each other, helped each other and lifted up Cornbread.
He played some classics – like a mash up of Enjoy Yourself (originally by Guy Lombardo) turns Happy Birthday to Me. How joyful! He sang his signature song Cornbread, which will still get your hips swaying – even with COVID rules in place. The show stopper was his song, Put the World (Back Together).
Cornbread wrote Put the World a few years ago and he has a dream that it will become as ubiquitous as the old Coke jingle – I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing. He envisions a day when people will sing the song around the world in their native languages and a concert, maybe via Zoom, where people unite to sing it together. It’s a sway together song grounded by a voice that has seen some year and joined by the voices all around him. The picture he paints in the lyrics would feel at home at any rally or church. It’s hope for common sense and brotherhood! It was the heart of a concert!
It’s strange to not have a crowd, to have no dancing but being in an intimate setting to hear such amazing music feels so special. Eventually, Cornbread will put the world back together and we will crowd up again, until then we’ll celebrate the performers who enjoy playing for one person or one thousand with the same gusto!
And a word about the Hook and Ladder. First it was the perfect place for the show given the deep friendship and mutual respect between Executive Director Chris Mozena and Cornbread. Second, The Hook does a great job with full production livestreams that turn into archived you can enjoy later. Third, they have started inviting a studio audience into the performances. The tickets are not cheap, but it’s a great night out. Last night included beer and pizza. It’s an investment in keeping the venue open. You can learn more on The Hook and Ladder Patreon site. Let’s make sure they’re around to host Cornbread’s 100th birthday six and a half years from now!
Special thanks to the fabulous photographer Sara Fish for sharing her photos!