2 April 1947, Birmingham, Alabama, USA. Harris was raised in North Carolina, later attending the University Of North Carolina on a drama scholarship. Starting as a folk singer, Harris tried her luck in the late 60s in New Yorks Greenwich Village folk clubs, making an album for the independent Jubilee label in 1970. Gliding Bird was largely unrepresentative of her subsequent often stunning work. It included cover versions of songs by Bob Dylan, Fred Neil and Hank Williams, as well as somewhat mundane originals and a title track written by her first husband, Tom Slocum. Harris left for Nashville, but with the failure of her marriage and the birth of her first child was forced to return to her parents house outside Washington, DC. Rick Roberts, a latter-day member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, heard her singing in a club, and recommended her to Gram Parsons, who was looking for a female partner. Parsons hired Harris after discovering that their voices dovetailed perfectly, and she appeared on his two studio albums, GP and Grievous Angel. The latter was released after Parsons died, as was a live album recorded for a US radio station that was released some years later.
Eddie Tickner, who had been involved with managing the Byrds, and who was also managing Parsons at the time of his drug-related demise, encouraged Harris to make a solo album using the same musicians who had worked with Parsons. The cream of Los Angeles session musicians, they were collectively known as the Hot Band, and among the pickers who worked in the band during its 15-year lifespan backing Harris were guitarist James Burton (originally lead guitarist on Suzie-Q by Dale Hawkins, and simultaneously during his time with Harris, lead player with Elvis Presleys Las Vegas band), pianist Glen D. Hardin (a member of the Crickets post- Buddy Holly, and also working simultaneously with both Harris and Presley), steel guitarist Hank DeVito, bass player Emory Gordy Jnr. , John Ware (ex-Michael Nesmiths First National Band, and a member of Linda Ronstadts early 70s backing band), and the virtually unknown Rodney Crowell. Backed by musicians of this calibre (subsequent Hot Band members included legendary British lead guitarist Albert Lee and Ricky Skaggs), Harris released a series of artistically excellent and often commercially successful albums, starting with 1975s Pieces Of The Sky, and also including the same years Elite Hotel, 1976s Luxury Liner and 1977s Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town (whose title was a line in the song Easy From Now On, co-written by Carlene Carter and Susanna Clark, wife of singer-songwriter Guy Clark).
Blue Kentucky Girl was closer to pure country music than the country rock that had become her trademark and speciality, and 1980s Roses In The Snow was her fourth album to reach the Top 40 of the US pop chart. Light Of The Stable, a Christmas album also featuring Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Neil Young, was surprisingly far less successful. Two more albums in 1981 (Evangeline and Cimmaron - the latter featuring a cover of the Poco classic, Rose Of Cimmaron) were better sellers, but a 1982 live album, Last Date, was largely ignored. The following years White Shoes was Harris final album produced by Canadian Brian Ahern, her second husband, who had established a reputation for his successful work with Anne Murray, prior to producing all Harris classic albums up to this point. Harris and Ahern subsequently separated both personally and professionally, marking the end of an era that had also seen her appearing on Bob Dylans Desire in 1976 and The Last Waltz, the farewell concert/triple album/feature movie by the Band from 1978.
Around this time, Harris was invited by producer Glyn Johns and British singer-songwriter Paul Kennerley to participate in a concept album written by the latter, The Legend Of Jesse James (Kennerleys follow-up to the similarly conceptual White Mansions). Harris and Kennerley later married, and together wrote and produced 1985s The Ballad Of Sally Rose (a concept album that by her own belated admission reflected her relationship with Gram Parsons) and the similarly excellent Thirteen, but neither recaptured Harris previous chart heights. In 1987, there were two albums involving Harris: Trio, a multi-million selling triumph that won a Grammy award, was a collaboration between Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton, but Harris own Angel Band, a low-key acoustic collection, became the first of her albums not to be released in the UK, where it was felt to be too uncommercial. This fall from commercial grace occurred simultaneously (although perhaps coincidentally) with the virtual retirement of manager Eddie Tickner, who had guided and protected Harris through 15 years of mainly classic albums.
The 1989 release Bluebird was a definite return to form with production by Richard Bennett and featuring a title track written by Butch Hancock, but a commercial renaissance did not occur. Duets, a compilation album featuring Harris singing with artists including Gram Parsons, Roy Orbison, George Jones, the Desert Rose Band, Don Williams, Neil Young and John Denver, was artistically delightful, but appeared to be an attempt on the part of the marketing department of WEA Records (to whom she had been signed since Pieces Of The Sky) to reawaken interest in a star who they feared might be past her commercial peak. The same years Brand New Dance was not a success compared with much of her past catalogue, and in that year, the much-changed Hot Band was dropped in favour of the Nash Ramblers, a bluegrass-based acoustic quintet composed of Sam Bush (mandolin, fiddle, duet vocals, ex-New Grass Revival), Al Perkins (dobro, banjo), Grand Ole Opry double bass player Roy Huskey Jnr., drummer Larry Atamanuik and 22-year-old new-boy John Randall Stewart (acoustic guitar and harmony vocals) replacing Rodney Crowell. In 1991, Harris and the Nash Ramblers were permitted to record a live album at the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The record was poorly received in some quarters, however, and at the end of 1992, it was reported that she had been dropped by Warner Brothers Records, ending a 20-year association.
Harris remained in the incongruous position of being a legendary figure in country music, always in demand as a guest performer in the studio, but unable to match the record sales of those younger artists who regarded her as a heroine. Her 1995 album represented the severing of the cord; she boldly stepped away from country-sounding arrangements and recorded the stunning Daniel Lanois- produced Wrecking Ball. The title track is a Neil Young composition and other songs featured were written by Lanois, Steve Earle and Anna McGarrigle. Harris described this album as her weird record: its wandering and mantric feel creeps into the psyche and the album represents one of the most rewarding releases of her underrated and lengthy career. She picked up a Grammy for the work in 1996 as the Best Contemporary Folk Album, the same year a career spanning box set of her work was released. The live recording Spyboy, released in 1998, was an equally impressive summary of her career. The following year Harris teamed up with Linda Ronstadt on two occasions; the first time, with Dolly Parton, for Trio II, and the second for the excellent Western Wall/The Tucson Sessions.
The majestic and highly personal song cycle Red Dirt Girl, released in 2000 and Harris first solo collection since Wrecking Ball, concentrated on her own underrated songwriting ability. It is remarkable that at this stage in her career Harris is writing such sublime material as I Dont Want To Talk About It Now and Boy From Tupelo. In 2006, she collaborated with Mark Knopfler on the excellent All The Roadrunning.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.