* Fulton country musician is seeing success as singer/songwriter.
Odds are, Brian Harrison isn’t going to make his living writing country songs, and that’s just fine. He feels he’s going places, regardless.
“Even if I never have a big hit, I’m enjoying the journey,” he said.
Harrison was seated in a small room above the carport of his Fulton home, his guitar case resting next to him on a blue denim couch. The wood-paneled walls that wrapped the room were covered with a variety of personal memorabilia — posters of musicians, a Crimson Tide Banner, at least a few record sleeves and numerous signs advertising Gibson Guitars – Harrison’s old employer. It’s the space in which Harrison does most of his writing these days. Or, at least, where he does most of his songwriting when it comes time to put pencil to paper. Songs are always playing in his head.
“I can’t turn it off, to be honest with you,” he said, tapping his cap. “I’m always writing music up here.”
Then again, why would he want to turn it off? Music is taking Harrison on a journey, after all, one that’s already led him to a lot of interesting places. He’s played joints familiar to any indie country musician — The Broken Spoke (home of the “best honky tonk music in Texas”), Bluebird Cafe, Puckett’s and Robert’s Western World. In late September, Harrison’s song “Autumn Leaves” earned him the Country Traditional Songwriter of the Year award from the Country Blast Radio Awards. The awards were held at the Spring Golf Links Resort in Nashville.`
Written in 2009 while he was living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, “August Leaves” started its life just like every other Brian Harrison song — with a hook playing on repeat in his head. In this case, it was a play on words that inspired Harrison.
“I thought, why couldn’t Autumn be a girl, and the song would be about her leaving,” he said.
The chorus takes this idea to its logical, classic country music conclusion
Every time Autumn leaves it gets colder,
And I start thinkin’ bout the things that I should have told her.
My empty arms get to wishin’ they could hold her,
Cause every time Autumn leaves it gets colder.
The song, with it’s catchy melody and playfully melancholy lyrics, is indicative of Harrison’s sensibilities as a songwriter. People tell Harrison his music sounds more traditional than modern, like something a country music station in the 90s might have sandwiched between Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson. It’s a claim he embraces.
“I’m kind of proud of that,” Harrison said, and he did seem to sit up a little straighter. “That’s what I listened to. So, I wear that as a badge of honor.”
It might not read like it, but Harrison got off to a late start on his songwriting journey. Although he grew up on a diet of southern rock, bluegrass, blues and gospel music, the Alabama native describes himself as a “late bloomer” when it comes to actually creating his own music. While musicians often begin tooling around with instruments as kids, Harrison didn’t pick up on the fundamentals of guitar until after high school, which isn’t to imply he wasn’t already writing songs. He was … at least lyrically. He just didn’t know how to make music out of them.
“It’s just stinking poetry until you put it to music,” Harrison said, his lumberjack beard nearly hiding his easy grin. “I thought, I’ve got all these songs in my head. If only I could get them to show me a couple of chords.”
He did, of course, and Harrison slowly began turning his “stinking poetry” into songs.
“I’m always caught up on the hook,” he said. “Lots of times, I just kind of keep it in my head for a while. Once I get the hook where I want it, I build the song around it.”
Harrison moved to Nashville in his 20s and began working for Gibson Guitars building a variety of stringed instruments, all the while working on his craft. Being in Nashville, surrounded by budding songwriters, would-be musicians and genuine hit-makers, was intimidating. It’s like staring at a dream locked behind Plexiglas. Harrison’s dream was so close, but he couldn’t touch it.
“It goes without saying, but there is just so much talent up there in Nashville,” he said. “It’s kind of like a ferris wheel. It’s already spinning. I just didn’t know how to get on.”
A few years back, Harrison moved to Fulton to take work at the Toyota plant in Blue Springs. (”I used to build guitars; now I build cars. At least they rhyme,” he remarked offhandedly.) Ironically, moving away from the Nashville’s bustling country music scene reinvigorated Harrison’s efforts to be a singer/songwriter.
“Once I moved here, it’s like I hit another stride,” he said. Maybe it felt as if there was less pressure here, allowing his creativity to move without the restrictive pressures of being surrounded by so many musicians. Harrison’s not sure, but whatever it was, he felt as if the road opened up before him.
Most weekends find Harrison on-stage somewhere, playing before small but enthusiastic crowds. He’s doing a lot of co-writing, a process he said he enjoys. Three songs on Alabama country musician Chad Austin Parker’s new album were written by Harrison.
“It’s an outlet,” Harrison said of songwriting. “You get to express yourself, obviously. But it’s also a good escape from the nine-to-five … the grind … “Some people hunt; some people fish; I write songs. The wife thinks I’m crazy.”
Being up on a small stage, playing for people who enjoy his music … well, it may not be a packed stadium, but if Harrison’s journey happens to linger where it is for a spell, it wouldn’t be so bad.
“It makes you feel good,” Harrison said. “It’s enough to keep you going. But not quit your day job.”