Witan Fols is your new site dedicated to traditional folk and pop music, mostly from the seventies. Instead of wondering if talking about that musical golden era was legitimate for two music fans born way later, we decided, as an introduction, to hand over to someone who lived it and could truly talk about it, Jeff Harmon.
In 1979, Jeff privately pressed a pop masterpiece called To The Core. Today, he accepted to talk to us about his album, his musical life in San Diego and pop music in general.
We would like to thank our followers and readers, hoping you will enjoy this site. Especially, we would like to thank Jeff Harmon for his participation. We are very grateful and honored.
Jeff, could you introduce yourself to our readers? Where do you come from ? Where did you grow up and when? What is your musical background? Did you play in some bands?
Hi, I am Jeff Harmon, creator of the 1979 album intitled To The Core. I was born in San Diego California, USA. I am a third generation San Diegan and have a daughter that is fourth generation. I grew up in the wild sixties and seventies in the middle of San Diego.
I would write poetry when I was young and later found a friend by the name of George whom played ten different instruments or so and wrote songs. He and I teamed up to write songs together.
That was when I got my first guitar. George taught me a few chords and then I taught myself to learn more. I was never in a band because it was not something that I was led to do.
Where did you record To The Core and how much time did it take?
As time passed I decided I wanted to make an album of some of my solo songs, so I bought a four tracks tape recorder. I asked George to help me but his wife did not like the idea. So I asked my cousin Joe to help me by him playing the keyboards. I had a piano (that I knew a few chords on) and also rented him a Roland string synthesizer for him to play. I cleared all my obligations for a week and turned my house into a meg shift recording studio.
Once the basic tracks were finished with my cousin Joe, I called up a guitar player I knew by the name of Andy and asked him to play on the record. As I remember, he played on a couple of tracks. He played bass on one song and lead guitar on another. I myself played acoustic guitar on the song Key to Me and piano on another tune (Joe played on almost all the tracks, playing piano and synthesizer). I guess I should also talk about the drums. I used sounds from a drum sample record called Drum Drops. It was way ahead of its time. The sounds were organized into sections such as a verse, chorus, intro, etc. This allowed me to fit the drums to the song.
We recorded day and night for seven days straight. I mixed it later and it was issued on July 4th, 1979.
Could you explain the album title? « To The Core ». It sounds like the perfect title for a record. What was the idea behind that?
The title of To The Core meant to me that I was getting down to basics of my solo song writing instead of co-writing (or at least, I think, that was something I was thinking about at the time).
Also, I am a big Beatles fan and the Avocado records reminded me of their Apple records image somehow.
What could you tell us about the creative process during the To The Core recording?
Shortly before recording To The Core I had a bunch of song ideas and finished songs. But when it came to recording, I opted to write some new songs especially for the album (although I used some older ones too). I remember when my friends listened to the record, they implied that I should have recorded some more of the older ones. I am not sure if they were right or wrong. I suppose It’s all subjective. I do know that it is common among song writers to often think that the new songs must be some of their best. And now I think, it’s only that time will tell you and show you an objective opinion.
Moving lyrics, sounds samples and radio transmissions could give the listener the impression to share a car trip with you, while you’re telling him your love stories, looking at some urban landscape at the window. The record offers a daily-life atmosphere and there’s a narrative structure all across the album ending with a delicate lullaby. How was your life by the time you recorded To The Core? What were your main inspirations?
At the time of making To The Core my life appeared to be a pleasant one. I had a decent job, I had a beautiful two years old daughter… I had a piano, I had a guitar, I had songs, I had a tape recorder, and I thought I had all the time in the world to become a successful songwriter. My daughter was a huge inspiration to me during this time period ( actually she still is).
What strikes us listening to To The Core is the variety of styles. It’s hard to define a musical genre. The album offers a kind of a musical journey. How was the end of the seventies for a pop music fan?
Reflecting on the seventies, I loved pop music back then as compared to what some pop music is today, because the music was so catchy, and although the seventies were lacking the Beatles influence, there were still artists (that I was listening to) and the seventies were still inspirational to me to keep me writing. Which to this day I still do.
Carpenters, Elton John and Paul McCartney are mentioned in the album. Who where your major musical influences? What kind of music were you listening at the time?
Musically, the Beatles, Paul McCartney, America, ELO and Emitt Rhodes influenced me the most when I was making the record. In later years I expanded my horizons to include many other artists such as classic rock icons Tom Petty, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, The Cars and The Rolling Stones. I would often listen to these artists in headphones late at night in detail because they knew how to write songs that would last.
People born after the eighties could think a musical rupture happened between the seventies and the eighties. But in retrospect, we discover records like yours telling us that the musical evolution of the period was far more complex. What do you think about that?
The song is the most important thing during each era. It’s the musical instrumentation behind it that defines how it sounds. A song done in the eighties could be adapted to the seventies sound and vise versa. Someone doing a cover song would be a good analogy or example.
However, the eighties did do more rhythm technology behind the songs, which to a point got stale in some ways later. Because of this, the doors were opened to the nineties and things changed yet again. I tried to extend things and when I did my album I asked myself “if I was McCartney, what would I do?”. The bottom line was, in my interpretation, weather I succeeded or not. By the way, McCartney has done all the eras his way from the sixties to present day!
Instrumental piano/synth parts on the album gives a kind of cosmic dimension to your pop songs. Was it on purpose? Did you listen to some ambient music?
I have to give my cousin Joe the credit for his ambient synth parts. He added a character of sound style that I could have not thought of myself. I did add slight direction before we started each song. But again, it was his talent that stylized the additional parts he himself came up with.
Somewhat later in the 80’s I found a record label called Windam Hill. They specialized in new age and ambient music (I became a big fan) and so it was that I dabbled in writing a little bit in that style.
Could you tell us more about the track called Disco Madness? How was your position compared to the disco movement?
Just outside of San Diego there is a mountain town called Julian. There was also a radio station called KGB that was asking songwriters to send in songs about San Diego so they could put out a record they were producing. The album was called Home Grown. Inspired by it and Julian, I submitted a song called Summer Time in Julian. Although my friends liked the song, it did not make the record. So I put the song aside but did not forget about it.
Disco at the time was going strong and Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, and The Bee Gee’s even came out with their versions of disco inspired music (which was strange in a way). They cashed in on the trend of popular music at the time.
During that era I started recording To The Core and was interested in making a statement/parody about it, so I dusted off the lyrics about Julian and turned it into Disco Madness. Some people that I knew me at the time felt I should have kept the Julian lyrics. Oh well …
Have you been involved in other musical projects? Did you ever play gigs using the To The Core material?
Although I made To The Core, I never felt inspired to do anything from it live. I am more of a studio guy I think.
On a different note, I did get a song on a record in Reno, Nevada that the radio station KCBN put out. The name of the record was The Best Of The Trukee Meadows. I was one of eight artists to be included. My song is intitled In A Hurry. I had another song published but it never went anywhere.
I co-wrote a song that was put in a film by The Daughters of St Paul.
What are you up to these days? Do you still play music? What kind of music are you enjoying today?
I have a little recorder by my bed and input song ideas down and still continue to write often (although most of these ideas are unfinished). I still am very creative. I have been doing this for eleven years. Many of these ideas would be perfect for co-writing with someone else. I also recorded various projects in the eighties and 90’s and gave them to friends and relatives.
I have been productive through all the years since To The Core. Although I probably would not share them with any one besides friends and relatives.
Newer artist today that I like are Collective Soul and The Eels. Artists that inspire me these days are Green Day, Tame Impala, Adele, 21 pilots. I am also influenced a lot by Neil Young and Tom Waits.
Would you like to add something to end this interview?
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If any one wants to contact me…