It’s a decent method of identification if you’re a band sticking with a traditional and unchanged sound. The bluegrass of Bill Monroe. Be-bop jazz. Ragtime. Classic hip-hop. Classical. Otherwise, “genre” means nothing, a trivial exercise of methodical categorization. It just doesn’t work for a rock band, when “rock ’n’ roll” is at the trunk of the tree and its branches encompass all of the great sounds that make up rock ’n’ roll, and, therefore, define the trunk. Blues, jazz, folk, country, garage rock, punk. Funk and soul; “good” or “bad” just don’t work for some people, when really that’s all you need to define most styles of music.
The tree-trunk analogy is something that works for a musician like Harlis Sweetwater. If you had to describe the dude after a quick, first listen, he’s a blues guitar player with hints of hard rock and even a ballad or two tossed in for a nice balance. But he’s a fan of all things music, someone who will name drop Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and ’80s-era punk rock like Black Flag, The Descendents, and The Angry Samoans as influences. A quick study will reveal that all the aforementioned bands are playing the blues at the core.
The Huntington Beach-based Harlis Sweetwater Band will be in the Southwest this weekend, playing Friday in Cortez at The Sunflower Theatre, and Saturday at Crash Music in Aztec.
“I’m really anti-genre in general. The more it’s in my head and my heart, the more I’m rebelling against it. It’s just music. If asked what kind of music it is, I say ‘It’s good music.’ You’ll wanna drink, you’ll wanna dance, you’ll wanna have a good time,” said Sweetwater in a recent phone interview. “Because, in my world, I love the punk rock, I love old-school country music, R&B, soul, rock ’n’ roll. When we’re in the van, we’re listening to The Clash, then Toots and the Maytals, then The Specials, then Merle Haggard. We’re just musicians that love music. People wanna put you in a box and categorize you, and I get it. But at the same time, I took all the labels off my merchandise, you decide what it is for you, and if you like it come check it out.”
The band just released its new record, “Holler, Stomp and Growl,” a release that showcases Sweetwater’s aggressive guitar playing and crack band, where a ripping and a tasty addition of horns compliment the guitar work. It’s rowdy and fun.
They’re also a band that gets it, well aware of the modern method of what it takes to succeed these days in the strange music business: Get away from the studio and the confines of home and hit the road. Sweetwater’s approach of getting out there and playing is matched with an unquestionable drive and enthusiasm. He’s also got this punk-rock front-man approach to his guitar playing, an in-your-face player who isn’t afraid to ditch the stage and cut around the crowd.
“We always hit it hard, hit it as hard as we can,” said Sweetwater. “We love being out on the road, meeting new people, having these experiences, and playing our music. We just go-go-go, anywhere they’ll take us we will go and play.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]