When Harrison Begay takes the stage, he might play a Jimi Hendrix or Miles Davis song, but it’s not going to sound like Jimi Hendrix or Miles Davis. “We give those songs an R&B groove or a jazz groove,” says Harrison. “We take a basic blues song and make it more progressive – give it more movement.”
Harrison, who is a member of the Navajo Tribe, sings and plays guitar in Sir Harrison Blues Band. He started playing music when he was in fourth grade and living in Tucson. He wanted to play the trumpet, but his mom came home with a clarinet because that was what she could afford. In high school, he started playing guitar to fit in with “the tough kids,” but he eschewed rock ’n’ roll for the blues after he came across a cassette of blues artists. “I’d practice the blues at home, with the lights turned off, trying to play my feelings,” he says.
Harrison eventually went on to study communications at The Art Institute of Colorado, and he had a successful career as a broadcast journalist, earning two Edward R. Murrow Awards in the 1990s. But he says he quickly burned out on journalism, so he formed his first blues band, Colorblind, in Oklahoma in the early-2000s. Harrison eventually moved back to Arizona in 2002, working construction and odd jobs in order to pay for instruments and travel expenses. “Sometimes I would only get three hours of sleep,” he says. “I’d play a gig and then be up by 5 a.m. the next morning. But that’s how you get your name out there.”
Harrison and the Blues Kings formed in 2004 and eventually morphed into Sir Harrison Blues Band. Today, the band’s lineup includes Mahlon Hawk on bass, Jamarl Baker on drums and Rachelle Romeo on saxophone. The band performs three to four nights a week throughout Arizona. Harrison says being onstage is a “natural high.”
“We know when everything is all right and everything is connecting,” says Harrison. “I lose myself half of the time. When I’m in the zone, I’m not paying attention to what’s around me – even when I have the most beautiful girls in the room on the dance floor.” – Erika Ayn Finch. Photo by Loretta Hido.
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