Johnny Harper is a well-known Bay Area singer, guitarist, songwriter, bandleader, arranger, and producer of recordings and concerts.
He has been known, for many years, for leading rockin’ bands (Johnny Harper & Carnival and the earlier Hot Links) specializing in the joyous, upbeat, and funky New Orleans R&B sound – the music of artists like Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, the Meters/ Neville Brothers, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, and many more. He lived in New Orleans for several years at one point, soaking up the Crescent City magic first-hand.
Johnny’s exciting original songs fit perfectly with the New Orleans repertory and are a central part of his band’s performances. Ten of these songs are featured in the 2017 CD , Light of a New Day.
Johnny’s songwriting reflects his deep roots in American folk-roots idioms – blues, soul, gospel, New Orleans, rock’n’roll, vintage country, traditional folk music, and more. It also draws on the socially and spiritually conscious songwriting tradition of artists like Woody Guthrie, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Bruce Springsteen, and New Orleanians such as Allen Toussaint and the Neville Brothers. Light of a New Day includes several thought-provoking and uplifting songs which touch on the challenges we face in today’s America, today’s world – “songs for our time,” as Johnny calls them.
In addition to his work in bands, Johnny is a powerful solo performer, accompanying himself in complex lead/rhythm and finger-picking styles on electric and acoustic guitars. His solo electric skills are also displayed in his exciting vocal duet act Two Medicines with singer Deborah Blackburn. He is a veteran performer in a wider range of American roots music styles – blues and gospel, rock and country, soul and Cajun/ zydeco, traditional and contemporary folk, and more. And he is a born storyteller whose comments on the music are by turns moving and highly entertaining.
Johnny has toured as lead guitarist with Maria Muldaur’s band, played for 15 years as guitarist and band leader with “living legend” Barbara Dane, and has performed with many other well-known artists, including such Louisiana legends as “Swamp Boogie Queen” Katie Webster, zydeco star Queen Ida, Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet, and R&B greats like Willie Tee, Eddie Bo, Joe Krown, Ernie K-Doe, George Porter (Meters), Clarence “Bon Ton” Garlow, (funk sousaphone giant/ Dirty Dozen Brass Band founder) Kirk Joseph, and blues-soul guitar master Robert Ward.
The list of prominent Bay Area musicians with whom he has worked in live and recorded performances includes Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Barbara Higbie, Charlie Musselwhite, David Grisman, Darol Anger, George Winston, Jody Stecher, Kate Brislin, Tony Marcus, Ray Bierl, Bobby Black, Richard Chon, the Louisiana Playboys (with Danny Poullard), and the Superior Angels of Oakland.
He is also an inspired and inspiring studio producer-arranger and has produced, arranged, and played on over 20 albums by artists including Mayne Smith, Wayde Blair, Kajsa Ohman, Motordude Zydeco, Edie O’Hara, Katie Webster, Eric & Suzy Thompson, David Gans, John McCord, and more. He has composed and produced music for several films. He has produced and directed videos, including the full-length concert documentary It’s Got to Be Rough and Sweet: the Arhoolie 25th Anniversary Party and the recent topical single “Rise to the Call” by singer-songwriter Marie Antoinette. He is well known as a music scholar and historian, and has taught private guitar lessons for over 30 years.