Arguably the greatest secular exponent of Sam Cooke’s wonderful vocal legacy, Bobby Harris never had that pure tone that Cooke was blessed with, but he did impart his singing with an aching quality which, combined with the roughness of his timbre, tugs at the heartstrings like no other I know. New York based Harris was a vocal maestro on the ballads – there are several soul fans I know who are more affected by his singing than via any other artist.
He started out singing duets with his brother Jim, and while some of these early R & B efforts are first class, they never really allow Bobby’s talents full rein. The music is transitional – it both looks back to the 50s combos like Don & Dewey and anticipates the great soul duos like Sam & Dave. Uptempo R & B numbers such as “Baby I’m Coming Home To You” and “Crying Won’t Help You Now” are good, and “I’ll Be Standing By” with it’s “Spanish Harlem” feel rocks along nicely. But as is so often the case it's the doo-wop tinged ballads, particularly the superb Here Is My Heart and “Please Don’t Hurt Me” that are the real killers – highly recommended.
Bobby had the better set of lungs and went on to a solo career in the 60s cutting some amazing deep soul, helped by the genius of writer/arranger/producer Bert Berns. Harris’ tribute to Sam Cooke, his mentor, on Atlantic We Can’t Believe You’re Gone is, given the subject matter, almost unbearably poignant. I like his beat ballad duet with Pat Lundy “I Realy Love You” very much, especially the rather endearing way Pat refers to him as “Billy” throughout! But deep fans may well prefer his two magnificent Turntable singles That’s When I’ll Stop Loving You and “Lonely Intruder”. These are unmissable examples of Bobby’s phrasing and approach. And this impeccable run continued with his two Shout 45s. Baby Come Back To Me is a wonderful ballad but Mr Success just may be his best ever release. All these cuts feature some of the Big Apple’s finest musicians, including Pretty Purdie and Eric Gale who provides some lovely and carefully judged fills and runs.
Harris guested on the brilliant Fabulous Fiestas RCA 45 and made a small comeback in the 90s with a set on Roy C’s 3 Gems label, and two Japanese compilations – this was sanctified music consisting mostly of synth–led covers of Sam Cooke’s best gospel numbers. The best cut of these new recordings was an outstanding version of Soul To Soul, on which Harris' “crying” tone made the song almost tangibly sad. The presence of Ray Goodman and Brown (probably the best ever sweet soul group) on superbly judged harmony vocals adds the final touch to one of the most moving cuts of the 90s. I found this track to be a great comfort in a period of personal stress some years ago.
And perhaps that’s the most telling remark I can make about Bobby Harris. That he was the singer I turned to when I most needed solace and comfort. Not the greatest soul singer of them all – but the most satisfying emotionally.
UPDATE ~ Jimmy Harris has told me that he recorded as "Lenny Curtis" - you can hear his fine tracks under that name here. Jimmy also said that the Atco 45 "Geometry of love / Hiccups" (Atco 6144) from 1959 isn't his record.
Please don't hurt me / Country boy ~ CLOCK 1035 / 71836 (1960) (as JIM & BOB
Here is my heart / Hand clap blues ~ CLOCK 71890 (1962) (as JIM & BOB HARRISON)
Hand clap blues / Please don't hurt me ~ EMIT 101 (as THE HARRISON BROTHERS)
I'll go on / There's no one for me ~ CLOCK 1743 (1962/3) (as BEE JAY)
Baby I love you / Little schoolgirl ~ SMASH 1803 (1963) (as JIM & BOB HARRISON)
Standing on the corner / Baby I'm coming home to you ~ EVERLAST 5028 (1963) (as THE HARRISON BROTHERS)
Beautiful lies / I'll be standing by ~ ABC 10593 (1964) (as THE HARRISON BROTHERS)
Run for your life / Inst ~ BOBALOU 1001 (1965) (as THE HARRISON BROTHERS)
We can't believe you're gone / More of the jerk ~ ATLANTIC 2270 (1965)
We got a thing going on / I really love you ~ HEIDI 111 (1965) (as PAT LUNDY & BOBBY HARRIS)
Password is love / That's when I'll stop loving you ~ TURNTABLE 715 (1965)
Lonely intruder / Ain't that love ~ TURNTABLE 716 (1965)
Crying won't help you now / Ain't love a sweet thing ~ PEARLTONE 8007 (1966) (as THE HARRISON BROTHERS)
Mr. Success / Sticky sticky ~ SHOUT 203 (1966)
Baby come back to me / The love of my woman ~ SHOUT 210 (1967)
One hurt deserves another / Keep it in the family ~ RCA 0364 (1971) (as THE FABULOUS FIESTAS)
Some day we’ll be free – 3 GEMS LP/CD (as ROBERT HARRISON) (1993)
Soul to soul - P-VINE CD (1994)
Someday Mother prayed for me – L Committee CD (as ROBERT HARRISON & THE EXCELS) (1997)
1. The Columbia 45 “Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves” credited to Bobby Harris is in fact a reissue of Fairmount 1009 by Eddie Jones.
2 There is a French only EP of the Harrison Brothers which features “Beautiful lies”/ “I’ll be standing by”/ “I feel good” / “Are you sincere” the last two of which appear to have been unissued in the US.
3. Barry Webster writes to say that "Mr Success" has now been issued on the Ace UK CD "The Bert Berns Story". Thanks Barry.
Thanks to Galen Gart for extra discographical info.