A successful hybrid artist of the early 1950’s who was frequently promoted as a blues artist though more of his output fell more on the rock side of the ledger including his only #1 hit. Had he come along a decade later he’d have rightly been called simply a blues-rock artist as the ever-growing rock genre began to take on countless subgenre terms to differentiate styles, but in his day those largely didn’t exist which has ultimately hurt his legacy.

Born Harrison Nelson in Texas in 1925 he was yet another who came onto the music scene in the late 1940’s who’d gone to college, getting a bachelor’s degree in English from Texas Southern University. While still in school he befriended bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins who gave him guitar lessons but like most kids that age he had his own thoughts as to how he wanted to sound and that meant largely eschewing the country blues styles of Hopkins.

But it was Hopkins who got him his first recording contract with local label Gold Star in 1948 where he split his output between blues and nascent rock even though he had no real interest in becoming a professional musician. The label re-named him “Peppermint”, liking the sound of it, and so on his initial releases he became Peppermint Nelson, but they sold little outside the region.

Two years went by before Nelson recorded again on Sittin’ In With, a New York label whose owner Bobby Shad frequently crisscrossed the country recording unsigned talent in local studios or radio stations, then bringing the tapes back to the Big Apple he’d sort through what he’d gathered and choose what to release. When it came to Nelson’s output he was enthusiastic but couldn’t remember the kid’s full name. Peppermint was easy to recall but the rest remained elusive. Harris came from the other part he could remember – Harrison – while his surname, Nelson, was forgotten entirely. So Peppermint Harris he became and was stuck with for the rest of his life when his first release on the label, a blues offering “Raining In My Heart”, hit Top Five in early 1950.

The rest of his output on the label which alternated between blues and rock fairly evenly at first before the rock sides began to become more frequent, failed to match his debut for them and when the company went under in mid-1951 Harris signed with Aladdin.

Once again Harris struck gold right away, this time with a record that topped the national charts in September of that year, the drinking classic “I Got Loaded”, helped enormously by producer Maxwell Davis’s extensive re-arranging of it in the studio, but its success ultimately proved to be a hindrance for Harris’s continued artistic advancement as Aladdin kept requesting additional drinking themed songs in a foolhardy attempt to give listeners more of the same.

Harris meanwhile was writing songs for others and touring constantly throughout the 1950’s, but like many artists whose success came early in the decade his image had become seen as decidedly old fashioned during rock’s mainstream ascent and so he once again began to be promoted more as a blues artist. He managed to remain active on the recording scene for years with a succession of smaller labels drawing only minor regional interest throughout the South, making his final appearance on record in 1995.

Four years later in 1999 Harris passed away at the age of 73 shortly after moving to New Jersey. Never fully embraced by either the blues community or by rock historians, despite quality recordings in both fields, Harris – who hadn’t sought to become a professional artist when starting out – nevertheless managed to carve out a career that lasted a half century.
PEPPERMINT HARRIS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date on Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Gold Star 626; February, 1948)
Somewhat crude but energetic debut which features a practically distorted guitar but minimal accompaniment beyond that, while the vocal delivery has more attitude than clarity and not enough of either to fully work. (3)

(Sittin’ In With 543; February, 1950)
Harris’s vocal enthusiasm and a nice guitar break are about all to recommend this otherwise limited effort which is hampered by the technical limitations of his voice and the generic lyrics he’s delivering. (3)

(Sittin’ In With 554; April, 1950)
A sparse, uninspired and lackluster bluesy effort that barely has reason for existing, as everybody sounds as if they were going through the motions and unsure of which stylistic direction to head in. (2)

(Sittin’ In With 554; April, 1950)
Indulgent, shallow and dull, but still slightly better than the more depressing flip-side, as this finds Harris doing his best with underwhelming content that is too sparse both lyrically and musically to make us forget our plight in having to listen to it. (3)

(Sittin’ In With 568; June, 1950)
Finally breaking loose with an unadulterated rocker, Harris shows he’s more than up for the task singing with a gleam in his eye while the band never lets up creating a frenzied assault on the senses that can’t help but bring a smile to your face. (8)

(Sittin’ In With 576; August, 1950)
A really good written record framed modestly by the band with a very interesting look at the moral conflicts of being so desirable, lacking only an equally profound concluding stanza to wrap it up strong but Harris’s nasal voice can’t sell it as effectively as he’d like. (6)

(Sittin’ In With 576; August, 1950)
A fairly inventive framework with its spoken intro and outro unfortunately is all this has to offer as Harris delves further into the blues vocally than is recommended, although the horn and piano accompaniment keeps it tethered enough to rock to qualify. (3)

(Sittin’ In With 578; September, 1950)
Solid in every single way as Harris’s usual vocal limitations actually suit the well-rounded story that progresses in a way that shifts the emotional nuance behind it while the band contributes only what’s necessary to frame it properly. (7)

(Sittin’ In With 578; September, 1950)
Far too bluesy effort with a lethargic pace, foghorn vocals and lack of any real lyrical creativity or interesting perspective to ponder, with only a solid if understated sax solo to keep it from being a total waste of time. (3)

(Sittin’ In With 597; May, 1951)
A straightforward celebration of sex covering all the bases in simple terms, from the need for it, to the satisfaction of doing it and the lack of any commitment required for enjoying it, and while the band might not be experienced with the subject, Harris makes up for what they lack. (7)

(Sittin’ In With 588; May, 1951)
By the numbers throwaway cut with a generic story, no real plot or character depth and a lack of any spark, save for a really good saxophone and some crisp drumming… it’s all competently done by Harris but hardly trying for much. (4)

(Aladdin 3097; July, 1951)
His biggest hit was well-deserved, a classic story of a pleasant drunk recounting his travails was atypical for Harris who normally used a much harsher vocal tone than this as he benefits from understated support by a skeletal arrangement by Maxwell Davis. (8)

(Sittin’ In With 612; August, 1951)
A leftover track with his old label wasn’t really worth hauling out of mothballs as this is a bleak song with a plodding arrangement and murky vocals making it difficult to get into, especially on the heels of the instant classic he’d recently released on Aladdin. (2)

(Aladdin 3107; October, 1951)
Changing the character traits from Big John Greer’s original, but keeping the lyrics intact, presents a different song – less reliant on plot and clever jokes and more concerned with creating a pleasant sounding vibe which it does, making this enjoyable for different reasons. (7)

(Aladdin 3107; October, 1951)
A good blues-slanted record that is ill-fitting in a rock context which is not his fault but unfortunately when judged by rock parameters only Maxwell Davis’s discreet sax is contributing something that makes it slightly comfortable in this realm. (3)

(Aladdin 3108; January, 1952)
Another deviation into more bluesy material kept tethered to rock only by Maxwell Davis’s saxophone but not even that’s enough to fully connect, though as a blues performance it’d fare somewhat better it’s still not one of his better efforts. (2)

(Aladdin 3108; January, 1952)
Here’s how to bridge that divide between blues and rock, as the bleak outlook and slow pace are tempered with a modicum of hope and a diverse arrangement with Davis’s sax, some piano and a guitar solo that adds color to the late night despondent tone. (6)

(Sittin’ In 623; January, 1952)
A rough barren arrangement on a song in which Harris doesn’t explore the topic with much depth which is probably why this was shelved until he’d left for greener pastures and then belatedly hauled out to try and capitalize on his recent success on Aladdin. (3)

(Sittin’ In 623; January, 1952)
a fairly engaging vocal and an admirably churning groove can’t fully make up for the lack of a suitable story and two subpar instrumental solos – sax and guitar – making this just good enough to suffice but not enough to advance his career. (5)

(Aladdin 3130; April, 1952)
An obvious rip-off of his #1 hit “I Got Loaded” – same melody, arrangement and drunken vocals – but by continuing the story and adding clever new twists rather than simply rehashing the old plot, they manage to make a fairly enjoyable sequel out of it. (6)

(Aladdin 3130; April, 1952)
A simple story that provides an ideal vehicle for a really effective low-key arrangement in which Maxwell Davis surrounds Harris’s nasal vocals with enough forward momentum to keep him on the straight and narrow, showing why their partnership was so vital. (6)

(Aladdin 3141; July, 1952)
Harris lives up to the great title with an ominous warning against the guy, or guys, slipping around with his girlfriend using circumstantial evidence in a compelling manner as the stripped down arrangement provides just enough tension to amplify his threats. (8)

(Aladdin 3141; July, 1952)
Another atypical approach on this side which is just as good as the other half, as Harris blends the downbeat story with an upbeat infectious arrangement to great effect, not diminishing the message but allowing the music to lift you above the sadness. (8)