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Jimmy Lee Harris


At age 9, Jimmy Lee Harris learned to play his first instrument, which he called the “mouthbow”. “I would get a good strong green stick, and put a piece of nylon string in it, get it real tight and put it to my mouth and pluck it,” Harris explained. Born march 1, 1935, in Seale, Alabama, Harris spent his childhood working in the fields around Phenix City, and assisting his father making moonshine. At 19, Harris left home to ramble, working a range of jobs across the country: he roofed in Tampa; drove railroad spikes in Sacramento; shrimped in Key West; served as a maintenance man at Dodge in Detroit; he labored at pulpwood mills in Florida and Alabama, and as a cement block worker in Georgia. For all his traveling, Harris frequently arrived back to Phenix City, where Mitchell found him n 1981. With his older brother Eddie, Jimmy Lee played at rent parties, where the host served liquor and food to pay the rent. Much of the duo’s repertoire, including “Sitting Here Looking A 1000 Miles Away,” was traditional to the Lower Chattahoochee Valley region. The brothers claim the biggest influence on their style was a local woman in her 40s named Seesa Vaughn, who was also from a musical family. Harris died from a heart attack in the early 1980s, not long after Mitchell recorded him.

FRED FUSSEL: Jimmy Lee was very outgoing, a really friendly guy. He was prone to take a drink, but everyone was. Eddie Harris aimed to be another Jimmy Reed, but Jimmy Lee preferred acoustic. Jimmy Lee had incredible skill as a musician, more so than Eddie. He had spent an extended time in jail, and one thing he had taught himself was to play harmonica without a harmonica. He would cup his hands over his mouth and use his voice, and you would swear it was a blues harp. It was uncanny. He could do it and play guitar at the same time. In jail, he had the nickname “Harp Boy” even though he never played a real harmonica.

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