The original electrification of Ben Harper

By Sergio Ariza

By 1997 Ben Harper was the critics choice with 2 records on the market, Welcome to the Cruel World and Fight for Your Mind, which place him in the blues and folk revivalism, mainly acoustic, with his Weissenborn touch playing slide on his knees, what is known as a lap guitar. But that year, with The Will to Live, the equation was going to get into hard rock with riffs reminiscent of Led Zeppelin.  


Right from the get-go Harper gives notice of his new sound without taking prisoners. The first track is Faded, one of the best songs of his career, built on top of a powerful riff played on his Weissenborn acoustic piped through a 150 watt Groove Tube Solo and a Marshall 4x10 together with a Ibanez Tube Screamer, creating his very own sound: angry and dirty. People were saying that Harper electrified himself, but he really got that incredible sound on an acoustic instrument. To round off a great song, he put in a brutal 2 guitar acoustic interlude with the great Al Anderson, who had been Bob Marley’s guitarist since the Natty Dread days. 


But the rest of the record isn’t devalued at all, in Homeless Child he embraces the legacy of one Taj Mahal, with strong roots in the blues, Roses from my Friends is a good half time where he shows off his voice, on Jah Work he toys with reggae on acoustic and gives him opportunity to bring back the great Al Anderson, with The Will to Live back are the potent riffs showing the versatility of the Weissenborn in his hands. Widow of a Living Man gets him back to the most intimate side of his first records, Glory and Consequence is the third big treat on the record where he strengthens his rockiest side, Mama’s Trippin’ is pure late-night funk, and to finish off, he goes back to the sweet, quiet acoustics with I Shall Not Walk Alone.


On this record Harper keeps showing his versatility and broadens his palette that now includes blues, folk, reggae, soul, funk, and rock. On this album he managed to bring the acoustic lap guitar to places never seen before and expanded his fan base thanks to his approach to rock perfectly accompanied  by the excellent Innocent Criminals, bassist Juan Nelson, Dean Butterworth on drums, and percussionist David Leach.  

(Images: ©CordonPress)