Corey Harris was an adjunct player in the "Mermaid Avenue" project helmed by Billy Bragg and Wilco. But with the "Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions" box set arriving April 21, the roots music troubadour says he has fond memories of working on the collections of "new" Woody Guthrie songs.
"It was a great experience," Harris, who co-wrote "Hoodoo Voodoo" on 1998's "Mermaid Avenue" and played on the 2000 sequel, tells Billboard.com. "I got to meet Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, and talk to her about her dad. I got to be around Wilco and Billy Bragg... and see how they work, which was cool. We recorded some in Chicago and some in Ireland; being in Ireland was a cool experience, also."
Harris adds that watching Bragg and Wilco work was illuminating as well. "In a lot of rock and pop music, it seems to me they go into the studio and have an idea, roughly, of what they want to do and then they start to write a song," he explains. "Whereas the way I like to do things and the way it's done in the blues is you have a song together... so you're recording something you're really comfortable with and have been playing for a long time, not getting into the studio and writing material. So it was interesting to see how they do things."
Harris adds that, "I'd be lying if I said I felt Woody's spirit" during the "Mermaid Avenue" sessions. "It would look great on paper, but, no I can't say I felt his spirit. I didn't really know much about Woody Guthrie... so it was more about me getting to know him because I met his daughter and got to see his lyrics, which were photocopies of his handwritten lyrics from the archives in New York. So I felt like I was collaborating with someone but at the same time I was just meeting him, too."
Harris is busy these days with his own music, promoting his 2011 album "Father Sun, Mother Earth" with his Rasta Blues Experience band. He also filmed a documentary about his life and career on March 17, when he played a pair of shows at Callahan's Music Hall in suburban Detroit, which was filmed by the American Music Research Foundation.
"It'll be about my music and how I put together what I do, and talking about the people I've worked with. It'll cover the gamut," says Harris, who also appeared in Martin Scorsese's 2003 PBS miniseries "The Blues." "I look at it like this; I produce a product, and I want people to know what I'm producing. I want people to know my message, and opportunities like this allow me to get my message out... and tell people to hold to your roots, to hold to your traditions, and by doing that you can chart a course for the future."