Harmon comes from Taylorsville, in the western North Carolina Smokies. He is approaching his material from a distance but not much of one. He didn't somehow avoid modernity altogether; when he was young he started a construction business, and he later lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He had a few wild years, but then, like Amish young people who are given the chance to sample life in the world outside, he returned to carry forward the tradition that had come down to him through several generations.
Lately he's started writing traditional country songs, and these too are small revelations. They are cast in the forms of songs by Hank Williams and his honky-tonk successors. "Low River Bottom and Blue" takes off from "I'll Never Get out of This World Alive":
| I went down to the river for to save my soul. |
I was ready, but the river was low.
I said, "Lordy, lordy, lordy, what's a poor boy to do
Keep a dirty soul and the low river bottom blues?"
It's almost as if Harmon is approaching these forms for the first time (which of course he isn't). He treats them with wide-eyed seriousness, creating long chains of stanzas with rough-hewn but deep images.
In short, the small-town newspapers in Harmon's part of the world that have called him an authentic mountain man pretty much have it right. Jerry Harmon and his band, the Smoky Mountain Gypsies, come to the Ark on Tuesday, May 16.