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Real life ramblin’ man to play at Mojo's Dec. 7

J.P. Harris and the Tough Choices just might change your mind about country.

Published Nov. 29, 2012

It’s 1 p.m. in late November, and J.P. Harris is braving the Texas sun outside a bar.

With a drink waiting for him inside, he talks fast through his cellphone. The last year has been a bit of a whirlwind. The release of his debut country album, I’ll Keep Calling, garnered attention around the country, keeping him on the road for most of the year. Even Nashville, the typically conservative, pop-country music factory, is noticing the rising star.

“As much absolute garbage that comes out of that town, they’ve opened their arms pretty wide to me,” Harris says.

Harris and his band, the Tough Choices, aren’t redefining country music so much as they are playing a kind of honky tonk music that hasn’t been heard in nearly 50 years. With influences such as Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Ray Price, Harris plucks a purer brand of country music. A pedal steel guitar weaves its way up, down and through his songs of heartbreak, drinking and rambling. Harris croons with so much emotion in his voice it’s hard not to feel the way he does.

His past is almost a clichéd country musician checklist in itself. He hit the road at 14, lived in a cabin in the woods for a decade and then moved down to Nashville for his country music career. But Harris says his love of country wasn’t always present. When he first picked up a guitar, he wanted to be in a punk-rock band.

“When I left home when I was 14, I was traveling around on the hoof, and I started to realize I couldn’t carry around an electric guitar and an amp,” Harris says. “So I started learning more traditional music because it was the only way I could play on the road.”

It would be easy to label Harris as a revivalist. On the contrary, he is crafting a genre all his own while introducing a new generation to classic country tunes. That punk influence can even be heard in his rambunctious song “Gear Jammin’ Daddy.”

“The most common comment I get from most people is, 'Really, I’m not a country fan, but your album is great,’” Harris says.

While the praise floods in, Harris says he's focused on playing shows and writing more songs, not changing the entire musical landscape. And although the road can be grueling, Harris is set on furthering his career.

“I’ve burned out a lot of dudes,” Harris says of previous tour mates. “It’s a pretty rough way to make a living. Everyone thinks it’s cocaine and lap dances all the time, but it’s really not like that.”

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