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Burn One Down

Ben Harper On The One Song That Made All 4 Of His Kids Get Up And Dance

Family Albums, produced with our partners at Spotify, features influential musicians revealing the songs that they rely on to get their own kids dancing, sleeping, and as fired up about music as they are.

Ben Harper is a 3-time Grammy winner who’s as well known for his reggae-inflected rock as he is for his rock-inflected blues. But, to his kids — 2 sons ages 18 and 14, and 2 daughters ages 15 and 10 — Harper’s just another embarrassing dad who has to sit one row back when he takes them to concerts. We caught up with the slide guitar legend to talk first songs, fast songs, and how he keeps the spotlight of celebrity off them.

On His Kids’ First Song
“Their first songs were when they were in the womb — I played music for them in utero. I kind of wonder if I played it too loud, developing ear drums and that stuff, because I put the speaker right up to the stomach and let rip with everything from Stevie Wonder to Bob Marley to Bob Dylan to A Tribe Called Quest. I’d be hard pressed to give an honest answer to what their first songs were after they were born, because there was just always something on the turn table. Music is the daily diet, so I didn’t specifically say, ‘Ok, this is the first song.’ Maybe I should have.”

On The First Song That Got Them Dancing
“Mother And Child Reunion” by Paul Simon. That got all the kids up and dancing at a young age.

On The First Song That Inspired Them
“My son was 2 or 3 and I was blasting “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix. He comes running in the room says, ‘Daddy! Daaady! … I love this music!!’ Job? Done.”

On The Other Songs In Heavy Rotation When They Were Young
“Green Onions” by Booker T And the MGs; “Ooh Child (Things Are Gonna Get Easier)” by Five Stairsteps, “Pass The Peas,” by The J.B.’s, and “Maybe Tomorrow” by Stereophonics.

On Getting Turned On To New Music By His Kids
“My oldest has incredible taste. She was into Ed Sheeran before he was a household name, so it’s come full circle from my turning them on to music, to now she turned me on to Ed. My proudest concert moment was taking my daughters to see him, and they would barely let me sit in their row — they just blew me off. Afterwards, I hadn’t told them I got backstage passes, so we got to meet Ed. All of a sudden, I went from the least cool guy to the coolest guy on earth.”

On Raising Kids In The Spotlight Of Celebrity
“I turned off the limelight a long time ago; I ride the bus with my kids when we hang out. The limelight thing, there’s no stopping that. It’s too high a place to fall from, so I never hiked them up that hill. We keep our boots on the ground.”

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