"I never really wanted to use my name and be in the spotlight and carry a project," says Harper Simon. "I always wanted to be like Keith Richards and just play guitar and write for a band."
That might explain why it took the 37-year-old songwriter so long to finally release a solo record. Perhaps he wanted to keep his famous bloodline from becoming more of a focus than the actual music. Simon's father, of course, wrote some of the greatest American pop songs with that Art Garfunkel character. And while the younger Simon grew up surrounded by music, even playing guitar with his old man on a few dates of his Graceland tour in the late-'80s, he spent his formative years rebelliously spinning Germs and Ramones records. It wasn't until his late teens that he finally began to gravitate toward country-folk artists like Gram Parsons and Neil Young.
Those later influences are all over his self-titled debut, a beauty of a record that alternates between hushed folk and rambling country. Simon went to Nashville to seek inspiration, and to find Bob Johnston, the legendary producer who manned the boards for Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited and Simon & Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence. Johnston led Simon to a treasure trove of famous Nashville session musicians, including Lloyd Green and Hargus Robbins—names Simon grew up reading in the liner notes of Blonde on Blonde and the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo.
It's no surprise that he ended up making a classic-sounding country record. "Shooting Star" and "All I Have Are Memories" feature Green's pedal steel spilling over acoustic guitar strums and Simon's easily familiar vocals. Simon spent the better part of three years finishing the album, recording in Los Angeles as well as co-writing a couple of songs with his dad at his home studio in New York.
"I just wanted to make a good album that was in the tradition of the LPs of the '60s and '70s," says Simon, alluding to the classics from Dylan and his father. "I certainly couldn't see making a record that great, but you gotta try."