man of mystery
By Tony Russell for
Peppermint Harris, who has died aged 73,
was a blues singer best known for his
party song I Got Loaded, a 1951 jukebox
hit. Although he wrote lyrics for B B King
and Etta James, his early success was
followed by obscurity before he enjoyed a
small revival among blues enthusiasts.
He was born in Texarkana, Texas. In
1947, after second world war naval
service, he moved to Houston, where he
met the city's most famous blues-singer,
Lightnin' Hopkins. 'Playing the blues in the
old days,' he remembered, 'was like being
black twice. That's what Lightnin' Hopkins
told me.' Having no interest in playing
guitar, he was no threat to Hopkins's
status, and the older man introduced him
to the local Gold Star label, for which he
made his first recording in 1948.
It was credited to Peppermint Nelson, the
nickname given him by a ballroom owner.
(Everybody had a moniker then.) When he
next recorded, the producer Bob Shad
forgot to write his name on the tape box
and misremembered it as Harris. The local
success of Raining In My Heart (1950)
fixed his professional name as Peppermint
Though his laid-back singing was
distinctive, he took some time to choose it
as his career. He studied speech and
drama at Houston College, playing and
singing the blues for enjoyment. But after
the success of I Got Loaded he took
music more seriously, moving to California
to record for Aladdin and Modern, and to
become one of Modern's staff lyric-writers.
Later he recorded for smaller West Coast
labels, including a fine session in 1956
with the young Albert Collins on guitar, but
by the end of the 1950s he was a minor
When a couple of his recordings were
issued in Britain in the early 1960s on the
unhelpfully titled album Ray Charles In
R&B Greats Vol. 2, Harris was a figure of
mystery, and remained so for 20 years.
He worked outside music, though he had
a spell in a record manufacturing plant,
where operating machines that might once
have pressed his own discs caused him
no discomfort. His temperament was
easy-going, and his recollections of past
employers, such as the notorious Houston
music mogul Don Robey, generally rosy.
Following a Swedish re-issue of his early
sides and some attention from the
specialist press, Harris performed at the
Blues Estafette festival in Utrecht in 1988.
He spent his later years in Sacramento in
California, where he occasionally
appeared in a local club, before moving
recently to New Jersey to live with his
Harris, blues singer/guitarist
Texas-born blues singer/guitarist Peppermint Harris, who topped
the R&B charts in 1951 with his massive hit "I Got Loaded," died
March 19, 1999, in Elizabeth, N.J., at the age of 73.
Born Harrison D. Nelson Jr., July 17, 1925, in Texarkana, Texas,
Harris met his idol, Lone Star blues great Lightnin' Hopkins, while
strolling down a Houston street. Hopkins offered encouragement,
and in 1948 the newcomer cut his debut 78, "Peppermint
Boogie"/"Houston Blues," for Gold Star Records under the billing
of Peppermint Nelson.
It was Bobby Shad, owner of Sittin' In With Records, who
changed Nelson's surname to Harris, purely because Shad failed to
make note of his correct name when recording him in Houston.
Harris' first Sittin' In With release, "Raining In My Heart," was a
national R&B smash in 1950. Shad recorded him extensively,
though seldom in professional studios (legend has it one date was
held in a Houston bordello).
By June 1951, Harris had switched over to Eddie Mesner's Los
Angeles–based firm, Aladdin Records. Once again, lightning struck
his first time out on the logo with "I Got Loaded," a self-penned
booze ode that topped the R&B lists and made Harris a star.
Though Harris played guitar on stage, he usually left that to Tiny
Webb or Chuck Norris on his Aladdin sides; under saxist Maxwell
Davis' direction, "I Got Loaded" and its many follow-ups into 1953
(including the lyrically related "Have Another Drink And Talk To
Me," "Right Back On It" and "Three Sheets In The Wind")
featured top West Coast sessioneers. After leaving Aladdin, Harris
waxed solitary releases for Modern, Money, RCA's "X" logo,
Combo, Dart, and in 1960, Don Robey's Duke Records, where
Harris cut "Ain't No Business"/"Angel Child." In 1965, Harris
hooked up with Stan Lewis' Jewel label and made six 45s for the
company over the next few years, including a remake of "Raining
In My Heart." He was still active recently — Collectables issued a
new Harris album, Texas On My Mind, in 1995, but it only
displayed intermittent glimmers of Harris' former lusty drive.