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Don ''Sugarcane'' Harris

Photo by Dewey Terry
DON "SUGARCANE" HARRIS, THE ROCK & ROLL SINGER-guitarist-fiddler who, as half of Don & Dewey, made some of the late '50s' scorchingest discs, died of congestive heart failure Tuesday, November 30, at age 61. Born June 18, 1938, in Pasadena, Harris -- a classically trained violin prodigy -- was introduced to boogie-woogie and blues by lifelong friend Dewey Terry circa 1950. The pair eventually joined the doo-wop outfit the Squires, then struck out on their own as Don & Dewey, quickly establishing themselves with an aggressive brand of supercharged rock & roll. Signed to Specialty Records, home to the frantic Little Richard and Larry Williams, Don & Dewey songs like "Justine" and "Jungle Hop" had an electrifying, untamed quality, while ballads such as "The Letter" clearly anticipated the modern soul style. "Farmer John" became a Los Angeles anthem, while subsequent covers of "I'm Leavin' It Up to You" made it 1974's BMI-certified most-played song of the year. Notably, the pair produced their own sessions, with Harris laying down some of rock & roll's most propulsive-ever bass lines; then, after he sanded down the bridge of his fiddle, jammed an old Victrola stylus into it and wired it to a guitar-pickup jack, Harris introduced the electric violin to the blues with unforgettable style and a sweetly funky tone that led R&B kingpin Johnny Otis to dub him "Sugarcane." When the duo drifted apart, Harris plunged into wild musical (and chemical) realms with John Mayall and as a member of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention. A strong draw on the 1970s European circuit, he recorded eight solo albums in Germany (insisting on flying Terry over to contribute) and during the mid-'80s worked the postpunk club circuit with Joey Altruda's Tupelo Chain Sex. Sugarcane was "such a free spirit," Dewey said, "that at times he'd be hard to find. I had to go looking for him." Despite Harris' failing health, Don & Dewey occasionally re-emerged, and Terry continued to record Harris extensively. A renegade auteur, the likes of whom we won't see again, Harris made a distinctive mark on every facet of rock & roll he took on. Survived by a rich musical legacy, a daughter in North Carolina and two sons he lost touch with years ago, Sugarcane died alone in his Los Angeles home.

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