[Part three of the New Music from the Past 30 Years series]
John Wesley Harding (real name Wesley Stace) introduced Gangsta Folk to the vernacular back in the mid-80s and has been a force on the scene ever since.
Harding’s first album was a solo live affair called It Happened One Night. Releasing a live album as your first effort is pretty rare, and it wasn’t until his second album, which included “The Devil In Me,” that he gained traction. That album not only increased his popularity, but also kicked off comparisons to Elvis Costello. Though he did have two ex-Attractions band members playing with him, I think the comparisons are more because of his clever song-writing and sometimes similar vocals.
I first heard Harding after “The Devil In Me” came out, but had nearly forgotten about him when Rick, a guy I worked with at PC World in San Francisco, asked me to join him at Great American Music Hall to see Stace play.
After waiting for awhile, I went to the nearest payphone (we used to use those prior to the ubiquitous nature of cell phones) and called Rick, only to find out he was ill and not coming. So, I watched solo as Harding came out with his band performing, in secret (for those who didn’t know what he looked like) as the “opening band” called Outhaus. He then came back out as himself with the band, to the surprise of at least half the house (including me).
John Wesley Harding is one of those performers who truly engages the crowd and is so open, clever and witty that people just open up to him.
Harding didn’t go on to much fame after that – although he did have a prominent song in the film High Fidelity, “I’m Wrong About Everything.” He has since continued to release albums and add to his repertoire by penning (I love that word) two books – “Misfortune” and “By George.”
Here’s the video for “I’m Wrong About Everything.”
And here’s a good example of John Wesley Harding’s lyrics and subject matter with “People Love To Watch You Die.”