Chris Harford is a musician who was born and raised in Princeton. Every time his music has led him away, it’s always drawn him right back to his hometown.
Harford plays guitar, sings, and writes songs with two local bands, the Band of Changes and Wayside Shrines. The Band of Changes is based on a “revolving door” concept, in which hundreds of musicians rotate in and out for varying gigs and venues.
“That’s what keeps it sort of fresh and exciting for me—to continually meet and get to play music with different musicians,” Harford says.
His other band, Wayside Shrines, is made up of a handful of Princeton professors, including English professor Nigel Smith and creative writing professor and famed Irish poet Paul Muldoon. The band began when Harford met Muldoon at Small World Coffee in 1991. The name Wayside Shrines comes from the title of one of Muldoon’s poems.
Harford’s interest in music, however, began much earlier. In high school, Harford would play music with his friends in their basements. Soon after, he left to attend Connecticut College in 1980, where he founded the band Three Colors. He would later transfer to the Massachusetts College of Art and graduate in 1985, but he stayed with his band.
Three Colors, he said, was where he really began to find a voice as a songwriter.
“We went through a lot of different styles. We really explored what it’s like to be in a committed band for seven years,” he says.
After the band started their own label, Soul Selects, in Boston in 1984, Harford and his band saw a raving review of one of their records in the New Musical Express, a music newspaper based in London. The reviewer had tried to reach them by telephone, but the band had disconnected their phone because they couldn’t afford to pay the bill.
The band contacted the reviewer, who then became their manager, left for London and went on to sign a record deal with Making Waves Records in the UK in 1986. In 1991, Harford went on to sign with Elektra Records.
In his long music-making career, Harford has recorded in the same studios as Bob Dylan and Jimmy Hendrix once did, and has formed relationships with artists like Andrew Weiss and Richard Thompson as well as the band Ween as he continues to develop his own style.
“My style of music is really basically just rock and roll and American folk music,” he said. “My hero is Neil Young, basically, and the Beatles, Bob Marley. I remain in awe of them.”
Although many musicians have inspired him, Harford said that his family was a huge influence in his musical career. The youngest of four children, he would often search through his siblings’ record collections. His mother was an avid painter and his father appreciated words and music.
“My father loved music and he would sit by the fireplace in his rocking chair and play on his ukulele songs like Pennies from Heaven,” he said. “I look back now and realize what a huge influence that was.”
After all this time, Harford said he has learned how important music is to the people around him.
“It’s so vitally a part of people’s lives,” he said. “There are connections that we make in life that surpass what seems like artificial stuff. You get to the crux of what living is like and that’s what music is to me. It’s vital. It allows you to deal with the suffering, no matter how hard it is.”