by Barney Quick
That the blues-based trio Harsch Reality would confound your expectations is statistically unlikely. Let’s face it, there are thousands of small groups playing aggressively delivered, riff-driven shuffles in bars and clubs throughout the land. Most of them pay tribute to their guitar heroes with perfunctorily rendered licks, but you can be completely confident that you will not hear one derivative note in an entire Harsch Reality show. This band has taken a format tried thousands of times and come up with a totally original sound.
Even on their spontaneous, stretched-out jams, guitarist Rob Harsch, bassist Darrick Day, and drummer Marty Kerr pay close attention to each other, giving each other subtle cues that can signal changes in tempo or volume. This level of interaction is the result of hundreds of gigs in the current lineup’s five-year existence. “Every show is a snapshot in time,” says Harsch.
The three are striving for the feel of such onstage connection on their soon-to-be-released second studio CD. They’ve made every effort to keep multiple takes and splicing of tracks to a minimum.
To be sure, the nod to heritage comes through in the music. One can tell that Harsch, Day and Kerr have spent countless hours listening to classic blues records.
For Harsch, it got started nearly twenty years ago, in his sophomore-year theory class at Brown County High School, with teacher Dave Shank. “He’s a very hip guy,” says Harsch. “One day he called me to the front of the room after class and put on a record. He said, ‘I don’t want you to say a thing until this song is over.’ It was ‘Sweet Little Angel’ by B.B. King. He knew I was hooked, so he started bringing in all these old LPs. He told me all about Albert King, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton’s career going clear back to The Yardbirds.”
Harsch was already musical buddies with Day, so the passion was contagious. One minor glitch was the need to upgrade Harsch’s gear. “I had this Japanese Strat with one pickup,” says Harsch. “It was horrible, a piece of kindling, really. Every day at lunch, I’d scarf down my food and go to the band room and play Darrick’s guitar. I’d figured out how to pick the lock on his case. He said, ‘Hey, man, if you ask, I’ll let you play it, but don’t be breaking into it.’”
The two were in several configurations, including a previous incarnation of Harsch Reality. They came across Kerr through the recommendation of Crooked County’s Toby Purnell.
“This band is unlike any other musical group I’ve ever worked with,” says Kerr. “No one has an ego problem.” Add Harsch, “It’s kind of ironic, given our name, but in our five years together, we’ve never had an argument.
The band is well-known around central Indiana, but it has had some interesting experiences elsewhere, too. At the 2006 Super Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida, it was hired for an official function to serve as the rhythm section for a country singer, doing his material. That singer was supposed to be the warmup act for Sammy Kershaw, but the headliner was a no-show. “We played on the pier where cruise ships were coming in,” recalls Harsch. “That’s where Donald Trump arrived. It was pouring rain. We were waiting to get electrocuted. Kershaw never even came off his bus.”
Their sets are currently showcasing material from the upcoming CD. Of particular note are such originals as “Dollar Sign” and a couple of minor-key ballads, “Lewis Stratley,” which tells the story of a legendary guitar player, and the signature “Harsch Reality.” These give Harsch the opportunity to lay down some particularly snaky lines and state his musical case in double time. The Lonnie Mack shuffle “Chocolate Crème-Filled Cookie Blues” never fails to fill the dance floor.
The group feels good about its new record and has some goals for the coming year to further the momentum. All the members feel ready for a multi-state tour. “I think the time is right to play some festivals, too,” says Day.
While crafting a unique sound is important to all of them, Harsch sums up the main reason for their success: “This band has proven to us that music can be fun.”
For more information, call Darrick Day at