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Ben was raised in a hub of activists, poets, artists and of course great musicians. They included frequent patrons such as Chris Darrow, Leonard Cohen, Jackson Browne and Taj Mahal – the latter of whom gave Ben his first major tour and asked him to record Follow the Drinking Gourd with him (1990), all of which culminated in playing with Taj on Austin City Limits (which would become the first of five times Ben would be on the show).
After his successful tour and record release with Taj Mahal, Ben returned to California and in 1992 teamed up with childhood friend Tom Freund to record Pleasure and Pain. In 1993 Virgin Records offered Harper a worldwide recording contract and he released his debut, Welcome to the Cruel World in 1994. The album was created with musicians who would eventually become known as the Innocent Criminals (percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson and drummer Oliver Charles). What makes the band so unique is that they come from different places musically and complement each other because of the different styles that they play. This led to a string of successful and critically acclaimed albums and the accolades poured in. Rolling Stone hailed his “jewels of unique and exquisitely tender rock & roll,” while Entertainment Weekly praised his “casual profundity,” and Billboard said his music “reminds us of the power and beauty of simplicity.”
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