WHITTLE: Mickey Harris goes global
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By DAN WHITTLE


At age 3, he had a toy guitar.

At age 9, a real bass electric model had Mickey faithfully playing music each Thursday night for aging and ailing veterans at York VA Medical Center and the little "Leanna Opry"in the old  building.

 At age 10, Middle Tennessee native Mickey Harris touched musical history,  to wit, by playing backup to legendary Uncle Dave Macon with deep Cannon and Rutherford county musical roots.

At age 36, the locally-grown minstrel strums and strolls all over the world with internationally acclaimed Rhonda Vincent and her Rage band.

More about that first electric bass guitar: "Grandfather Jack (the late) Tomberlain bought it for my birthday. His band needed a bass player, so that's what got me started."

More about playing for the veterans: "Because my father, Eddie (Harris), worked in healthcare at  hospital, they permitted me, at under-age 9, to come into Dad's ward and make music for the veterans with my family, headed up at that time by Grandfather Tomberlain. We did that several years for the veterans." 

More about making history with the late great Uncle Dave Macon: "I was age 10, when our family's band was asked to back Uncle Dave in a local performance. I sheepishly warned the legendary Uncle Dave, I didn't know any of his songs. I'll never forget his words: 'My songs are simple, you'll be OK.' With Uncle Dave's confidence, I must have done fine."

And into the new 21st Century  the music plays on, as evidenced last month when he and a group of family and friend musicians picked, harmonized and honored Rutherford resident Grandmother Louise (music maker) Tomberlain at Murfreesboro's Farmer's Restaurant on her…shhh…don't share with anyone, her "80th" landmark birthday.

Rutherford/Cannon county music royalty was there, including 84-year-old legend Billy Yearwood who dates back to the 1940s picking with Mickey's extensive music-making family, that includes the Tomberlains, the Tiptons and the Leonards.

On the wall at 's WGNS Radio, hangs a historic picture of Mr. Yearwood, who can be heard each Saturday morning making music at historic Readyville Mill Restaurant.

That 1947-era picture shows Mickey's  (late) Uncle Carl Tipton, with (then little and young) Floyd Leonard, a present-day Murfreesboro resident, stroking the strings of a big bass fiddle, and Mr. Yearwood making his steel guitar cry out, blanketing radio land in parts of five Middle Tennessee counties.

While on tour recently in  North Carolina and Arkansas with Rhonda Vincent, whom Mickey has performed with the last 11 years, Mickey described some of his music family roots,

"It's born in us…this music stuff. No reunion goes without music. It runs in the family from generation to generation," Mickey shared over a pile of hash browns and scrambled eggs at an  eatery. "That was evidenced the recent night we honored Grandmother Louise with a surprise dinner and picking session.”

Those  invited guests grew emotional when Louise and her sister, 77-year-old Sophie Tipton, after encouragement from picking session leader Mickey, jarred down on soulful notes of an old Baptist hymnal song.

"My four-year-old son, Jackson, named for Grandfather Jack Tomberlain, walked up that night we honored Grandmother Louise, and asked fiddle player Tom Brantley (of Wartrace) if he'd teach him how to play the fiddle," Mickey shared. " Jackson is already interested in music.

The family's generational music tradition looks safe going into the future.

"Daughter Mikayla (age 6) already loves to sing and loves music, so yes, the generational thing looks promising," Poppa Mickey noted proudly.

Mickey recalls his boyhood days of music, dating back to the regionally-famous "Carl Tipton Show" that aired multiple decades on area radio and TV stations.

"Even when I had a toy guitar, sometimes they'd have us younguns come out on stage, to maybe help introduce a special guest, or to pretend we were making music along with the adult musicians," Mickey continued.

"Grandmother Louise and Aunt Sophie were lead singers with Uncle Carl in that era and we played a lot at the old Leanna Opry on Saturday nights."

Today, Mickey is recognized in the industry as accomplished on multiple instruments, including the Dobro, mandolin, banjo, guitar and bass.

He describes area music heritage.

"Rutherford and Cannon counties are rich in talent, have greatly impacted the  and world music scene, starting of course, with first super star, Uncle Dave Macon," Mickey strummed back in time. "Uncle Dave put Murfreesboro and Cannon County on the map."

"I recall Billy Yearwood going back to the 1940s, with him appearing with legends such as (the late) Kitty Wells and her husband in 1946," Mickey added. "Mr. Yearwood later played with us, when I was a boy, at York VA Medical Center. And today, at age 84, Mr. Yearwood and his music plays on. We have a great music tradition here.”

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