Nathan Kabingesi sits down with house music legend Harrison Crump to chat about music passion, history and his newfound love for South Africa…
It’s a brisk but sunny winter afternoon, I’m about to have a sit down with Harrison Crump and the man waving at me from the other side of the fountain couldn’t be closer to what I expected. Rocking a powder blue shirt over a white tee, jeans and sneakers, he cuts a nonchalant figure as he saunters around the waterworks. Converging on our destination, a café on the square in Sandton, I’m struck by just how charismatic the guy is; he smoothly introduces me to his local go-to guy as we negotiate our way between patrons and waiters to get a spot in the sun.
“I got a request for a track I didn’t have with me, and the guy offered to run home and get the record!”
Immediately cracking a joke about how Joburg winter “Ain’t got nothing on Chicago, man”, Harrison lets out one of those deep, infectious belly laughs that I’m pretty sure he also uses as a form of punctuation. So drawn in by the guy’s good-humouredness, I can’t help but open with the line, “So what brings you to town, my man?”
He launches into a description of the reality TV show he’s shooting, tentatively titled The Secret of Harrison Crump, all delivered in animated yet mellowed out, Illinois drawl. I ask him how it is that a musician from the Chi’ finds himself having an interview in South Africa, talking about making a TV show “Man,” he responds with a huge grin, “Let me take you back to the beginning…”
Born and raised in the South side of Chicago, Harrison Crump started hosting parties as a 15-year-old in his back yard, “Mom was cool about it, as long as I cleaned up afterwards” he quips with a wry smile. He started writing his own music and tinkering with the keys at around the same age, but his transition into spinning didn’t come until he left high school, just as House Music was exploding in the city of its birth, “Man, it was a whole culture you know? We were all about baggy parachute pants that flared out when you danced, wild Mohawk do’s. I remember nights at the McCormick Place in Chicago. There was this fresh, new music, good people; it was an atmosphere you couldn’t help but get caught up in.”
t wasn’t long after enrolling at Columbia College (School of Arts) that his singing and song writing skills caught the attention of producer Felix da Housecat, as Harrison remembers, “Felix was looking for guys to start a group, we met and he was like, ‘Aye man, I heard you can sing, let’s make something happen.’ I guess he didn’t need nobody (sic) else after that.” The two were soon collaborating on tracks like Work That (Chicago Underground) which led to Crump releasing his first self-produced work, a five track EP titled The Underground through Scottish label Hubba-Hubba.
Steady work with labels like Groove On Records and Felix’s Radikal Fear lead to interest from Play It Again Sound (PIAS), who called him up to do an album. This project saw him receive his first substantial income from music, which he immediately used to invest in his music, “I got that cheque, and the first thing I bought was a Roland RS7; I wanted to improve my production, so I started getting equipment together to build a studio” he recalls. Harrison worked as a waiter for a time while he honed his skills, “Man, I used to jack burgers for supper just so I could save money for equipment.”
Putting together his own studio wasn’t without other pitfalls though; in one particular incident, Crump found himself at the end of a .45 while trying to take advantage of a sweet deal to buy a former partner’s equipment, “Those shots went off and for a while I thought I was dead. But when I didn’t feel any pain, I realised just how far I was willing to go for my music.” So he went home, shut himself in his apartment for three weeks and came out with Get Boogie, which he quickly sold to Erick Morillo from Subliminal Records. Follow ups like One Way and Stomp Your Feet were quickly snapped up by Subliminal, and that, as they say, was that, “I’ve been making a living from this music ever since.”
Distribution deals were forthcoming after that, seeing Harrison hook up with Red Devil Distributing who helped bring the hit Gone to local ears. Run Away Dreamer, another of his big local successes, was actually originally written over Felix’s music, which he remade and released with the help of Philip Cheeseman from Strictly Rhythm. He partnered up with PIAS once more to release I Need Your Love, a veritable classic.
But his affair with South Africa, which is now as good a second home to Harrison, didn’t blossom until he ran into our very own DJ Mbuso at the Miami Winter Music Conference, “I had no idea how popular my music was over here until he came up to me and told me how big Stomp Your Feet had become.” An invitation to tour the country soon followed, culminating in a party at the iconic Carfax that he describes as, “One of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. I mean, I got a request for a track I didn’t have with me and the guy offered to run home and get the record!”
When asked about Glenn Underground’s scathing observations in reference to the local house scene, Harrison lets out another rolling laugh before remarking, “Glenn’s a vocal guy and doesn’t care much about what anyone thinks; he’s also been in hot water with the older cats in the House establishment like Vick Lavender for basically saying the originators of the sound should give the game up and retire, so you should take his comments with a grain of salt. He’s never been out here as far as I know; he hasn’t seen for himself some of the quality productions being put together in South Africa, so his opinion really can’t count for much as far as that goes. Some of the best gigs I’ve ever played have been in SA.”
Subsequent trips have only cemented that relationship, resulting in the licensing of the mammoth hit Once Again (Soul Candi), partnerships with his HUMP Records, collaborations with Mbuso on his landmark Reconstruction album as well the release of Crumpster’s latest full length album, House on Fire (Universal) which features the popular No, No, No.
Find his album in all good record stores.