Leesburg country singer/songwriter Stephen Harrell recently finished recording his first album.
ALBANY The cliched life story of most musicians goes something like this: I started playing (an instrument of choice) at age (usually between 2 and 10) and practiced until I was good enough to perform in front of an audience.
Stephen Harrell is no cliche.
The Leesburg-born-and-raised country singer/songwriter didn’t pick up a guitar until his freshman year of college, and it was no long-held love for music that inspired him.
“My freshman year at Georgia Southern, I went to a bonfire with one of my buddies I’d played football with in high school,” Harrell, a musician, acountant, husband and father of an 11-month-old son, said. “He started playing and I saw how everyone reacted to him, especially the girls. I decided right then maybe that was something I wanted to do.”
So Harrell, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting from Southern, went online and found a website that taught the basics of the guitar. He taught himself to play and soon talked himself into a regular gig at a bar near the college.
“The more I played the guitar, the more natural it became to me,” Harrell said. “As I got more comfortable playing, I started to hear what I need to do to sing along to the music.”
As Southwest Georgia country music fans will attest, Harrell’s method worked. Now well-known regionally as the frontman of Stephen Harrell & the Dusty Boots Band — and five years a CPA with the Albany-based Draffin & Tucker firm — the singer’s growth as a songwriter has also advanced exponentially. So much so, in fact, Harrell decided to collect 10 of the tunes he’d written or co-written onto his first solo album.
Recorded with producer Gary Dibenedetto at the latter’s Studio D in Moultrie, “Times Like These” offers a portrait of an artist who is just now starting to test and expand the boundaries of his talents.
“I’d written some songs with (fellow rising country artist) Cole Taylor for his last album, and we just kept writing,” Harrell said. “I had no interest in recording the songs at first, but after we got about four or five songs in, I changed my mind.
“I’d written songs before, but I’d never taken it seriously. I ended up with 25 or so songs, and Gary helped me work through the basics (of recording) in his studio. I was pretty proud of what we came up with.”
Fans of the singer will get an opportunity to purchase a copy of “Times Like These” and hear Harrell play the tunes live at an album release party Saturday at Big Rax on Westover Boulevard in Albany. The 10 p.m.-2 a.m. show will be preceded by an invite-only pre-party from 7 p.m.-9 p.m., at which fans may meet Harrell and hear him play acoustic versions of his tunes.
After Harrell started playing acoustic shows at Statesboro-area bars and clubs, guitarist Jason White asked if he could sit in. The pair played together for a while before a pair of Kappa Sig frat brothers — drummer Eli Giddish and bassist Bridges Holwell — signed on and the quartet became the High Cotton Band.
“I thought we were all right until I played some tapes from our shows a few years later,” Harrell laughs. “We weren’t very good. But we had a whole lot of fun.”
After graduating college and finding a job in Albany, Harrell found a regular acoustic gig at a club on Lake Blackshear. The owner of the club, Jim Harrod, asked to join in, and for the next year-plus the two played shows together. They brought Shawn Radford on board to play bass, and the trio “found” drummer Josh Edwards on Facebook.
That quartet was the original lineup of the Dusty Boots Band.
When life carried the band members in different directions, Harrell recruited drummer Craig Shugart, bassist Steve Husley and guitarist Tim McDonald — all of whom had played together in bands before — and Dusty Boots rode again.
“I really love playing in this region, playing local shows,” Harrell said. “I have no desire to ever be a touring recording artist. I’m comfortable where I am; I enjoy my job and I want to be with my family.
“A perfect scenario would be for me to be a CPA during the week, to write songs at night and on weekends and then have other artists record my songs. Of course, I still want to get out there and play the local gigs. I enjoy that part of it, too.”
No one should be surprised that Harrell’s idea of a country music career is anything but typical. The man operates, after all, in a no cliche zone.