Matt Harmon's life inspires second album
Longtime University Heights resident Matt Harmon is about to release his second album. Called Childhood Dreams, the album tells the story of a man who meets the woman who becomes his wife, and they have a child. The man starts resenting the fact that his life isn’t what he imagined it would be. He drinks too much and becomes mean. His wife eventually leaves her husband, taking the child with her. The final three songs on the album are in the voice of the child, who has grown up and has become a musician and songwriter.
The album’s story is based on Harmon’s actual life. Now 40 years old, he was born on a U.S. Air Force base in Utah, where his father was in the military service. The family then moved to England; when Harmon was three, his parents divorced, and he and his mother came back to her home in University Heights.
“My dad and I would visit in the summer,” Harmon said. “But when I was 13, we stopped seeing each other. I didn’t get along with his new girlfriend, and she didn’t like me coming around. That was a pretty rough summer, and after that, I never really connected with my father again.”
“I always played around with the piano as a kid,” said Harmon. “I just loved harmony and playing basic chords by ear. But I was never a very good student, because I had a lack of tolerance for institutionalized academics. So structured piano lessons scared me away, and it wasn’t until I got my first guitar when I was 15 that I really found my musical ability.”
Harmon attended Heights schools, including Wiley Middle School and Heights High. While he was in high school, he became friends with Harry Bacharach, a piano player and songwriter who is still on the Cleveland music scene. “Our friendship was invaluable,” Harmon said. “It gave my confidence a big boost, and, as we evolved musically, we would share the stage with each other.”
After graduating from Heights High in 1993, Harmon attended Cleveland State University for a year, then transferred to the University of Oregon in Eugene, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electronic media production. Bacharach also went to Oregon, and the two continued to play together. “We performed countless parties and gigs,” Harmon said. “And we wrote a folk opus called ‘The Green’s Blues.’ It was about a romantic relationship interrupted by the evacuation of planet Earth. We performed that show three times to packed houses, and it was very well-received.”
After college, Harmon moved to Los Angeles, where he hoped to be a sound designer on major films. He managed to land a job as a sound editor on television shows and made-for-TV movies. After a couple of years, he became frustrated with his inability to make ends meet, and he decided to move back to Cleveland.
After returning home, he landed a gig as the rhythm guitarist for the JiMiller Band. Jim Miller is a guitarist whose group plays a mixture of blues, country, Cajun, bluegrass and jazz music. While playing with that band, Harmon got to open for Little Feat at the House of Blues, and Rusted Root at the Tower City Amphitheater. “I got a really good taste of what it takes to be a professional musician,” he said. “But after a great few years, I was still a bit restless. I wanted to be playing my own songs in the traditional folk-singer style.”
Harmon left the band and began doing more solo gigs. In 2012, he released his first CD, Cosmic Yonder. The album comprises 11 songs, all of them written and performed by Harmon, with various backing musicians. He also took a job at Cuyahoga Community College's eastern campus, where he is a classroom technology specialist.
In 2007, Harmon, who is single, bought a house on Ellison Road in South Euclid. His mother still lives in University Heights, and he loves the Heights. “There are so many great musicians in this area,” he said. “And the arts are so important. Even though I live in South Euclid, I still feel like I am a part of the Heights.”
Harmon hopes to have the Childhood Dreams album out by the end of 2015. He wrote all of the songs on the album, and plays guitar. Gary Neherny plays drums, and Kevin Johnson plays bass. On Nov. 29, Harmon will play a three-hour show at the Barking Spider in University Circle. “I’m going to play a mix of originals and covers in the first half of the show,” he said. “Then I’ll take a little break and come back up with some great musicians and play my new album live, in its entirety.”
In addition to performing, Harmon also teaches guitar. For more information on the album, or lessons, visit www.mattharmonmusic.com.
James Henke, a Cleveland Heights resident, was a writer and editor at Rolling Stone magazine for 15 years. He is also the author of several books, including biographies of Jim Morrison, John Lennon and Bob Marley.