“A rock star posing as a club act.” This is how a talent buyer at a local nightclub once characterized Joey Harris. A guitarist and a singer and a songwriter, Harris was solid gold even back when he was new and fronting a pop-rock hair band called the Speedsters. MCA released his first solo album in 1983. Granted, some years have been kinder than others, but today the Mentals can be counted among the best of San Diego’s hometown rockers. Every note Harris plays is genuine and time-tested. Nothing is wasted. And in that way, he makes it look simple in the same way that a Richard Thompson can likewise rock his aging ass off and make it look simple.
These days, Joey Harris lives in La Mesa. Stories abound. My favorite took place at a recording session with the Tornado Magnets where Harris was overdubbing a guitar solo. He rejected take after take. This went on for hours. To my ear, each take sounded flawless, but Harris was not pleased with his work. “Because it doesn’t sound pretty,” was what he said later when I asked during a break before he went back into the studio.
Joey Harris did not found the Beat Farmers, but he did manage to inject a new sound into the ’80s tour stars, and he became synonymous with the brand. Aside from the perfect yin-yang of Harris’s and Jerry Raney’s guitars, Harris’s larger contribution to the Beats was in his songwriting. Following the Farmers’ demise, Harris would move on to a Beat Farmers knock-off with Jerry Raney called Powerthud, a harder-rocking band that was possibly an early version of the Mentals. The Powerthud lineup included a pair of locals who would eventually become Mentals: bassist Jeff Kmak and keyboard player Joe Longa. Mojo Nixon has appeared in place of Longa, who is currently recovering from an illness. Otherwise, no change in volume: bring earplugs.
Joey Harris & the Mentals: The Tiki House, Saturday, January 19, 10 p.m. 858-272-9734, $3