Story by DANNY MOGLE // May/June 2017
Charlie Harrison gets excited when he talks about growing up in Houston and listening to the bands that kept the city’s thriving honky tonk scene in high gear.
“My favorite place in the whole world was Blanco’s,” Harrison says of the music landmark that closed three years ago. “The best country music bands came through there every Friday night.”
A melting pot of cultures and music, Houston attracted country purists like Gary P. Nunn, zydeco bands from southern Louisiana and vocalists belting out the blues.
“A lot of different things were coming together,” says Harrison, the lead singer and driving force of Charlie and the Regrets. “Houston embraced country music but not in the same way Fort Worth or Dallas did. We had a little more of zydeco and other sounds here than elsewhere.”
Harrison says all those musical influences are heard in the band’s debut album, “Rivers in the Street.”
Harrison has been playing music, writing songs and singing most of his life. While a student at The University of Texas, he was in a band that covered country hits in the city’s raucous Sixth Street club scene.
After college, he married and landed a good job in the Washington D.C. area, but the pull of Houston was just too strong. He came back and formed Charlie and the Regrets.
The band is made up of bassist Mark Riddell (one of Harrison’s old friends from back in high school), lap/pedal steel guitar player Willie T. Golden, drummer Isaias Gil and guitarist John Shelton.
Charlie and the Regrets released a self-produced EP in 2014 and then took their time putting together their debut album, which was released this year.
It can be tricky to nail down exactly the genre Charlie and the Regrets falls into. Their music has been described as “an eclectic collection of bohemian-infused honky tonk,” “Americana with Texas soul” and “alt-country/Americana.”
Harrison says that Golden definitely contributes a “swampy, bluesy feel” to their sound but that he doesn’t get too wrapped up in trying to put a label on the music they make.
“I think that we kind of have a uniquely Houston sound,” Harrison told Lone Star Music web magazine. “You know, Houston has this kind of amazing mix of blues and a little cajun and rock ’n’ roll and country, and I think we kind of have a little bit of all of that in this band.”
In a phone interview he adds, “I think of us as a country band doing Texas country music. The stuff that has always influenced me was Jerry Jeff Walker and the music that was coming out in the ’70s.”
Harrison says his songs come from his experience of growing up in Houston’s less glamorous neighborhoods where life’s lessons are learned the hard way.
“It starts with an idea that I sorta want to expand on,” Harrison says of the inspiration for songs. “It (each song) has some element that has a personal truth. … The fact is that things were not always great for me and there were things that I did to myself. The fact is I was a screw-up for a while.”
The first single is “Time Moves Slow,” a song about a working man who is stuck waiting for something good to happen. It features Kam Franklin, the lead singer from The Suffers, another Houston band.
This may be the proverbial make-or-break time for Charlie and the Regrets. Although the band has a devoted following on the Gulf Coast, it is still an unknown quantity to most people.
“It’s nerve wracking,” Harrison says. “We have radio shows coming up. We’re on the road more. Our points on the map (where we perform) continue to grow. We’re trying to connect with people, to go get in front of them. We want to get into Oklahoma and Louisiana and expand out slowly from there.”
Just how well songs like “Houston Rain” and “Baytown” (a blue collar Houston suburb) will go over in other parts of the country is to be seen.
For now, Harrison is keeping the faith. “I’m going to push this as hard and as far as a I can.”
And he knows he couldn’t get rid of his Houston influences even if he wanted to.
“Perhaps I could make a lot more money making something (musically) different but I just have a hard time seeing the point. Everything I believe in would fall. I can’t be a mouthpiece for something I don’t believe in.”
Harrison vows he’s not changing a thing and that the men in the band are friends who are happy to be going through this experience together.
To put it another way, Harrison has no regrets.