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The Carl Harvey

An interview with Toots & the Maytals guitarist and solo artist, Carl Harvey

Carl Harvey by Tina Hall
February 2011

Carl Harvey has been playing the guitar since the age of 13. Although he has worked with bands like Crack of Dawn, Aggrovators, and Willi William, he is best known from his work in Toots and the Maytals, where he has worked for well over 25 years. He has also worked as a record producer, producing four albums for Messenjah (two of which gained Juno Award nominations). He also produced a recording from Juno-winning artist Kim Richardson and Sway. Harvey has won an Grammy for his work with Toots and The Maytals for the Best Reggae Album of the Year in 2004 on the album True Love. He is also a solo artist with The Carl Harvey Project. His solo album The Times is available now.

Maximum Ink: What is it like in Jamaica? Do you remember what it was like to relocate from there to Toronto?
Carl Harvey:  I have mixed memories about my life as a child in Jamaica. Some are happy and some very sad. My parents immigrated to the U.S. when I was very young and then to Canada. I went to join them in Toronto when I was 12 yrs old. Integrating into a whole new environment and being reunited with my parents along with my younger brother was a bit tough at first. I had to deal with a whole new social dynamic. I arrived in Toronto a day or two before having to go to a new school in a new country. It was scary and exciting at the same time.

MI: What were you like as a child?
CH: I had a very curious mind and read a lot. I was a child that cared and had a strong sense of justice. I was very sensitive to the suffering of others especially after having done some suffering myself. Even as a child, I had a great appreciation for nature: the beauty and the sheer awesomeness of it. I used to like lying on the ground and gazing at the sky, wondering what was really going on out there.

MI: I read you first became interested in music via Jimi Hendrix. What was it like to hear his work for the first time?
CH: I was interested in music long before Hendrix. My Dad was the church organist, and I used to watch him practice. I would try playing a few things when he was done. I was around seven at the time, and I was always trying to make music. I played the comb (like a Kazoo), then harmonica, and after that, the recorder. At age 11, I went to a boarding school where I joined the cadets, mainly to be in the drum and bugle corps. A foreign student and fellow cadet introduced me to The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.  Those groups kindled my earliest interest in rock ‘n’ roll, and the guitar influenced music. After my first year there I migrated to Canada where I was exposed to a whole new world of music. A friend in high school introduced me to Jimi Hendrix, and I was hooked. I had started to play the guitar before discovering Hendrix, but once I started to listen to him playing the guitar became an obsession.

MI: What do you think you’d be doing right now if not for the music?
CH: It’s hard to say. I was thinking about a military career at first, then I thought that I would do well in advertising. I would most likely be in the military but who knows.

MI: What did it feel like to first get signed to Columbia while working with Crack of Dawn? Do you ever find yourself amazed that you are making a living doing what you love?
CH: It was very exciting at the time. We were really young, and we all had stars in our eyes. We were writing history at the time, and we weren’t even aware of the importance of it. Some of my fondest memories in music are with that band. We’ve been talking about doing a reunion project. I’ve had to pinch myself a bunch of times. Sometimes this business can be very frustrating and taxing, but there’s nothing else I would rather be doing. There are other levels of success I would like to enjoy, but I appreciate every moment I’ve spent doing what I do. Getting paid for making music is a bonus.

MI: What made you decide to try your hand at producing?
CH: I was spending a lot of time in the studio as a session guitarist, and I always had a knack for technology. I would hang out with the engineer and producer, and then I started to assist with mixes. It was something that evolved naturally. It wasn’t like one day I got up and said, “Well, I’m going to start producing now.”

MI: Several of the artists you have produced have either been nominated for or won Juno Awards. Did you ever imagine that would come about when you first started in the business?
CH: Not when I first started. My dream was to become another super guitarist like Hendrix or Clapton but work got in the way. When I started to produce, I put the same energy in it as I did in my playing. My first objective was to create something that the artist and I could be proud of. Winning awards and getting accolades were not on my mind. I’m happy that I won them because it validates what was done, but if I am not happy with a project then I really couldn’t care less if it won an award or not.

MI: How do you think the business has changed most since you started your career? How would you most like to see it change next?
CH: The biggest changes have taken place in technology. Some of it has really hurt the business and some has opened up a whole new set of opportunities. When the medium being sold to the public was vinyl, there was no easy way of copying and distributing an artist’s intellectual property. There were people doing it, but they were professional Bootleggers. Now with the Internet and digital transfers, some people won’t even think of buying music. Piracy has become the norm, and it is making music sales non-profitable for artists. On the other hand, the same mediums offer unprecedented access to the public and new marketing possibilities. An artist no longer has to risk spending a lot of money to manufacture CDs that may sit unused in boxes. YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, and iTunes are all game changers. I would like to see the system change in a way that rewards those who spend time and money creating music and other art. We need the creators to thrive so that they can continue putting quality product out for everyone to enjoy.

MI: What has it been like working with Toots and the Maytals for the last 25 plus years? What have you learned from the experience? You recently played The Jimmy Kimmel show with them. What was that like? Do you still get a kick out of such things?
CH: Working with Toots and the Maytals has been an unbelievable experience. I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively and to get paid doing a job that many would do for free. I’ve had the privilege of working with and sharing the stage with some of the most prolific artists of our time. I’ve done Nine major concerts with The Rolling Stones and world tours. I’ve opened for Carlos Santana and toured with Dave Mathews. Overall, I could write a book about the many fantastic experiences I’ve had and will continue to have. However, one thing that I’ve learned is that we only have the moment and when it’s gone, it’s gone. If we’re crossing the street we have to put our consciousness in that moment. It’s not about what we’ve done in the past or may do in the future. I have seen friends who have tried to live in their glorious past turn to drugs. It’s the right now that counts the most.  But, I still get a kick out of calling friends and saying “hey I’m on TV tonight,” such as when I was on Jimmy Kimmel. Doing the actual show is not all what people think. There’s a lot of sitting around and waiting and testing and waiting and then bam, you’re on in front of a live audience. You’ve got to go from zero to a hundred pretty quick. It’s a blast. One thing I avoid is looking at myself on the monitors. I’ve got to stay in the groove and in the moment.

MI: Can you tell our readers a little more about The Carl Harvey Project? What led you to create that?
CH: Over the years of playing for and producing different acts, I always felt that there was something that was not being expressed. The Carl Harvey Project was formed to give me that expression. I come from a background of Rock, Blues, Funk, Soul, Reggae and Jazz. I want to be able to create music where the only boundaries are the ones created by the imagination and technical ability. The Carl Harvey Project is about self-expression and being unleashed.

MI: What is the best advice anyone has ever given you, and who was it? What do you like to do when you’re not working?
CH: The best advice I ever received was to “be unto others as I would like others to be unto me.” That advice came from my Mom. It’s more important to be a good person than to be a great guitar player or anything else. It matters what is said when I leave the room. When I’m not working, I like to spend time with family and friends.  I also follow world events, practice the guitar, and try to contribute to humanity. The aforementioned all comes out in the music in the end. Life is a constant symphony.

MI: What projects can your fans looks forward to next?
CH: I’m just about to start recording some new tunes with The Carl Harvey Project. The new songs will be a collection of covers and originals, and this time I plan on infusing more reggae into it. I also plan on relinquishing some of the vocal work to others so I can focus more on playing. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get going with this. The readers can check out cuts from the CHP live on YouTube.


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