In an industry that prides itself on being anti-establishment, Greg Harris is the man. And as the CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Harris has his own unique set of challenges.
“Everybody is passionate about the bands that they care about the most, and the challenge is being relevant to all rock and roll fans when there is such a wide range of musical tastes,” Harris says.
The 49-year-old Cleveland, Ohio resident will take the stage at TEDxSMU on November 1 for a talk titled “Our Soundtrack.” CultureMap recently chatted with the rock and roll exec about his upcoming trip to Dallas, his favorite bands and what he loves about his job.
CultureMap: Can you give us a teaser of your TED talk?
Greg Harris: I’ll be sharing stories about the songs themselves and playing some music. I believe when you look at anything, not just a song, you have to look at it beyond its own existence. You need to look at it in the cultural context of when it was created to get the full picture.
“Rock and roll is this great unifying feature in our culture. It cuts across all spectrums,” Harris says.
Rock and roll is this great unifying feature in our culture. It cuts across all spectrums. We say it is the most powerful art form ever created. It is the music that changed the world.
It helped us think differently and has really been a change agent. At the same time, it is something that brings us together and unites us. When you can hum a few bars of a song and the whole audience chimes in, it’s pretty remarkable.
CM: Your talk is called “Our Soundtrack.” What songs would be on your soundtrack?
GH: It would have to include some early rock and roll and roots music. I personally like music that has a little extra edge and grit to it. That includes old blues, old country, rockabilly, garage bands, punk rock as well as what we are calling today Americana. I’m a huge fan of people like Doug Sahm.
CM: What are the challenges of being the establishment end of an anti-establishment industry?
GH: Rock and roll is always pushing the envelope. And one of the challenges for us is to stay relevant. The music that was pushing the envelope a few years ago is pretty standard now. We have to continue to move and evolve as music evolves. Rock and roll has never just been four guys with long hair and guitars. Rock and roll has always been diverse type of music.
You could have Bridge Over Troubled Water and Purple Haze and The Supremes, and that’s all rock and roll.
CM: What’s your favorite band at the moment?
GH: I’m glad you said “at the moment,” because it changes regularly. I always seem to go back to the Rolling Stones, and right now I am really enjoying the Everly Brothers. We are honoring them with a tribute concert in Cleveland on October 25.
CM: Who was your first concert?
GH: My first big concert was a huge Southern rock show with the Allman brothers, The Outlaws, Charlie Daniels and Molly Hatchet.
CM: What’s the best part about your job?
GH: The best part is the way the music connects and inspires people. Everybody has a favorite song or a favorite band; when visitors walk through our front door, that’s inside them. If we can connect with that, we can inspire them in ways that few can.
CM: What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
GH: They might be surprised to know that I can’t sing to save my life.
CM: What do you want readers to take away from this interview?
GH: Anybody who has grown up with this music has got to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. We have been open for about 20 years and had 10 million visitors. Anyone who grew up with this music has got to make the pilgrimage to Cleveland.
TEDxSMU takes place November 1, 9 am-6 pm, at Dallas City Performance Hall. Tickets cost $150 and include breakfast, lunch and access to the after-party. Buy them while supplies last.