MUSIC TEACHER PRIDES HIMSELF ON THEORY; the JU Associate Professor Has a Long History in the Music Industry

Article excerpt

Byline: ADAM AASEN

Every year associate professor Thomas Harrison sees Jacksonville University music students who naively think they'll be the next Metallica or Lil' Wayne.

What they don't know is that the record industry can chew them up and spit them out. He knows that first-hand.

He has the glittery spandex to prove it.

Harrison was a long-haired, 18-year-old guitarist in a 1980s glam rock band named Jynx. He had a record deal, but it fell apart, and his rock-star dreams never came true.

"I always tell my students, 'A bad deal is worse than no deal at all,' " he said, "but it's hard to really learn that until you live it."

There's no time for regrets. Harrison is too busy.

As an associate professor of music business at JU, he teaches a lot of courses, including intellectual property law, music entrepreneurship, the history of rock and pop music, heavy metal in the 1980s, record company operations, song writing, record production, acoustics and recording, and artist and concert management.

He's also writing two books on the history of music in the 1980s and 1990s and he's a top academic scholar on the rock band Van Halen.

(Yes, Van Halen can be seriously analyzed. He wrote, Van Halen: The Music and the Fans, 1978-1986, a published textbook on how the band changed through the David Lee Roth years and with the shift to Sammy Hagar.)

On top of all of that, Harrison produces music for local bands and plays guitar in his own heavy metal group, The Spring Equinox.

His life just as hectic as a rock star's on tour.

NOT A HEAVY METAL INSTRUMENT

When he was 10 years old, Harrison began playing brass instruments. By 13, he had switched to guitar because, he said, "I figured I couldn't play tuba in a heavy metal band."

In high school, he played in Jynx, a Denver-based band that used lots of Stiff Stuff hairspray. Instead of partying all the time, Harrison spent his time learning to read music. Every day before school, he'd practice his scales with a metronome.

Harrison sent the band's tape to record executives and, through sheer luck, an executive liked it. In 1988, the band signed with Reindeer Records, a small recording company out of Portland, Ore. Harrison thought they were going to "become bigger and bigger."

Unfortunately, he said, the deal was a rotten egg.

The record company had a stipulation that the band would pre-sell 200 copies of the album before the company would start pressing any copies. The band had no clue how difficult it would be.

"Do you know how hard it is to sell records when you have them in your hand?" he said. "Now try to multiply that by ten. That's what you have to do when you pre-sell [records] off a form."

Feeling disenchanted, Harrison quit Jynx and eventually joined a heavy metal band produced by Geoff Workman, who worked with bands such as Dokken, Motley Crue, Queen, The Cars and Journey. Workman introduced Harrison to another side of music: recording and producing.

"I was always interested in it and I figured I would do it when I was old, fat and lost my looks," he said. …