Keith Harrison has never forgotten the day he saw his mother read and play music on the piano for the first time.
He was 18 and had taught himself to play.
“I started crying,” the Dayton funk legend said. “I don’t know if it was tears of anger or it was tears of sadness.”
Keith, the only Grammy award winner among Dayton’s famed funk artists, knew his mother could play, but until that point at the piano on his family’s Jefferson Twp. farm, Keith said he didn’t know she could also read music.
Dorothy Harrison, now 90, remembers it differently saying she didn’t have to teach him to read music because he had “natural talent,” but Harrison says he remembers his mom telling him she didn’t teach him because his dad didn’t want him to learn how to play.
“He said it (music) was all drugs and alcohol,” Keith, now 65, said. “I got so mad and I said I am going to prove to him wrong. I am going to make it in music. He wanted us to be laborers. He said ‘I don’t care if you push sh!& up and down the street, you are going to get a job’.”
Keith, a graduate of Jefferson High School where his mom was an art teacher, had taught himself to play long before realizing his mom could read music.
IN UTERO FUNKSTER
Keith says he has always loved music. His mom told him that when he was in the womb, he’d pat his feet every time she played music.
His parents bought him an organ at 10.
He and his high school friends practiced on the family farm.
Funk music put Dayton on the map as the Land of the Funk in the 1970s and '80s thanks to groups Including the Ohio Players, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame, Zapp, Faze-O, Heatwave, Sun, Slave and Lakeside.
After a stint in the Air Force and being stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Keith got back together with some of those high school buddies.
Keith secretly grew his afro out, patting it down flat when he was on duty so as not to seem out of line with Air Force regulations.
His band was signed by Clarence Satchell of the Ohio Players and eventually that band became Faze-O.
Its biggest hit, “Riding High," continues to be sampled by hip-hop artists.
After Faze-O, Keith went on to be a member of the Dayton funk band Heatwave and then the Cleveland-based group the Dazz Band.
He penned its hit "Let It All Blow."
Harrison won a Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal Grammy Award with the Dazz Band for 1982’s "Let It Whip.”
He left the Dazz Band and the road in 1992.
Throughout his career, Keith has worked with a list of artists that includes Jeff Lorber, Ray Parker Jr., Ohio Players, George Clinton P-Funk All Stars, Lo-Key, Charlie Wilson and Morris Day and the Time.
He appeared on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” with the Time in the mid-’90s and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hug the talk show host.
FUNKY NEXT CHAPTER
Keith plays three instruments — the bass, drums and piano — and is set to release his first solo CD, “One Love,” on Monday.
The R&B album includes dance songs like “Kardiac” and love songs like “Baby Don’t Cry” and “I Give My All to You” that show off Keith’s writing and singing skills.
Click here to find the CD on Amazon.com.
“It is about one-on-one relationships,” the father of two adult daughters said about the CD to be released to most major online music stores and services.
He’s been married to his high school sweetheart and frequent muse, Deboria, 44 years next month.
Ironically, Keith — one of five children born to his parents — credits his dad, James Harrison, and a revelation from God he got after being diagnosed with prostate cancer for the push he needed to start that project.
“He said ‘this is going to be the one because it is you’,” said Keith, the co-owner of JulKei Records. “’It’s about you.’”
Keith had prostate cancer surgery following the 2013 diagnosis and says he is doing well and cannot wait to share his new music.
“I think there is something on the album for everybody,” he said.
>> MORE: 5 join Dayton walk of fame
Cancer that started in the elder Harrison’s prostate had spread to his bones.
Keith’s walk of fame marker is near Williams and Third in the Wright-Dunbar neighborhood.
During the induction ceremony, he got choked up talking about lessons learned from his parents and family and Dayton’s love and support.
His home studio and the hallway leading to it are filled with memorabilia and awards recognizing his music career, but the former executive director of Camp Fire USA Greater Dayton Area Council said the Dayton Walk of Fame honor is the one he is most proud of.
“That was a big moment of my life,” Keith said. “This is something that will always be there. I will be dead and gone. My grandkids will be dead and gone. Generation after generation will see that; that’s why it is so awesome to achieve that.”
He only wishes his father were there to see it.
Although he loves music, Keith said his father was right about the lures of drugs and alcohol in the entertainment industry.
“The Faze-O days — those were dark days getting high and drinking,” said Keith, who is writing a memoir. “You are a country boy. You got a big hit and you got hundreds of thousands of people coming at you.”
He rattled off a long list of drugs he indulged in from Acapulco Red and Thai Weed marijuana to cocaine and “boy” (heroin).
"I was drinking alcohol like it was going out of style,” he said. “By the grace of God, I am still here.”
Keith said he had calmed down by his Dazz Band days and would often spend his touring nights in hotels while the rest of the band was out.
The part-time office assistant for the Montgomery County Ex Offender Re-entry Program said he looks forward to his future in music.
“I am hoping to sell a huge amount of music and perform,” Keith said. “I’ve even got the next CD lined up, Smelled the Funk,” he said.
>> MORE: Legendary Ohio Players member dies
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