“Nashville needs good ol’ country guys like you.” - Luke Bryan, country music star
“You’ve got a great voice!” - Katy Perry, pop music star
“Trust yourself to go to Nashville and get in the business. You can circle the pond, but one day you’ve got to jump in the water.” - Lionel Richie, legendary singer, songwriter and producer
It would be easy to say that country singer-songwriter Ryan Harmon had been circling the pond for the first ten years of his musical journey. In 2020, however, he’s jumping in the water.
Drawing from musical influences like Travis Tritt, Hank Williams Jr., Luke Combs and Bob Seger, and lyrical influences like Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine and Roger Miller, Harmon seeks to continue country music’s long tradition of "three chords and the truth," while adding a healthy dose of rock and roll.
The 25-year-old Arkansas native (“Lamar By-Golly Arkansas,” to be more specific) became an instant internet hit, after his performance of his original song “I Knew This Would Happen,” during an audition for season 3 of ABC’s American Idol in March 2020. The video of his audition has racked up over 10 million views on Facebook and over 1.5 million views on YouTube, with thousands of viewers echoing the advice of celebrity judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan for Harmon to set his sights on Nashville, as opposed to Hollywood.
Harmon’s latest album “Country Fried” features a new, acoustic version of “I Knew This Would Happen,” along with the band version of the song that was released as a single in February 2020. The song has reached over a half million downloads and streams, while Harmon has received coverage in major outlets such as Billboard and USA Today, highlighting his musical style, humor and personality.
What seemed like the beginning of an underdog story, however, was really part of a long, uphill climb. In the chorus of “Encore,” Harmon jokingly refers to his story as a “ten-year, overnight sensation.”
Harmon’s musical journey has seen him constantly working to prove himself against odds that, at times, seem unrealistic. Nowhere was that more true than when he decided to carve his own path as a solo acoustic performer.
For years, Harmon struggled to find his place as a performer. From his early days as a solo electric act to a brief period where he used pre-recorded backing tracks, he knew he wanted to push the boundaries of what a solo act could be, he just didn’t know how.
That changed in October 2013, after attending a workshop conducted by legendary guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel. Emmanuel, a solo acoustic player, has been quoted as saying "If you want a big crowd, make a big sound." Taking that quote to heart, Harmon began to approach his live performances with the same passion and energy as an arena band. Through his percussive guitar style, Harmon makes up for the lack of a drummer during his performances, even using his guitar for drum fills during songs.
Harmon's performing style has allowed him to play for a wide range of audiences, from hard rock to modern country, including opening slots for country stars Drake White and Jeff Bates.
The same passion and determination he has for music has followed Harmon to another avenue - broadcasting. In 2019, he created “Country Fried,” the first podcast to ever be produced for Arkansas PBS. The podcast miniseries, which ended in February 2020, featured in-depth conversations with influential figures in country music such as Charlie Daniels, Marty Raybon of Shenandoah, Barbara Fairchild, Bobby Bones and more. In August 2020, Harmon started “Ryan Harmon: American Born and Country-Fried,” featuring his vibrant personality, musical knowledge and conversational style. The podcast is available on Facebook, YouTube and select podcast providers.
Harmon’s songwriting has always focused on real life and real people, as evident on his 2017 self-titled, debut album, which saw Harmon abandoning modern production standards for a stripped-down, low-fi recording that allowed the songs to stand on their own, good or bad.
The release featured songs such as “Hold on Sally,” fueled by a mix of bluegrass and early Johnny Cash; “Ride The Wind,” a Bob Seger-influenced, upbeat ballad about a desire for personal freedom; and the emotional, introspective “Find Your Heart.”
One of the album's more prominent songs, the humorous, yet true, "You Left, My Dog Died, and My Heart Did Too," was featured on an NPR Music playlist of dog-themed songs in January 2018.
Just one listen to Harmon’s latest album will give people a glimpse into his life story, from his childhood to the present. It features songs like “Country Fried,” about his memories of his grandparents’ small town and farm; “Where it All Began,” a nostalgic look at the venues and crowds where Harmon paid his dues; “My Cross to Bear” and “Down to the River,” both of which explore Harmon’s struggles over past mistakes and the road to redemption; and the self-explanatory “My Grandpa,” which features beautiful instrumentation by country and bluegrass musician Tim Crouch.
"It doesn't matter if it's a love song, a sad song, a funny song, etc. Life throws all of those different emotions at us. As long as people can relate to it and enjoy it, I feel like I've done my job," Harmon said.