Michael Reno Harrell was born on the Tennessee side of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. His family migrated there from western North Carolina the year he was born and he spent his youth traveling back and forth between the two states on winding mountain roads through places like Del Rio and Hot Springs. With his mountain roots running many generations deep, it’s not hard to see where much of Michael’s love for story telling arises.
His songs have been described as “Appalachian grit and wit” but, as his writing shows, Michael’s awareness is much broader than the bounds of his boyhood home or even the Southern experience. Having toured throughout the British Isles and much of Europe, as well as most of the USA, the songs he writes reflect an insight into people’s experiences that catch the ear like an old friend’s voice.
Having been a teenager when the Folk Boom of the early 1960s was in bloom, Michael traded in his drum kit for a used Kay guitar and decided to it was time to hit the road in search of what Woody Guthrie was singing about. His travels took him to folk festivals, fiddlers’ conventions and bluegrass festivals all over. Traveling around with pals like David Holt and Steve Keith, he listened to the old time sounds of some of the great old mountain singers like Clarence Ashley and Bascom Lamar Lunsford. There were cowboy singers in little towns like Cerillos, New Mexico, and Atlantic City, Wyoming, and bluesmen in Memphis and Clarksdale and rock ‘n rollers everywhere, not to mention Country music from Nashville. It’s only natural that writers like Michael are called “Americana.”
Trying his hand in the Nashville songwriter’s scene in the late 1980s, Michael seemed on the road to country music success. Artists such as Doug Stone and Perfect Stranger were cutting his songs. But the farther down that road he traveled, the more he realized that it wasn’t the right path for him. He moved to North Carolina and got completely away from not only the music industry, but from music all together, sometimes not even picking up his guitar for months at a time. Then, slowly, he began to regain his musical strength and now and again a line or two would sprout and a couple of chords would fit together. With the encouragement of his wife, Joan, and his close friends, he began to write and soon got the urge to play again.
Soon there were enough new songs for a CD and Michael returned to Nashville, this time to record his own music. That record went to #16 on the Americana chart. The next to #11. Backed by such greats as Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and other Nashville heavies didn’t hurt either. Now, over a decade and seven CD’s later, Michael is going stronger than ever, playing over 200 shows a year at festivals and venues throughout the country. Americana radio stations keep spinning his disks and they always end up on Top 100 lists year after year.
An award winning songwriter and storyteller, Michael was the kid who begged “Tell me what it was like” from family members like “Motorcycle” Eddie Cole, who owned the first motorcycle in those parts, to his compadre Stover Mason, who was still raising fox hounds at 103, Michael gathered facts, fabrications, and fibs which have seeped into his stories and songs like mountain rain. Humor was what helped get those old timers through a hard existence and it is a big part of Michael’s performances today.
His natural knack for storytelling has earned him praise from not only the music community but from the storytelling world as well, being asked to perform at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, numerous times. His humor and wit as well as the emotional depth of his work keep his fan base growing and staying tuned in for whatever comes next.