Harrison Ford – The Iconic Actor Who Found His Passion in Music
Harrison Ford is one of the most iconic and beloved actors of all time. Ever since his breakout role as Han Solo in the original Star Wars film in 1977, he has been a massive star and household name. But beyond his acting talents, Ford has another creative passion – music. Throughout his life, Ford has found joy and fulfillment in playing the guitar and writing his own songs. His love of music and live performance was heavily influenced by a seminal event in his youth – seeing the Beatles perform live in 1964.
The Beatles’ Legendary 1964 North American Tour
In August 1964, the Beatles embarked on their first official North American tour. The tour consisted of 20 shows in the US and Canada over the course of a month. By this point, the Beatles were already massive stars in Europe and had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show earlier that year. But their 1964 tour cemented them as a worldwide phenomenon and helped kickstart the “British invasion” of rock bands finding success in America.
The tour was groundbreaking not just because of the Beatles’ innovative music and style. It also featured them performing in large stadiums and sports arenas, venues that were unconventional for concerts at the time. Their first show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco had over 17,000 people in attendance. Every stop on the tour was met with “Beatlemania” – screaming, crying, and fainting fans overwhelmed with excitement.
Seeing the Beatles Live – A Life-Changing Moment for Ford
On August 21, 1964, the Beatles played a show at the Seattle Center Coliseum. In the audience that day was a young Harrison Ford, who was 22 years old at the time. Ford vividly recalled this concert as one of the most impactful experiences of his life. He said seeing the Beatles live made him “want to be a musician” and that it felt like being transported to “a different world”.
In a 2007 interview with Variety, Ford elaborated on how the concert influenced him:
“Seeing the Beatles live was like being in another world, a world suffused with joy, madness, and the ecstasy of pure creativity. The music was inspiring, liberating, free from convention. The audience was thrilling and the feeling of community was empowering. It made me want to be up on that stage.”
Ford was especially struck by the camaraderie between John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Their tight chemistry and musical talent showed Ford the human potential when people come together to create art. The Beatles’ performance that day sparked something in Ford and led him down the path of honing his own musical skills.
Teaching Himself Guitar as a Developing Actor
In the years after the life-changing Beatles concert, Ford taught himself how to play the guitar. This was during the late 1960s when he was first getting his start as a film actor. Some of Ford’s earliest roles were uncredited appearances in movies like Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round in 1966.
As Ford slowly built up his acting resume, he spent his free time learning guitar. He has said he never took formal lessons and that he is predominantly self-taught. He learned by practicing chords, mimicking songs he heard on the radio, and jamming with fellow actor and musician Robert Vaughn. Guitar provided a creative outlet for Ford as his acting career developed.
His Early Bands – Roadium Club Band and Universal Mind
Once Ford sharpened his guitar skills, he began playing in bands in Los Angeles in the 1970s. His first band was called The Roadium Club Band. Ford played guitar and sang backing vocals with the lead vocalist Bucky Reno. They played predominantly blues rock and covered artists like Jimmy Reed and Hank Williams.
Ford’s next band was called Universal Mind. They played original songs in a psychedelic rock style. The band consisted of Ford on guitar, Reno on lead vocals, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds on 12-string guitar, and several other LA-based musicians. Universal Mind wrote trippy, melodic songs but never formally recorded an album. Ford’s musical ambitions were sidelined as his acting opportunities increased through the mid 1970s.
His Breakout Acting Roles in the Late 70s
Ford’s acting profile rose significantly starting with his role as Han Solo in 1977’s Star Wars. What was expected to be a low-budget sci-fi film became an international pop culture phenomenon and made Ford a household name. Around this same time, he starred as the resourceful hero Indiana Jones in another iconic blockbuster film series created by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.
Ford rapidly ascended to the top of Hollywood’s A-List thanks to the wildly successful Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. He reprised the role of Han Solo in two Star Wars sequels and played Indiana Jones in several sequels and a 1990s television series. Ford’s portrayals of these beloved characters turned him into one of the most famous actors in the world during the late 1970s through the 1980s.
Staying Connected to Music Throughout His Stellar Acting Career
Even while starring in some of the biggest movies of all time, Ford never lost his passion for music. He found time between blockbuster film shoots and press tours to keep honing his guitar and vocal skills. Music remained a grounding creative force for Ford as his celebrity status grew.
In the 1980s, Ford played guitar in the celebrity cover band The Hollywood Vampires alongside Alice Cooper and other rock stars. He continued playing live shows at charity events and parties over the following decades. Ford also put his own recording studio in the house to work on writing original songs.
Close friend and collaborator Jimmy Buffett said Ford always brought his guitar on set and would play during breaks in filming. By making music for his own fulfillment outside of his acting, Ford achieved admirable work-life balance.
Releasing His First Album in 2010
After years of playing guitar and writing his own music, Ford finally compiled his songs into a studio album in 2010. The album is called Harrison Ford: The Handyman and it consists of covers of classic blues and rock songs. It provides a window into Ford’s musical inspirations and talents apart from his iconic film roles.
In a statement about the album Ford said, “I’ve been playing guitar and singing with bands for decades just for fun. I’ve wanted to record an album for years and I finally got around to doing it.” The Handyman reached respectable chart positions thanks to Ford’s star power. But more meaningfully, it represents Ford fulfilling a lifelong dream purely for his own creative gratification.
Highlights of The Handyman include Ford’s soulful takes on songs like “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “Dust My Blues.” His gritty, expressive vocals breathe new life into these blues standards. The album showcases Ford’s skills not just as an actor, but as a deeply musical artist. Reviews praised his authentic and commanding performances.
Performing Live with Jimmy Buffett, John Fogerty, and Don Henley
In 2016, Ford took his musical talents to a live performance at the Kennedy Center Honors. He performed alongside Jimmy Buffett and John Fogerty to pay tribute to honoree the Eagles. They played a rousing version of the Eagles’ classic “Take It Easy.” Ford held his own on vocals and guitar alongside these legends, evidence of his impressive musical chops.
Ford also performed live with Buffett and Don Henley at a 2020 benefit concert. Playing these shows fulfilled a dream for Ford, who had vivid memories of how live concerts made him feel as a young man. Sharing the stage with other greats kept Ford’s passion for music alive in his later years.
Continuing a Lifelong Love of Guitar in His 70s
Now in his late 70s, Harrison Ford shows no signs of slowing down either his acting or musical pursuits. He is slated to reprise his role as Indiana Jones once again in a 5th installment due for release in 2023. Acting remains a passion of Ford’s that he pursues with contagious joy and energy.
Likewise, Ford continues playing guitar regularly as it provides centering creative fulfillment. He has been seen in recent years casually playing his guitar on hotel balconies while traveling for film shoots. Ford also enjoys jamming with other high profile musician friends like Ed Sheeran.
In 2017, Ford said this about his lifelong relationship with guitar:
“I started playing guitar as a hobby and creative outlet. I never intended to be a professional musician. But music brings me balance amidst the madness of Hollywood. Playing guitar will always be a source of fulfillment no matter how old I get.”
This quote encapsulates Ford’s admirable commitment to music outside of his acting. Guitar grounds Ford and enables him to tap into his artistry in a personal, intimate way. His story shows that creative passion can strike at any age and provide joy for decades to come.
Harrison Ford’s Enduring Cultural Impact
During a career spanning over half a century, Harrison Ford has had an enormous impact on popular culture. His portrayals of Han Solo and Indiana Jones are rightfully iconic. He has brought gravitas and humanity to these beloved heroes, securing his place in cinematic history.
Beyond his specific roles, Ford has come to represent certain quintessential American ideals. As an actor, he radiates rugged masculinity, quick-wittedness, and an unfaltering moral compass in the face of danger. As a musician, he embodies the restless creative spirit, channeling inspiration into his craft.
Ford’s cultural influence stems not just from his skills, but from the obvious joy he takes in his work. When audiences see Ford light up on screen or on stage, his passion is contagious. This has solidified Ford as a paragon of living life to its fullest.
At the end of the day, Ford appreciates his good fortune and remains humble. He once said, “I’ve been lucky enough to land some remarkable roles. But I’ve always seen acting as a job, not who I am. Making music reminds me that at my core I’m just a guy who likes picking up his guitar and making some noise.”
This grounded perspective has allowed Ford to handle his fame and success with grace. He’ll always be an artist first rather than a celebrity. As he enters the sixth decade of his storied career, Ford’s cultural legacy is monumental. But equally important is the example he sets of pursuing creativity for nothing more than the sheer love of it. Ford proves one is never too old or established to try something new or follow a dream.