The Rock Legend of Don Harrison (Part 2)

Let us return to those loose and lazy Oregon City days of my youth and I will I try to recall the details of the Legend of Don Harrison with accuracy. It’s all a little hazy, imprecise, and I am going deep into the vortex of my memory to get the story right and set the record straight. Because what is a legend if it’s not true?

In 1979-80, I knew absolutely nothing about rock. I didn’t own any rock records. I suppose my first education in rock was watching Don Harrison live rock and roll right in front of me.

Don was a big dude, long haired, and wore faded Levis and threadbare rock t-shirts to school every day. I definitely remember a Ramones t-shirt, because I’d never heard of the Ramones. I can’t remember him ever wearing a coat or carrying a bag.

He hated disco and I recall many tirades against it. He once lavishly praised Rocket to Russia and I thought he was talking about American Cold War policy. Turns out it was a Ramones’ record released in 1977. How he heard about it Oregon City in that era seems impossible to reconstruct. Did we have a record store in town then? Did Don find his way to Crystal Ship or Music Millennium or For What It’s Worth records shops?

I believe Don played an electric guitar, yes it was electric, but I don’t recall the model. He didn’t use an amp because the teacher wouldn’t allow it. The rest of us played cheap acoustic guitars provided by the school and sat up front for instruction. Don sat toward the back, on the highest row of a classroom constructed with risers for choral music. He towered over us as he riffed away—The One and Only Riff.

Smoke on the water / fire in the sky

You know, when I think about it, Don nailed that riff. How could he not. He only played it over 32,000 times that semester if my math is right, and it is because my stepfather, a former high school math teacher crunched the numbers:

A nine second riff
A 52-minute period
Five periods a week
Eighteen weeks in a semester
= over 32,000 times

Smoke on the water / fire in the sky

If that isn’t a world rock record of some kind, then I don’t know what a world rock record is.