This summer, Hollidaysburg native turned Nashville country musician Jeff Harris got a call that made him cancel his personal European vacation to play five shows in Turkey and Italy.
Harris didn't take these shows to make a ton of money or play to large audiences. He volunteered his time to play for U.S. troops stationed overseas - something he's wanted to do for a long time.
"It was the chance of a lifetime," Harris said of the tour, which happened in early August and was arranged through Armed Forces Entertainment, a branch of the USO. "I don't think I've ever played for more appreciative audiences in my entire career. ... I was honored and flattered. Not only was it a highlight in my career, but also in my personal life."
Harris is a 1988 Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School graduate and was 17 years old when he started playing guitar and writing songs. He began his career playing venues like Four Dees Lounge in Altoona, and worked as a DJ for Altoona radio station WVAM. Harris went on to receive a degree in music business from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and moved to Nashville to write, perform and continue deejaying.
After landing a deal with a music publishing company in 1997, Harris has been able to record 10 studio albums and tour all over the world.
"I have been more places in my life with a guitar on my back than I imagined a boy from Hollidaysburg, Pa., would be," he said. "I've seen more of the world than I ever thought I would, and it's all because of music."
Harris said his shows for the troops were played on overseas military bases, usually in the social clubs made available to the soldiers. He has always had a great appreciation for the military, which is even greater now after the opportunity to play for them.
"If I can make them smile and bring a piece of home for a couple of hours, I will gladly do that," he said.
Cindy Smith, Harris' sister who now lives in Key West, Fla., where Harris has also relocated and regularly performs, said she's proud that her brother was able to follow his passion and was willing to give back to such a worthy cause.
"It's important to him that they protect our country," Smith said. "He is a good, strong-hearted man and respects them and what they do. ... He really puts his heart and soul into it and gives the audience the best show he can every time he plays.
Harris will release a new album, "All The Good Ones," in October. For more information, visit www.jeffharrismusic.com.
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.