Stephen Percy Harris (born 12 March 1956) is an English musician and songwriter, known as the bassist, occasional keyboardist, backing vocalist, primary songwriter and founder of the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. He is the only member of Iron Maiden to have remained in the band since their inception and, along with guitarist Dave Murray, to have appeared on all of their albums.
Although he had previously aspired to be a professional footballer, he gained an interest in rock music in his early teens, following which he participated in two small pub bands, Gypsy's Kiss and Smiler, before forming Iron Maiden on Christmas Day 1975. Before Iron Maiden signed their contract with EMI in 1979, Harris worked as an architectural draughtsman in the East End of London until he was made redundant, at which point he undertook a job as a street sweeper. In addition to his role as the band's bass player and backing vocalist, Harris has undertaken many other roles for the group, such as producing and co-producing their albums, directing and editing their live videos and performing studio keyboards.
On 24 September 2012, Harris released his debut solo album, British Lion.
Initially Harris wanted to play drums, but did not have enough space for a drum kit in his house and so decided on the bass instead. Entirely self-taught, his first bass was a copy of a Fender Precision model which cost him £40 in 1971.
Just 10 months after he bought his first bass, Harris joined a band, initially known as Influence and later Gypsy's Kiss, featuring Bob Verscoyle (lead vocals), Dave Smith (guitar) and drummer Paul Sears. After a short number of gigs at the Cart and Horses pub in Maryland Point, Stratford and the Bridgehouse in Canning Town, the band split up and Harris auditioned for a band called Smiler in February 1974. In this outfit, Harris began writing his own songs and worked with future Iron Maiden members Dennis Wilcock and Doug Sampson, but left the band after they refused to play his material, claiming it was too complicated.
Upon leaving Smiler, Harris went on to create Iron Maiden on Christmas Day 1975, with the band's name being inspired by the film The Man in the Iron Mask. Since their inception, Harris has been the band's principal composer and lyricist. His song writing typically showcases his trademark galloping bass patterns and progressive rock-influenced song with several time changes. Recently, Harris' songs have become more progressive, and guitarist Adrian Smith has commented that Harris now prefers contributing "lyrics and melodies and arranging" to other member's songs over writing alone. Harris frequently writes lyrics about mythology, history or topics inspired from books and films, for which Iron Maiden has become notable in sharp contrast to most other rock bands where the themes are typically sex, drugs and rebellion.
In September 2012, Harris released his first solo album, British Lion. Originating with a band, named British Lion, which he managed and wrote with in the early 1990s, Harris kept in touch with its vocalist, Richard Taylor, and guitarist, Graham Leslie, and the album, consisting of 1970s influenced hard rock songs, was written and recorded over a number of years around Iron Maiden's tour schedule. Speaking to Kerrang! in September 2012, Harris stated that he considers the record to be "more of a side-project" than a solo album, as he is more "comfortable in a band environment."
In an interview with Classic Rock in August, Harris stated that he will be releasing more solo albums and hopes to tour with the band in the future.
Harris is often considered among the best and most influential heavy metal bassists. He is most known for his "galloping" playing style: usually an eighth note followed by two sixteenth notes at fast tempo (e.g., "The Trooper" and "Run to the Hills") or eighth note triplets, which he plays with two fingers, rather than using a plectrum. Before playing, Harris often chalks his fingers, to make these fast patterns easier to play, as shown on the bonus DVD for the A Matter of Life and Death album. Iron Maiden guitarist Janick Gers has commented that "Steve taught himself in a way that nobody can really copy it. People say it's like a lead guitar, but it's not. It gives the band a basis and it moves around quite a lot, but it's the tone that he has. Steve has a way of hearing things and a tone that isn't normally associated with a bass, it's more like a rhythm guitar."
Harris' eldest daughter, Lauren, is a singer, releasing a solo album in 2008 entitled Calm Before the Storm, and is currently a member of a band called Six Hour Sundown. With her solo band, she supported Iron Maiden on their A Matter of Life and Death Tour in 2006, as well as the Somewhere Back In Time World Tour in 2008.
In addition, his eldest son, George, plays lead guitar in a band, Burn in Reason, and his second daughter, Kerry, works as a Production Assistant for Iron Maiden.
Harris was divorced from his wife of 16 years, Lorraine, in 1993, and described it as "probably the toughest time I've ever faced." This dark period in his life is credited with inspiring the mood of the following Iron Maiden album, 1995's The X Factor. Harris had four children with Lorraine; Lauren, Kerry, Faye and George, but has since had two more children with current partner Emma; Stanley and Maisie.
A keen footballer, Harris played for amateur clubs as a child and was later scouted by Wally St Pier and asked to train for West Ham United, of whom he has been a fan since he was 9 years old. Although he had aspired to play professionally up to that point, Harris would eventually realise that "it wasn't really what [he] wanted to do." Nevertheless, Harris still plays football regularly with his own team, "Maidonians", and still supports West Ham, staying in contact with the club, and having their crest on his most-used Precision Bass.
Harris was influenced by the progressive rock bands of the 70's, as well as early hard rock bands. His influences include Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Thin Lizzy, UFO, Wishbone Ash, and Yes. Speaking about the early Iron Maiden sound, Steve Harris described the band as utilising twin-guitar harmonies inspired by Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy, complex time and mood changes from Genesis and Jethro Tull, and the dark melodic elements of Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin.
Harris mainly plays a specially-painted Fender Precision Bass, featured on every Iron Maiden album, which has gone through a total of four colour changes since he began using it. Originally white, it was then changed to black prior to the band's first album, followed by blue sparkle and finally white with claret and blue pinstriping with the West Ham United F.C. crest. Harris has had his bass modified to include a mirrored scratchplate, Badass bridges and Seymour Duncan custom SPB1 pickups and uses his own signature set of RotoSound strings. In 2009, Fender issued a signature Steve Harris Precision bass, featuring a blue-sparkle finish, mirrored scratchplate, Seymour Duncan SPB1 pickups and a Badass II bridge.
In 2005, Metal Hammer reported that he uses eight 4x12" Marshall cabinets with Trace Elliot amplifiers. He also uses four Sony WRT 27 wireless transmitters, allowing him to be as mobile as possible on stage.
Bass rig and signal flow
A detailed gear diagram of Steve Harris' 2000 Iron Maiden bass rig is well-documented.
Other interests and talents
In addition to playing bass and writing music/lyrics for the band, Steve Harris has taken on numerous other roles, such as:
- music production/mixing
- music video directing/editing
- live video directing/editing
- backing vocals
- string/bass synthesizers
Harris began contributing keyboards to Iron Maiden's studio albums from Virtual XI onwards. Until that point, Michael Kenney, Harris' bass technician, had provided the keyboards, and still does so live and acts as a supervisor in the studio. Along with guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, Harris experimented with synthesizers on the Somewhere in Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son albums, credited as "string synth" on Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
Steve Harris is also known for playing an increasing role in mixing the band's albums and produced most of their 1990's output, with recording taking place at a studio he owned at the time, located in a barn on his property, named "Barnyard Studios". Since 2000's Brave New World, at Bruce Dickinson's insistence, the band did not record again at Barnyard, which Dickinson claims had limitations due to its size, and hired Kevin Shirley, with whom Harris co-produces.
Harris also directs and edits many of the band's live videos, beginning with Maiden England in 1989. Although not intending to himself, Harris edited the Rock in Rio DVD as he was unsatisfied with the results produced by the band's hired production crew. In undertaking the project, Harris had to teach himself how to use digital editing software with equipment he had installed in Barnyard Studios, and went on to edit Iron Maiden's next DVD, Death on the Road. On top of this, he has contributed to the production of thirteen of the band's music videos, with "Infinite Dreams", "Holy Smoke", "Tailgunner" and "Bring Your Daughter... to the Slaughter" being directed and edited by Harris alone.