At 37, Paul Simon's son makes his musical mark

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Having suffered more than 15 years of false starts, failures and musical disappointments, singer-songwriter Harper Simon admits he has hardly charted the ideal path to pop stardom like his father, Paul Simon.

Singer Harper Simon poses for a photograph in New York's Central Park October 19, 2009. Picture taken October 19. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The young Simon had always shown musical promise. At age 4 he sang with his dad on the “Sesame Street” children’s TV show. He also attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Now, at 37, the son of one of America’s best known singer-songwriters has finally released his first album.

“Obviously I don’t have the ideal career arch,” Simon told Reuters in a recent interview, adding, “I’m in the game now.”

Critics say it was worth waiting for the younger Simon’s self-titled offering, released on October 13.

American Songwriter magazine wrote, “Harper Simon’s debut tantalizes right now” and called him “a real star in the making.” Rolling Stone called “Shooting Star,” the first single from the album, “gorgeous.” The magazine declared, “It was worth the wait.”

Simon admits he was surprised at how long it all took.

“I didn’t think this is how long it would take when I was 21 years old. I thought it would all fall into place, but it didn’t happen that way,” Simon said. “I suppose different kinds of artists find their voices at different times and when it’s their moment, it’s their moment.”

Simon’s setbacks began when he dropped out of Berklee after two years without graduating.

“You’ve got to be a pretty big loser to drop out of a music school,” he said.

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He did not respect the school, even though it has turned out everyone from Quincy Jones to Diana Krall: “Berklee is really like a trade school, it’s how to make a living playing bar mitzvahs.”

Returning to New York, Simon toiled to become a star to no avail, saying it was a decade of, “Trying and failing and trying again and failing some more.”

He worked in the mid-1990s with Don Fleming, who produced Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, and The Posies, but he never secured a record deal. He scored some movie soundtracks.

He moved to England to escape the pressure of living up to his heritage. He joined the band Menlo Park, which never hit the big time. He recorded with his father’s wife, Edie Brickell. The pair released an album in 2008, featuring Brickell on vocals, under the name “The Heavy Circles.”

“From every failed project I took away something which contributed to this album being out on the world,” he said.

The solo album finds Simon playing with some big names.

Bob Johnston -- famed for producing Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” and many other legendary records -- came out of retirement to co-produce the album.

As a backing band, Simon was joined by a group of session musicians from Nashville who had played with everyone from Dylan and Elvis Presley to Patsy Cline and Aretha Franklin.

Other guest musicians include childhood friend Sean Lennon, drummer Steve Gadd and Simon’s father, who plays guitar on one song and contributed lyrics to another.

The record was self-financed, is released on his own record label and was a labor of love which took three years to finish. Diminutive and self-deprecating, Simon joked that the finished work was great, except for his own contributions.

“I am happy with all aspects of it that don’t have to do with myself,” he said. “I’m just not that much of a pleased-with-myself kind of person.”

Reporting by Mark Egan, editing by Eric Beech