The 254

Jaimee Harris

By Kevin Tankersley

A short story in a song

Jaimee Harris started playing live music when she was 10 years old. Her dad, Waco attorney Chris Harris, played at the time in Honest Mango, a cover band that split time between Houston, Tomball and Waco. During 15-minute breaks between the band’s sets, Jaimee would take her acoustic guitar on stage and play her own versions of cover songs.

She’s come a long way since then. She’s currently on a tour that began last month in Florida and will wrap up Columbus, Ohio. She shares many of those concert dates with Grammy-nominated folk singer, songwriter and author Mary Gauthier, whom she met at a songwriting workshop in 2017 in New Mexico. They became a couple about a year after that.

Harris was born in Nacogdoches and grew up in Waco. She graduated from Midway High School in 2008. Harris attended Colorado State University for a semester then moved back to Waco, worked at Walmart in Hewitt, then eventually moved to Austin. One thing that prompted the move was the chance to hear rock-folk-Americana singer James McMurtry twice a week for less than $10. McMurtry ended up becoming one of Harris’ major musical influences.

“How do you tell a short story in a song? I really feel like I couldn’t have written the title track [of her upcoming album] “Boomerang Town” without spending nearly every Wednesday night for 10 years watching James McMurtry play, trying to figure out how he does this,” Harris said. “Emmylou Harris taught me how to sing by listening to everything that she’s ever sung, whether as a backing vocalist, or as a lead singer. Patty Griffin is kind of the artist that made me want to write.”

On her social media platforms, Harris is open about struggles she’s faced, including her path to sobriety.

“I didn’t drink in high school. I wasn’t a partier,” she said. “It was very cool, at least when I was at Midway, to be a good kid. Go to Disciple Now, show up at your church or social group. Once I moved to Austin, I fell into a pretty intense partying crowd. I started drinking heavily and that led to a couple of DWI arrests and by the grace of God, that encouraged me to get sober when I was 23 years old. I fell on my face a lot after I left Waco.”

She also said she wasn’t a healthy eater. At one point, Harris, who is 5-foot-2, weighed a little more than 300 pounds.

“I’ve lost 175 pounds over many years of really cutting stuff out of my diet, and only in the past few years have I gotten active, working with a personal trainer,” she said. And thanks to partial funding from MusiCares, an organization funded by the Grammys that provides critical care to musicians, Harris underwent surgery to have excess skin removed and her abdominal muscles repaired.

“I felt like I should share about it because it’s something that apparently a lot of women go through, particularly after childbirth, but a lot of people don’t talk about it,” she said. “So even though I lost 175 pounds, I had so much shame about my body. It looked like I was pregnant all the time to the point where people would make comments. And that doesn’t feel good when part of my job is being on stage every night. Everyone has a camera on their phone, so there are all these pictures being taken. It was difficult for me, and I decided that it was important for me to talk about.”

Grief and Growing Up

Jaimee Harris’ third album, “Boomerang Town,” will be released on February 17. Some of the songs touch on growing up in Waco and Hewitt, “but there’s also a lot about grief,” she said. “I started writing some of the songs for this record in 2014 and 2015. There was a lot of grief in my Austin community, a lot of people that had passed away. In 2016 we lost a lot of musical icons. And in 2020, when we got shut down for the pandemic, I felt like we were under this cloud of intense global grieving. So it helped bring into focus a lot of songs that I had started years ago.”