Music was always an escape for Scottsdale resident Ivan Harshman.
The full-time musician describes it as a therapeutic outlet throughout his childhood — and still stands by that statement.
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, Harshman says he was “one of those kids forced to mature quickly.” Harshman recalls the first time he was given a handful of records, including tunes by Paul McCartney and the Animals, from his aunt at around 5 years old.
“Music for me at an early age was important,” explains Harshman, a former member of the Elliots. “No. 1, I liked it and it was really special to me in a certain way.
“I would hide in my room and listen to records and play army men. It was a big deal because there was always a lot going on in the house. It was an escape for me.”
Now, the vocalist, writer and instrumentalist is making a name for himself throughout the North Valley as a must-see — or hear — talent. Harshman has shared the stage with a multitude of renowned musicians and acts, including Derek Trucks, Keb Mo, Ian Moore, Gin Blossoms, David Crosby, Charlie Musselwhite, Carl Palmer, Cake, Sugar Ray, the Samples, Lisa Loeb, the Verve Pipe, Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, Mark Mikel, Mudjaw’s Cantankerous Jubilee and the Zombies.
A self-described “blues rock dude,” Harshman can be found performing solo in Queen Creek, Cave Creek and Peoria. With his schedule listed on his website, he can satisfy a variety of requests, including classics like his Beatles medley, David Bowie, “Thirteen” and “Into the Mystic,” as well as perform his own original pieces, like “Avalon” and “The Dailies.”
“It doesn’t really matter what songs you play, as long as you play well,” Harshman says. “If you destroy someone’s favorite song, you’re not doing them or yourself any favors.”
Harshman, whose sound ranges from a blend of bluegrass to “pop-Beatles-esque songs,” says he prefers not to limit himself to any particular category. He considers his songs as “all over the map.”
“I’m an Anglophile. I love the Beatles and that whole scene,” he shares. “But, I’m a blues rock dude, and that’s the type of rock ’n’ roll that is still popular. People call it different things — blues rock. That’s, like, heavy metal like Black Sabbath. I’m a soulful, powerful singer.”
Harshman attributes his inspiration to first dabble in the music industry to his uncle, a singer and bass player.
At 14, he taught himself how to play the guitar. Harshman then began writing lyrical pieces shortly after, he explains.
“I started writing songs immediately,” Harshman recounts. “I had a lot going on inside of me. There’s two kinds of performers: There’s the ones that are using it as a catharsis and then there’s people that want attention.”
Harshman organized his first three-piece band about a year later, he says, in which he played the bass guitar with several of his classmates. The group covered the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jimi Hendrix, among other artists, at gatherings for fraternities and sororities.
At 16, Harshman played for his uncle’s band at local bars while helping with stage management.
“I would run lights and they would pay me to be a light man,” he says. “And then I would come up and would sing, at first, two or three songs, and then four or five.”
After graduating from high school, Harshman earned his own open stage night at a local bar called Shari’s Place Upstairs.
The stage was furnished with microphones and a drum set, Harshman explains.
“It was a musician’s bar. That’s who hung out there, musicians,” he says. “I would host the night and people would come up and want to play, and they could. All of a sudden, drums would kick in behind me. If you started playing a song somebody liked, they’d just walk up and start playing with you.
“It’s really how I learned. All of those guys were older, seasoned and ridiculously good musicians.”
Harshman arrived in Tempe around the late ’90s. The aspiring musician, who was in his early 20s at the time, initially planned to pursue music in Los Angeles, but his hopes were curtailed following the demise of the record label industry in the early 2000s.
He then joined what would become the Arizona-based “supergroup” the Elliots shortly after. The trio contained fellow singer-songwriters Blake Thompson on the vocals and guitar and Kate Russo on vocals, the electric violin and keyboards.
“We were three lead singer-songwriters, we called ourselves the unofficial super group,” Harshman recounts. “Everybody was a lead singer-songwriter from another band. Basically, we started writing and playing and had a great following.”
Harshman left the group around 2004 to pursue his next chapter as primarily a solo artist, he says.
In 2009, he joined the classic rock outfit The Rig with Valley musicians Ronnie Winter, a vocalist and guitarist, and Gary Bruzzese, a vocalist and drummer. To this day, the group performs once a month at local hangouts like Cave Creek’s The Hideaway Grill.
Performing is one of the few times that Harshman feels in the moment, he says.
“When I’m performing, it’s the only time where I’m really concentrating on one thing and I feel relaxed,” Harshman explains. “I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I don’t feel anxious. I don’t feel nervous. I don’t feel like I’m missing something.”
Harshman adds it is an important time to support live and local musicians. He encourages music lovers to continue to buy records or pay musicians in any capacity that they can.
“Live music is alive and well, as long as people keep showing up,” he shares. “People love live music. After COVID, people would come from different states and would come and cry. Grown men and women would cry. It’s very important to people.”
When: 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, October 8
Where: Rosati’s Pizza, 3668 W. Anthem Way, Suite A128, Anthem
Cost: Free admission
When: 2 to 10 p.m. Saturday, October 9
Where: Peoria Country Fest at Pleasant Harbor at Lake Pleasant, 8708 W. Harbor Boulevard, Peoria
Cost: $25 adults; free for children 12 and younger. Parking $7 per vehicle
When: 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday, October 14
Where: The Hideaway Grill, 6746 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek
Cost: Free admission