An artist refines his work by meeting challenges in his life. With each challenge, Ogden Harless has refined his particular art form – the art of music. Ogden’s music is distinctive. Ogden’s music is true. Ogden’s music is mostly country but he has a rock ‘n roll spirit that has created a unique sound to some of his country songs and has birthed a few genuine rock ‘n roll songs that touch that rock ‘n roll spirit in everyone.
Growing up in Hattiesburg, MS, Harless met his first challenge as a child. His dreams of a career as a talented baseball player ended after becoming ill with rheumatic fever when he was 14. It was feared that sports would be too detrimental to his health. Later, it would seem that the Army did not agree with that diagnosis and found no reason that he could not withstand much more physical exertion than he ever would have on a baseball field. To steer his interest from sports, his father helped by giving Harless a guitar while he was still in the hospital. Although this was the first musical instrument that Harless owned and was instrumental in developing his musical talent and skill, his love for music began much earlier in his life. His mother’s family had all been musically talented including her father who sang on the streets of Hattiesburg many times and refused an offer from a woman from Nashville passing by one day in a car to go with her to Nashville where she would make him a star. ‘Lady’, he said, ‘I can’t go to Nashville. I have a bunch of kids back at home to raise.’ All of those kids played music and/or sang and wrote music. Harless’ mother sang in her daddy’s band with her brothers. Brother Charlie Ward once played with Hank Williams Sr when he was passing through Hattiesburg to do a show. From age 14 to 19, Harless had several bands around the Hattiesburg area one that included hit songwriter Craig Wiseman. He was once a roommate of Ogden’s in MS and played in one of Harless’ early bands, The Honky Tonk Heroes. Mississippi is known for the music and musicians that it has produced and Hattiesburg was a hotbed for much of it with the University of Mississippi located in Hattiesburg.
Harless found himself in another world in Vietnam where all the rights and wrongs you were taught as a child suddenly disappeared. He found the conflict between his beliefs and the realities of the war was his next big challenge. He talked about feeling God’s shield of armor around him many times in Vietnam protecting him when all seemed lost. Simply surviving proved to be the only victory for this struggle. After returning from Vietnam, Harless began a long struggle to overcome his most difficult challenge up to that point in his life, - himself. Frustrations over the consequences of the war were compounded by a failed marriage and drug and alcohol abuse fostered by the soldier life in Vietnam which continued to control his life and impact his career after the war. As did many soldiers, Harless wandered the streets of some of the major cities like Chicago when he first returned from Vietnam. He tried to fit back into life in the small community where he had lived in MS, however the contrast with the soldier’s world that he had been immersed was too much. He wandered to Atlanta where he worked on construction crews while continuing his interest in music. A new marriage relationship took him to Mobile, Al where he continued gaining construction experience and playing in clubs along the coast. That marriage would also fail. He returned home to MS where he met his next wife in 1982. He would eventually travel and play clubs along the coast of MS with several bands and made contact with other musicians and songwriters including the late Jimmy Dunnely who had a huge following in the Biloxi-Gulfport area. A desire for change and the need to fill his restless rambling spirit, took him to the mountains of North Carolina where he managed a small motel. Harless entertained guests in the café between work duties where he met Arch and Ann Ogden, a couple who quickly recognized his talent and wanted to sponsor Harless in the music business. They encouraged him to change his life and to develop his talent. Harless created the stage name, Ogden Harless, adopting his sponsor’s last name as his first name.
In 1985 Harless signed a recording contract with Cypress Records in Jacksonville, Fl. He released several singles while with Cypress, seeing national chart action with four of those releases. Four videos were produced from this era with Cypress Records. In 1987, Harless signed with Door Knob Records of Nashville, Tn. With them, he released six more nationally charted singles and two more videos. Four of his videos, “Mississippi Drifter’, ‘Rockin’ Little Angel’, ‘Somebody Ought To Tell Him That She’s Gone’, and “Walk on Boy’, were aired across the country on various video programs and The Nashville Network. Harless recorded many more songs written by Nashville songwriters, songwriters from his hometown, and some written or co-written by Harless himself. Harless lived a star’s lifestyle with the Ogdens travelling the country with them and living between their home in Florida, one in North Carolina and one in Wisconsin. He charted on Billboard between the likes of George Strait, Johnny Rodriguez, and Crystal Gayle. As Ogden’s career was taking hold, unfortunately and tragically, Arch Ogden became ill and died only a few years after he began promoting Ogden Harless. Arch Ogden had a great interest in helping others develop their potential. He had made an impact in the success of others before Ogden. Although Ann Ogden survived her husband for a few more years, she was in not in good health and was not able to continue the promoting that had been her husband’s passion. She continued to sponsor Harless and he and his wife continued to assist Ann Ogden throughout the remaining years of her life. Before she died, Harless made several tours of Europe where he performed at venues reserved for only the most popular country stars from America like Johnny Cash. He had a large following in the European market. To thank Europe for their support, Harless wrote a song and later recorded a video that was aired widely throughout Europe. The song was titled, “European Lady”. Harless was offered a contract with RCA but without his mentor and sponsor, Arch Ogden, to guide him, he was unsure of the legal complications and long term obligations to a major record label. He had heard many stories of the difficulties that other stars had encountered. So, he made the decision not to accept the offer. The Ogdens left him Ogden House of Music Publishing Company.
After Ann Ogden’s death, Harless moved back to Hattiesburg, MS,, in 1996 where he opened what became one of the best recording studios in the Southeast. He developed clients because of his keen ear for sound quality and his expertise in engineering and understanding of computer programs. He once was asked to go to the University to teach the students a computer program, MIDI. He felt personally inadequate to instruct in a college environment and declined but later realized that he had a special level of expertise that could have been of great benefit to those students. He worked so much on the demands of others to record and publish their music that he failed to continue marketing himself and recording and publishing any new material for himself. This would prove to be a serious roadblock in his career as was a near fatal major stroke in 2003 that left Harless with some permanent physical damage and with a long hard physical recovery struggle. Harless had conquered great challenges before. This was another time that he felt God had a plan for him and that God was demonstrating his power to him. He was and is a survivor. Even though during this time he had gone through another divorce and the loss of his business prior to the stroke, he was determined to survive. He had lost his father a few years earlier and while he was in the hospital, he also lost his brother. Later, he would also lose one of his sisters and his mother. During all of this, he was struggling to find the person that he used to be, the artist that could sing and play hundreds of songs without a lyric sheet in front of him, the engineer that could set up equipment and record the Hattiesburg Symphony Orchestra performance better than it had ever been recorded, the carpenter that fixed things for his family, the brother, uncle, and friend that was hero to many. Fighting for himself, alone most of the time, family helping when they could, he tried all of his old remedies of what he used to do and be. Nothing worked. Everyone else was also looking for the old Bill Harless aka Ogden Harless, the artist, and not seeing the struggles that he was going through. As happens so many times in God’s plan, Ogden would meet Frank Anderson, owner of an internet radio station, EARSradio.com. Through this association, he would eventually be befriended by Barbra Faircloth in Florida who provided an opportunity for Ogden to make yet another move in his life. He went to Florida for a vacation in 2013 and became a Floridian. Slowly, he began feeling the desire for music again in his life. Ogden’s plans were to revive his previous recordings and market them in the US and in Europe and the rest of the world. He wanted to bring to life some new songs of his life story including one from the Vietnam era that was still haunting him. He had new challenges but would not let his determination be affected by them. God was still there working his plan in Ogden’s life. He was a special person with a much too generous heart. For more information or to purchase some of the limited supply of the original recordings of Ogden Harless, please contact Ogden House of Music at PO Box 70, Woodville, Fl 32362 or leave a post to his Facebook page.
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