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Jesse Harris, Winning Songwriter

The Secret Sun is the fourth CD by Jesse Harris and the Ferdinandos.
The Secret Sun is the fourth CD by Jesse Harris and the Ferdinandos.

Just what is it like for a previously little-known singer-songwriter to beat out Bruce Springsteen and Alan Jackson for the Song of the Year Grammy?

For Jesse Harris, whose "Don't Know Why" was an inescapable hit for singer Norah Jones, it was initially "kind of terrifying," he tells NPR's Lynn Neary in a Morning Edition interview. "I felt a little bit guilty that night. I felt that I had robbed a bank or something. But later on I didn't feel so bad about it because those guys are so big, I thought, what's one Grammy more or less to them?"

Jones won each of the awards for which she had been nominated: Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Best Female Pop Vocal, Best Pop Vocal Album and Record of the Year, for "Don't Know Why." Her debut album, Come Away with Me, on which Harris played guitar and wrote five songs, garnered eight awards overall.

Harris says he met Jones while she was attending the University of North Texas and they soon became friends. "One day I heard her sing a song of mine. I thought it sounded great and I started teaching her songs, writing charts of them."

They soon started performing together, but Harris says he didn't know they were headed to superstardom.

"I had a really strong feeling about Norah, about how she sounded," he says. "I just thought people would really, really like it. I thought it was something that could do well, but I never ever imagined this."

Harris has his own group aside from his recordings with Jones. Jesse Harris and the Ferdinandos are releasing their fourth CD, The Secret Sun, which features Jones on two tracks. The band — with Harris on vocals and guitar, Tony Scherr on guitars and background vocals, Tim Luntzel on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums — is known for capturing the feel of live performances in their studio recordings.

"I like playing in other projects. I love having other people sing my songs. It's fun to be able to try out different things, but I always have the most fun and feel the most free playing with this group," Harris says of the Ferdinandos.

He says most of his songs are not intentionally biographical, but inevitably real people and events creep in. "Sometimes they're, I don't know, dreams or something... Sometimes a song indicates that it wants to be about a certain thing. And then if you write it, you find that it is about something that you've done."

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Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.
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