Forrest Harris

Forrest Harris first found his interest in music at nine years old while strumming a ukulele and playing a country song called “San Antonio Rose.” He would go on in his adult years to playing the mandolin, although he preferred the sound of the guitar. With some ingenuity, he altered the strings on his mandolin so that it sounded and played like a guitar. After World War II Harris began playing music with the Santa Rita Band with six other band members. This was the first organized group with which Harris played.

Harris went on to join the U.S. Navy in the late 1940s. It was during this time that a shipmate stationed with Harris introduced him to the guitar and taught him the scales. This would mark the end of Harris’ modified-mandolin playing and the beginning of his career as a guitarist. Harris’ shipmate played strictly country music, but Harris preferred standard jazz greats such as “How High the Moon,” “Blue Moon” and “Perdido”; Harris’ shipmate developed an interest in jazz and soon the two were teaching each other music from their own respective genres.

During his time with the navy, Harris became exposed to many jazz musicians in the mainland United States and elsewhere abroad. During his military stint, he frequented places that featured jazz music and even attended a jazz workshop held by the late guitar great, Barney Kessel. Harris attributes much of his learning to these experiences including having the opportunity to watch various bands perform on USO tours alongside the late Bob Hope. Harris saw several groups perform, including Woody Herman’s Big Band, Lionel Hampton, and Billy Eckstein.

Aside from his experiences abroad with famous musicians, Harris was greatly inspired by his close friend, Jesus Santos, because of Santos’s extraordinary talent and the dexterity with which he played the guitar. Santos is remembered for being able to play chords on the guitar while playing the melody simultaneously, fulfilling the duties of a lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist at the same time.

After five years with the U.S. military, Harris returned to Guam in the early 1950s and started “The 5 Locals.” Harris and fellow band mates played at a variety of military clubs for officers and enlisted men at Naval Station, Naval Air Station, and Andersen Airforce Base. They also played at various civilian establishments including the Talk O’ the Town, the Breakers Club, The Office, and Jim’s Island House, all popular entertainment establishments for local residents at the time.

Harris is known for holding a high degree of respect for fellow musicians and for maintaining high standards of professionalism on the stage, never resorting to “on-stage chastising” of less experienced musicians who happen to err during performances.

Today, Harris is semi-retired, playing as an “on-call” musician with well-known people such as Patrick Palomo and Carlos Laguana, or any other musicians or groups who may need him. Harris has been, and still is, regarded by local musicians as an accomplished and talented lead guitarist. He is greatly admired and respected not only by fellow musicians, past and present, but by music enthusiasts as well.

By James Perez Viernes

Editor’s note: The initial research for this entry was done by Mico Scott: Jazz on Guam… an Oral History, a project funded by the Guam Humanities Council and in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.